Thy Kingdom Come…

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

Inconvenience and suffering

Many of you have followed closely our water saga since we returned to Addis.   We are happy that our new tank system has allowed us to have water most days since we put it in.  It is nice to be able to take showers, wash our hands and flush the toilets.  Well, it has mostly been nice to flush the toilets.  Earlier this month, we were hosting our good friend, who is also a Professor at Johns Hopkins University.  You know, he is sort of a big deal.  We had a really nice visit, but we noticed while he was here that there was only a single bathroom that was working.  The other bathrooms flooded every time that we flushed the toilets, so we were very careful about how we used the facilities during that time.  One morning while he was here, he was in the upstairs bathroom getting ready and was in the shower.   I was downstairs in the kitchen getting breakfast and heard some water running.   I walked out of the kitchen and saw, and smelled, sewer water streaming down the stairs and forming a pool of sewage in our entryway.  We investigated and the sewer water was coming out of the toilet running out of the bathroom, down the hall, careening down the stairs and nearly running out the front door.   We were able to get everything mopped up and bleach.   That night we went out to dinner, because honestly we weren’t ready to eat in our house again for a while and we had to use the bathroom someplace, and when we got back, again the whole house was flooded with sewer water.   The next day, I was taking our guest along with the girls to Soddo so that he could visit our residents down there.   Bekah was headed to her trip to Northern Ethiopia with the eight-grade class from Bingham.  We hadn’t packed yet for our respective trips, so our guest insisted on cleaning up while we got the girls packed and ready for bed.  We couldn’t find our rubber gloves so our friend, the Johns Hopkins professor, put plastic bags on his hands to mop up the mess.


We were able to arrange for the plumbers from Bingham Academy to come and look at the plumbing in our house.  They were able to locate the problem and determined it was due to an obstruction in the sewer line causing a backup that overflowed every time we added any water into the drainage system.   This was due both to a design flaw in the system and a little gift from one of the girls.  It seems that one of them had flushed a pair of their underwear down the toilet at some point and that was causing the back up.   The Bingham plumbers were able to get the pipes cleaned out and repaired allowing the free flow of water again but not without one more insult.  The blockage had caused a build up of pressure and when the obstruction was removed, it exploded all over one of the plumbers.   This happens to me from time to time in the operating room when I am operating on an intestinal obstruction.   They told us that the blockage had probably been there for some time but we hadn’t noticed because we hadn’t really had any water for more than a month.


We are finally back to normal (for Addis) water situation.   We are grateful for all of your prayers and words of encouragement.   Sometimes it feels as if we have made a great sacrifice to be here, but honestly we have it pretty good here.  I am occasionally reminded that things like water shortages and sewer backups are pretty trivial.  This week I talked to one of the graduates of our training program, who has been facing real difficulties.  He has recently had his life threatened for standing up and doing the right thing.  He has been serving his community faithfully for several years, working night and day and yet some feel threatened by his honesty and integrity and hired some thugs to try and kill him.   Praise God they were unsuccessful and he was unharmed.  Whenever we face situations that are uncomfortable or inconvenient, I am reminded that the difficulties that we face are nothing compared to what our residents will face when they are out in practice.   Please pray for Dr. H as he struggles to figure out what to do next.   Pray for his safety and his continued witness for the Gospel.


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.

Would you rather have…

Would You Rather Have…

Would you rather have a nice bathroom without water or an old, outdated bathroom with water?  This may seem like a nonsense kind of question, but you wouldn’t believe the number of times we walk into a pretty nice looking bathroom here, but, when you turn on the tap to wash your hands, no water comes out and then you take a deep breath and the smell reveals the fact that if you used the toilet you wouldn’t be able to flush it… because the 5 people before you weren’t able to flush either.  The same is true for the bathrooms at our house.  They look relatively nice, but I found myself in ours today wishing for an old, outdated (but clean!) bathroom with nice, hot running water.

Forgive me; I guess these are the questions that come to mind when one is without a constant reliable water supply!

Would you rather be without…

Would you rather be without water or electricity?

We’ve debated whether we’d rather be out of electricity or out of water.  We’ve decided that we’d rather be out of electricity than water.  One can light candles, use batteries, buy and cook food more often, or even get a generator in order to do the necessary things that use electricity.  On the other hand, it’s next to impossible to manufacture or find alternative forms of water.  If it’s not there, it’s not there, and it’s absolutely necessary for life.

Melkem Addis Amet

Happy New Year 2006!

Another Surgeon for Ethiopia


Last Saturday, we celebrated the graduation of the sixth PAACS resident in Ethiopia.   Dr. Daniel Gidabo finished his five years of training in general surgery at the end of August.   Daniel has taken a position as a surgeon in his hometown, a city of more than 100,000 people that has not had a full time surgeon in a very long time.   There Daniel will have the opportunity to treat hundreds and thousands of people who otherwise would have died without surgery.   We are very proud of Daniel and his accomplishments.  He has a well deserved reputation as a bold and effective evangelist and has lead literally hundreds of people to Christ during our time with us.


During my remarks at his graduation ceremony, I spoke to Daniel from Psalm 34, one of my favorite Psalms.  It begins with triumphant words of praise.

I will extol the Lord at all times;

His praise will always be on my lips.

My soul will boast in the Lord;

let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

Glorify the Lord with me;

let us exalt his name together.

These words were particularly appropriate for this day.   We praise God for what he has done for us.   When Daniel started his training five years ago, he had no guarantees that his work would amount to anything.   The PAACS program in Ethiopia was not accredited at that time.   There was little hope that this little upstart program would ever amount to anything.   Fast forward five years and we are accredited by both the Ethiopian Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa.  We have expanded from one hospital to two and have tripled the number of residents in the program.  This is only because of what God has done to bless the work he has called us to do.  Praise God for what he had done.

 I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

He delivered me from all my fears.

I assured Daniel that there will be times that he will be afraid.  Fear is an integral part of being a surgeon, particularly in the first year starting out on your own in practice.  I urged him to seek after the Lord, and He would deliver him from all his fears.  Delivery from fears comes with another promise if we look to him.

Those who look to him are radiant;

their faces are never covered with shame.

I encouraged Daniel to look to Him and be radiant.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;

He saved him out of all his troubles.

I reminded Daniel that his hometown has been without a surgeon for years and that people were crying for help.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;

blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. 

As PAACS surgeons, this is as essential to our lives as anything we do in the operating room.   We have the unbelievable privilege to invite people to “taste and seek” that the Lord is good.   I encouraged Daniel to continue to be bold in his witness.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord delivers them;

He delivers them from all their troubles. 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Finally, I told Daniel that as surgeons in Ethiopia, if we let ourselves, our hearts will be broken and our spirits crushed.   There are so many challenges, so much pain and disease, so much death that if we are not careful, we can become hardened and uncaring.  But as painful as it can be, we must allow our hearts to remain soft and able to be broken, because the pain, disease and death that we face everyday, breaks the heart of God.

One Sunday Morning

This morning was hard.  It’s Sunday, but we didn’t make it to church.  We made a valiant effort but it just didn’t happen.  After a week with very little water, the stress was starting to build up.  This morning started out with my French press coffee maker shattering, causing coffee and grounds to fly everywhere.  That’s bad enough and even worse when there isn’t much water to clean it up. 

Then, Hannah dropped a whole roll of toilet paper into the only functioning toilet we have right now (The other two leak urine when we flush them.).  This is disgusting to have to fish out anyway and especially disgusting when the toilet hasn’t been flushed in three days. 

And the smells that accompany all of this lack of water and leaky toilets…I won’t try to describe them over a public venue…even one that doesn’t actually use one’s nose.  After we finally made it out to the car, out of our gate, and up the road, we came upon a roundabout with a bunch of police directing traffic away from the very road we needed to go down in order to get to church.  It turns out that the government had organized protests against religious extremist groups in Addis and, as a result, some roads were blocked.  This is frustrating on a good day and today it was too much.

It was at this point that we gave up.  We weren’t going to get there until well after the service had started, we weren’t up to managing Grace and Hannah during the service, and they were already complaining of being hungry.  So, we went to Kaldis.  (Think Ethiopian Starbucks…it even has a logo with a green circle.  The girls use the names interchangeable whether we are here or in the U.S.)  It seems that Sunday mornings are challenging anyway, especially under circumstances like this.

Water, Water Everywhere…Except in the Tap

Aaahhh, that sweet, sweet sound. Water gushing, pouring into a bucket outside.  And the sound of our guard and babysitter outside talking and laughing as they fill all of the containers they can find.  I go outside to join in the excitement and bring another container to be filled only to see that they must have 20-25 four-liter containers that they are filling from the spigot in front of the house.  Having been previously filled, all are now empty, awaiting the time when the water would come back on.

No one knows why the water isn’t coming to our house in the first place, nor do they know when it will come back on again…or how long it will be on when it does come back on.  We have figured out that the tank on the top of our house lasts us for about four days if we try to take short showers and not flush the toilets every time we use them (Not completely a problem since the girls don’t seem to know how to flush anyway!). Then we have to use the water from the second tank behind our house.  This tank isn’t hooked up to the house, so it’s a matter of filling a container and hauling, heating, pouring, etc. for whatever the intended purpose may be.

This time it had been over a week since there had been any significant amount of water coming through the pipes to our house, certainly not enough to refill the water tank and actually provide water for the sinks, toilets, and showers in the house.  It had been a week since the water in the tank ran out, a week since our last real shower, a week since the girls had been cleaned up (We had to apologize when we took them both to a birthday party in case they could smell them…and let them know that we were working on it.), a week since we could flush toilets regularly, and a week since we could run the washing machine and do laundry.

The ironic thing is that it’s the rainy season here, which basically means that there is water everywhere.  At least once a day it comes down in torrential form, causing leaks in all of the rooms on the top floor of the house, a huge puddle on the stairs where a big window leaks, and mildew that quickly starts growing before clothes, sheets, and towels have a chance to dry.  Away from home, it causes major flooding on the lower-lying roads, such that our car could easily take water in the exhaust pipe and stall, major traffic back-ups and delays as a result, and flash flooding in river and creek beds.

And the really disappointing part of this story is that the next morning, although we now had a supply in buckets and other containers, we still didn’t have water in the house coming through the pipes.  Either there wasn’t enough pressure or the water wasn’t on long enough to fill the tanks, but whatever the reason we’re still hauling, heating, and pouring in order to do the tasks that require water.


First Day of School



How has it been being back at school?  I think the events of the morning of Tuesday, the first day of school, illustrate this well.

We were all busy getting ready when Jon and I realized that the house had gotten uncharacteristically quiet.  Since we’re still working on getting curtains on some of the windows and rugs for the floors, the noise created by two especially active girls tends to echo, providing a constant reminder of their presence.  But, at this moment the echoes were silent and footsteps had ceased.  We wondered what had happened and went to find them.  After a short search, we discovered both girls out in the car, strapped into their car seats, with their backpacks in hand, ready to leave for school.  The catch was that it was 6:55 and we weren’t scheduled to leave until 7:20!  That next 25 minutes were long ones as they had to wait until it was actually time to leave for school.


Upon arrival, there was an almost palpable sense of the excitement that was felt by the students and staff alike to be back among friends and surrogate family, the community that is the school.  Even someone who was visiting for the week commented on the sense of excitement and anticipation that reverberated throughout the school as everyone arrived back and found each other.  Grace and I certainly felt a part of that as we found friends, colleagues and students from last year and welcomed the newly arrived.  Hannah had sensed the excitement from Grace over the past year and this excitement had come to define ‘Bingham Academy’ for her and she was beside herself with excitement about being able to belong to this herself.

Home is Where the Heart Is (Home, pt. 4)

A final reflection on the concept of “home,” I wrote this while we were still in the U.S. a month or so ago.  If the American saying is true, that “Home is where your heart is?”  Where and with whom is my heart?

Home Here (U.S.)

We have enjoyed every meal, visit, cup of coffee, overnight stay, and picnic with as many of our friends and family members as time allows.  It’s a professional perk.  In what other job do you get to take 2-3 months and travel around to visit your friends and family?

I have enjoyed seeing Spanish everywhere and hearing it spoken.  I’ve had some good carne asada, carnitas and corn tortillas, my favorite Latin American foods.

And Home There (Ethiopia)

The first three weeks we were back my students were still in school, taking exams for which I helped to prepare them.  On the days of the exams I wondered how they were doing and if I had prepared them well enough.

In the U.S., eating at Outback Steakhouse and visiting the zoo and seeing boomerangs and kangaroos on the walls make me wonder what a cheesy American restaurant and the “North American” section of the zoo would look like to our Australian friends in Ethiopia.

I’ve thought of the Spanish students I will have next year in Ethiopia. I want them to see and taste the culture of the people who speak the language they are learning, the people God has created and loves.  After some good Mexican food in the U.S., I am convinced that some need to move to Ethiopia, bring all the right peppers and corn flour and open up a restaurant!

In the U.S., I’ve enjoyed visiting the familiar homes of our parents and even driving past our old condo in Atlanta, which Grace remembers, but I’ve missed our house in Ethiopia and wondered if everything is ok.  All of our stuff here is in boxes and we’ve borrowed and rented more cars than I can count, but we have beds made, a kitchen ready to cook dinner, and a car ready to drive in Ethiopia. 

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