Thy Kingdom Come…

One family's journey crossing cultures in pursuit of the kingdom of God

Archive for the category “Life in Ethiopia”

In Teaching…Expect the Unexpected

In my grade 12 homeroom no voting was necessary to determine which student had come up with the craziest hat for crazy hat day.  The student whose crazy “hat” included a live chicken won this distinction without so much as a discussion on the matter.  She had obtained a traditional Ethiopian basket, acquired a chicken (it wouldn’t be that difficult here), made a nest for it in the basket, and tied it in.  When she arrived with her “hat” happily bobbing its head as it looked around she assured me that she had taken measures to ensure that her “hat” wouldn’t poop in my room.  Technically, it did not end up pooping in my room.

It did, however, suddenly jump out of the basket during the middle of another student’s presentation.  We thought everything was fine after a couple of the students wrangled the chicken back in the basket and tied it in, a little more securely this time.  We began to be concerned, though, when the students watching over the chicken announced that it was foaming at the mouth.

My first thought was whether or not all of the students in my class were up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.  We normally think of the stray dogs running around Addis as being the potential threat but a rabid chicken could also do some damage.

My second thought, however, was that I probably didn’t have a rabid chicken in my classroom but that I probably did have one that was going into shock because of its experience in my classroom.  Some of the students could probably empathize with the chicken, although for different reasons!

At this point we were in danger of veering completely off course and I was in danger of losing control of the class, so I just told the students to take the chicken outside and take care of it.  They did and returned a few minutes later.  I thought everything was ok until the end of class when I checked in with them concerning the matter.  At this point I learned that they had taken it into the teacher’s workroom next door and put it under a box with holes cut into it…without the permission of any of the teachers in that workroom!

Being pretty sure this arrangement wouldn’t sit well with my co-workers, I had to ask them to take the chicken out of the workroom.  Their response to this was to drag the chicken, which had, in the meantime, pooped on the floor, still under the box outside the workroom door.  So, now I had a live chicken under a box and a meter long streak of chicken poop extending out the doorway of the workroom to deal with.

My response at this point was to have the student clean up the chicken poop but she had to take an exam first.  In the end, a teacher with more compassion than I bailed the student out and wiped up the chicken poop and I was assured at the end of the day that the chicken had been taken care of, although I still don’t know how.

None of this was in my teacher training, except maybe the warning to expect the unexpected!


A Visit from Grandma Nea Nea and Papa

We’ve been blessed with another visit from Grandma Nea Nea and Papa.  The pictures tell the story.

Mom did a "Paint no More" party with Grace's class.  She read the book and the kids got to paint Grace and their teacher!

Mom did a “Paint no More” party with Grace’s class. She read the book and the kids got to paint Grace and their teacher!


Thanks to Mrs. Flippence, Grace's teacher this past year, for being a good sport!

Thanks to Mrs. Flippence, Grace’s teacher this past year, for being a good sport!


Mom went to Hannah's class for their 100 day party. That is, 100 days of school in 2014 since they weren't ready to count to 100 before Christmas!

Mom went to Hannah’s class for their 100 day party. That is, 100 days of school in 2014 since they weren’t ready to count to 100 before Christmas!

I don’t seem to have pictures, but Dad went to all of the elementary classes to do fire safety lessons.  These were a big hit, especially the ones in which he lit fires and put them out!  After that we heard, both around school and outside of school, “Hi Mr. Al.”

And, of course, playing "Three Billy Goats Gruff," under the bridge on the playground.

And, of course, playing “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” under the bridge on the playground.


And underdogs.

And underdogs.


And trips to the little souk down the road from our house for "chippies" for tea time (our version of morning snack time).

And trips to the little souk down the road from our house for “chippies” for tea time (our version of morning snack time).





Getting Ready for School…The Same or Different?

Mornings at our house are characteristically chaotic and messy. Think of the stereotypical events such as kids running out the door in crazy outfits or mismatched shoes because the parents were too busy to notice such details or the last minute transaction of lunch money, snacks, library books and gym clothes. We’re not quite to the “You’re not leaving that house in that short of skirt!” part yet.

What is different about us is that the lunch money that is handed out is in birr and instead of entrusting the child with $2-$3 the child must be responsible for 20-30 birr (which is actually only $1-$2) and the snack that is packed will be consumed at “tea time,” a morning recess time that observed and much anticipated by, not only the elementary students, but the middle and high school students and staff as well.

When our ride arrives, our guard calls out to us to let us know that it has arrived and we run out to the waiting vehicle sometimes leaving the unfinished coffee behind and sometimes dumping it into the thermos to take with us.

What is different is the vehicle that stops to pick us up. It isn’t a big yellow school bus, but a little blue taxi. Here it is common to contract a taxi driver to pick up students in the morning and drop off in the afternoon, so that’s what we do. Over the rainy season (summer in the U.S.) a new bridge has been completed enough to create a shorter route to school but last year, on the way to school, we would pass the city dump and, depending on which direction the wind was blowing, were sometimes overwhelmed by the smell of burning, rotting garbage. This was a reminder to us of the people who live in or next to the dump and who earn a living sifting through the garbage to find what they can to eat, use, or sell. This year, even with the shorter route completed, we             are still at times overwhelmed by the clouds of exhaust produced by the             countless numbers of diesel trucks on the road. Let’s just say that 90% of the vehicles wouldn’t pass the emissions tests required for our license tags in the U.S.!

We arrive at school and Grace, especially, is excited to find her friends, see what important events have happened overnight and take Hannah to her classroom when it’s time to go to class before she takes herself to her own classroom. I get to attend staff devotions and prayer time, during which we take turns sharing what God has been teaching us and praying for the students, Ethiopian staff, and each other.

And then the day begins!

Water…One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Or so it seems.  Two weeks ago a plumber from the hospital came to our house and helped us with a long-term solution to our water problems.  One step forward.


First, a little lesson on how water and plumbing work here…
As one drives around Addis you will see water tanks everywhere.  On top of any house that has running water, on the ground next to houses and for sale along the side of the road.  The water supply from the city comes to our house through pipes that come from underground, go up the side of our house and into a water tank that is on a platform on top of our house.  From this tank, the water flows down through pipes that go to the faucets, toilets, and showers.  So, we basically have our own individual water towers and rely on gravity for water pressure.  The tricky part is when there is no enough water pressure from the city supply to push the water up the pipes to the water tank on the roof of the house.  So there are times when water is coming to our house from the city supply but we still don’t have water in our house because the tank can’t be filled.


Back to our long-term solution…
We had already bought another water tank to put on the ground behind our house.  This serves as a back up/additional water supply, as well as a means to get water up to the tank even with low water pressure from the city.  When the plumber from the hospital came, he brought with him an electric pump, a floater valve, and extra piping.  He cut out a section of the pipe going up the side of our house and rerouted the path the water takes.  Now, instead of going straight up the side of the house, the water is piped up into the top of the tank on the ground in order to fill it.  Another pipe comes out of the bottom of the tank and is hooked to a small electric pump that provides the additional pressure needed to pump the water up the pipes that run up the side of the house to the tank on the platform on the roof.  The floater valve signals when the tank gets full and causes the water to stop flowing so that the tank doesn’t overflow.  The pump is tied to a sensor that automatically tells it when there is water in the bottom tank to be pumped up to the top tank.  Yeah, a solution!

Two steps back…
The plumber was working on this project Wednesday and Thursday two weeks ago.  We were cautiously anticipating what his work would mean for us…possibly a more reliable water supply for our house.  On Wednesday during our staff meeting we were warned that over the next four days (adding or subtracting, probably adding, a few) the water would be shut off to large portions of the city as they make connections for the new light rail (public mass transport system) that is being built.  So, even if we get this system set up, the actual water supply to our house was likely to be interrupted.  And it was.  One step back.

We were excited when we turned on the kitchen faucet Thursday evening and water came out!  We quickly bathed the girls and enjoyed showers ourselves Friday morning.  Saturday morning, however, presented a different situation.  The power was out all morning, which meant that there would be enough hot water for one of us.  Jon graciously gave that to me. Then, as we were trying get the girls cleaned up later after an afternoon playing outside the water ran out again.  Two steps back.

Tour of Bingham: Part 1 Grace’s Tour

Here is a tour of Bingham Academy from Grace’s perspective.  Photography by Grace.

Grace's Classroom

Grace’s Classroom


Grade 1 and 2 Playground - The Slide

Grade 1 and 2 Playground – The Slide


Grade 1 and 2 Playground - The Merry Go Round, Tire Swing, and Monkey Bars

Grade 1 and 2 Playground – The Merry Go Round, Tire Swing, and Monkey Bars



Grade 1 and 2 Playground – The Tukul

Grade 1 and 2 Playground - The Slide (and back of Grace's classroom)

Grade 1 and 2 Playground – The Jungle Gym (and back of Grace’s classroom)


The Drop-Off and Pick-Up Area, Gym, and Flags Representing Students’ Countries



Living in Africa


Living here, it is easy to forget that we live in Africa.   Most of the time it doesn’t feel like we live in Africa, but occasionally we are reminded of where we are.  A couple of days ago, we went to get some lunch at a place known for being able to see monkeys.  We envisioned monkeys swinging through trees and chattering to each other, entertaining the girls as they ate their lunch.  Instead the monkeys are thieves and bold in their thievery!

As we walked up to the restaurant the girls were delighted to see monkeys on the top of buildings, babies clinging to the bellies of their mothers, and   But, as we sat down to eat, we noticed the lack of inhibition with which the monkeys treated the humans trying to have a nice meal.  And we were no exception.  After the waiter brought the bread, Hannah wanted one and had it lying on the table in front of her.  Suddenly one of the larger monkeys jumped up on our table and snatched Hannah’s bread from the table in front of her.  Although Jon and I tried to be heroes and yell at the monkey to make it go away (another waiter threw rocks at it, which finally made it leave), Hannah was terrified of the monkeys after that, sitting in her chair, shaking.


We gave her another piece of bread, which she clutched to her chest for the rest of the meal, afraid the monkey would take this one from her also.  She was so afraid that she had to sit on my lap the rest of the meal with her legs wrapped around me, ironically, like the little baby monkeys riding around on their mothers.  She didn’t appreciate me pointing this out to her.

The first semester has finished for Grace and Bekah at Bingham Academy.  Although it’s been incredibly busy and there is a lot left for us to learn, we’re finally starting to get settled into life here and that’s a good feeling.  We’re now enjoying a small break from the school and hospital, hence the meeting with monkeys.


Whoa..Wait…Is Jon there too?

For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.   I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.   I can do everything through him who gives me strength.   Philippians 4:11-13

If you have been a frequent reader of this blog, I would understand if that were your reaction to this post.   It has been 14 months since we got to Ethiopia, and 14 months since I have written a post on this blog.  In fact, the last time I posted was the weekend before I started work at Soddo Christian Hospital.  Within two weeks, my partner there, Paul Gray, was being Medivac’d out of the country with a still unknown illness and I was off to the races.   What followed was the hardest year of my life…by a long shot.  Not just for the usual reasons.   We did have the usual stuff – culture stress, interpersonal conflicts, extended periods without power or water, too much work, too little energy, etc.   We were prepared for these things (maybe overprepared) and while our preparation helped us to understand some of the things we were experiencing, it didn’t lessen the experience of them.   But we had mentally built in the space for most of these things and understood them for them for what they are – the natural response to an unnatural thing, living and working in foreign country.  These normal things, however, were not what made this last year so hard.

The real trial, the real hardship of this last year was the profound disappointment that I have experienced.  It is hard to put into words how much Grace suffered during our time in Soddo.   Being a natural introvert, I have a hard time understanding my older daughter sometimes.  She is the very epitome of an extrovert.   Being alone exhausts her.   Being isolated is torture for her.  Learning is a social experience and only can be done among friends.      For her, life in rural Ethiopia was not just hard, it was miserable.  Seeing your child suffer is one of the worst things a parent can experience.   Knowing that your actions, your decisions are causing your child’s suffering is exponentially more distressing.  I wrote in that blog post 14 months ago that “This is all Bekah and I have planned for the 10 years that we have been married and the 5 or 6 years we knew each other before that.   In fact, both Bekah and I were planning to serve God as missionaries long before we knew each other.”

In light of this, Grace’s suffering compounded our suffering.   We are not here out of our own ambition; we sincerely believed (and still do BTW) that we are here in Ethiopia because we are called by God to serve Him here.   I really loved the work in Soddo, though admittedly I liked it a lot more when I wasn’t there alone.   The cases were great and I am well on my way to being a true African general surgeon.   Fifty percent (or more) of my practice was cases that I had never seen before and was not trained to do.   I love, love, love working with and teaching (and learning from) the PAACS residents.  The PAACS residents are the best group of men I have ever been around.  Yet, despite how well my practice and role as a teacher lined up with my dreams and expectations, the rest of life did not.   I was profoundly disappointed that my expectations of a triumphant missionary career were not going to happen the way I wanted.  It was clear that we were going to have to leave Soddo Christian Hospital and I was broken.

Despite this, God has been gracious is ways that I didn’t expect.  We have had incredible visitors come and encourage us and support us during the difficult times.  Our parents, the Kochs, the Rutledges and a big group from Atlanta, John Galloway (my mentor and #1 guru at Emory), Dr. Bill Wood (my chairman of surgery at Emory and now academic dean of PAACS), the Thompson’s, the Schmid’s, the Messerley’s, Greg Myer, and many more prayed with us, encouraged us, loved our girls, brought treats and helped at the hospital.

We would not have made it without Jackie Anderson, Allison Karnes, Kari Aarsland, Stephanie Hail, Becca Gray and Ruth Mulu, our friends, neighbors and teammates in Soddo.   They were incredibly gracious to Grace and tolerated unexpected visits from her at all hours and even the occasional visit in the bathroom.

One of the true joys to come from this last really difficult year has been a friendship with Paul Gray.   Paul is the program director for the PAACS program in Ethiopia and we worked closely together in training surgical residents in Soddo. Paul has been incredibly kind and patient with me as I struggled through the last year and graciously encouraged me to move on to Addis Ababa and the Korean Hospital despite it being against his personal interest.   He is now alone again in Soddo shouldering the burden of training there by himself.

The change in Grace with her new school and her new friends has been dramatic.   She is completely transformed and is the joyful, happy, and sweet girl that we remember from Atlanta.   This has, of course, made life so much better for Bekah too.   Gone (for the most part) are the battles over every detail of life.  Grace is reading just about anything she can get her hands on, writing stories, doing art projects, and singing.   She has joined the Bible club at her school and has been memorizing scripture and ‘teaching’ us what she is learning.

What has made this change in Grace possible is the expansion of the PAACS training program to Myungsung Christian Medical Center and an opening for Bekah to teach at Bingham Academy.   MCM is a unique hospital within PAACS and really a unique mission hospital in general.   Most mission hospitals are in remote areas.  MCM is in the city and serves a different patient population than Soddo Christian Hospital.   It will provide our residents with exposure to more specialty services, better technology, true ICU care, and a different set of pathology.   It will greatly enhance our training of surgeons in Ethiopia.  Being able to help to start PAACS training at MCM is a blessing, not just for the work itself, but because it allowed us to continue in the work God has called us to and given Bekah and Grace an opportunity to thrive at Bingham Academy.

Things have been good, very good since moving to Addis, but not perfect (obviously). Bingham and MCM are on opposite sides of the city (think Stone Mountain and Six Flags for those of you in Atlanta), which makes transportation difficult and means lots of time on the roads. Hannah has not faired as well.   She has been very lonely as she left a very special friend Lydia in Soddo.   This will get better soon, though, when she starts preschool in a couple of weeks. There have been some other bitter disappointments.

Through all this, I am learning what it means to be content.  I am learning that our contentment doesn’t come from our circumstances and the goal is not necessarily our happiness.  What I am learning is that daily, hourly, and even minute-by-minute I need more of Christ.  It is in Him that I will be content and in Him that I will be sustained through trials and hardships.   It is through Him that I can do all things, because He gives me strength.


We’ve made it to Addis with all of our things.  Most things made it here safely.  Overall it was a relatively smooth process, although not without some glitches.  Here are a few…

Rain Damage

Moving during the rainy season has its problems.

Sometimes there’s not much to do but take a break.

It’s pretty much inevitable that when one moves during the rainy season, there will be some rain along the way.  And we didn’t get away from the rain this time.  Loading in the rain, using an open backed truck for moving, and having to pack many of our things in containers that aren’t airtight made for some wet, muddy things when we arrived.

The irreplaceable proof of Jon’s completion of residency, his diploma.

This somehow got thrown into the top of a carry-on suitcase, which got wet.  So the diploma now has a water and mud mark on it.  He never cared before about framing and hanging it but he now wants to have it framed and put up.

Beds that won’t come apart and won’t fit up the stairs

The beds we had made in Soddo ended up being all one solid piece that doesn’t come apart aside from the use of a saw (which has already been done…another story).  Upon arrival in Addis, we found out that these beds also wouldn’t fit up the stairs in our house and none of the bedrooms are on the first floor of the house.  Thankfully, Tim and Laura, our friends and a resident from Emory and his wife, had just arrived the night before and he likes to figure such things out.  So, he rigged up a sort of pulley system (minus the pulleys) with our clothesline rope, hired a couple of guys who happened to be walking by, and managed to pull the beds up to where the bedrooms are.

The girls’ single-sized beds fit through the sliding doors with no problem, but the next question was whether our queen-sized bed would fit over the railing of the balcony and through the sliding balcony doors.

The physics of such a feat proved to be difficult, but possible.

And just taking the door off solved the other problem.

A house with no appliances

This isn’t a glitch as much as it is just something a little different that presents some additional challenges.  We quickly found out that when one rents an unfurnished house this also means no appliances.  So, we have lived in the house for about three weeks total with no way to cook or keep anything cold.  It’s amazing how fast things spoil without refrigeration and one can only cook enough to eat for that meal, so we’re thankful for the ability to keep things cold!

Now that the beds are in place, its on to the work of cleaning the house, finding appliances and having them delivered, unpacking, and getting settled enough to embrace the beginning of the school year.

A Shirt Tale

Have you ever wondered what happens to all of those clothes you donate?  Sure, the tax deduction is great, but they sort of disappear.  Well, we see the other half of a shirt’s life here in Sodo.

I’ve seen last year’s VBS t-shirt and thought “Oh, you went to the Pandamania VBS?  Grace did too!”

I’ve seen t-shirts from the Grand Canyon and thought, “You’ve been there?  I wish I could go there.”

I’ve seen sports t-shirts and thought, “You’re a Cardinals fan like Jon?”

Sometime we will get a good collection of photos but, in the meantime, our teammate wrote a great post about Sodo from the perspective of a donated t-shirt.

Check it out here:

From Classroom to Classroom

After teaching in various settings while here, my mom (a teacher in the U.S.) has a few reflections…

Grandma Nea Nea...she's not finished with us. We just gave her four more little girls to teach and love!

On teaching middle and high school students:

After being involved in teaching 10 or more classes (mostly English) to students ranging from 6th grade through adults, I found one very common factor.  That is, “all the students wanted to learn”.  This is a big difference from the United States where, in general, “students just want to get by”.  Learning is a privilege and a desire in other countries, but not a big priority in the U.S.

On leading discussions on parenting:

As I facilitated four parenting discussions for a group of ten young mothers, consisting mainly of Ethiopian women, (with a sprinkling of Rwandan, American and Dutch), I found these women to be very hungry for more information concerning the raising and nurturing of their children. As I listened to their explanations of various parenting traditions and techniques, they acknowledged that they didn’t know why they did specific things other than to reply with, “This is what our mothers did and we know no other way”.  I also learned that they chose specific practices purely for the safety of their children. One such practice is carrying their children on their backs until the child is 2 years old.  The main safety factor involved is so the children do not fall into cooking fires.  Knowing this helped me to guide them in understanding the developmental importance of children learning to roll over, sit, crawl, stand and walk beginning at the ages of 6 – 8 months old.  When combining their traditions with the importance of the “new techniques” I shared with them, they understood how the lack in development could take place and the delay in other areas of development in children.

Their biggest concerns in the order of importance were:  1) the effects of television and watching movies/DVDs on their children’s lives and intellectual development, 2) eating patterns and habits and 3) sleeping schedules and patterns.  Many other topics came up through questions.  However, already knowing that there are more ways than one to handle situations, they wanted more ideas and suggestions that would benefit their children.  These women had excellent questions and wanted information for the benefit of their children and not the convenience for themselves.  This was very refreshing to me.

Through all the experiences I had (even beyond teaching), relationships were created and a common bond established with other Christian brothers and sisters. May God grant the blessing of love and friendship to continue to grow, even across the world.  Praise be to God.

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