Part One: The Origins of a Mercy Project—Searching for Lost Sheep
The first time we saw Abebe he walked into an Addis Ababa cafe where many young cosmopolitan professionals meet. He walked in the brightly lit cafe wearing muddy and ragged clothes, his big gnarly feet without shoes.
Abebe had come a full-days journey from southern Ethiopia to meet with Charlie Brown, founder of Ethiopian Child. Charlie had asked us to join him.
Abebe had been brought to Addis Ababa by people desperately seeking someone to help this poor farmer and his family. The three of us struggled with the idea that God wanted us to help him, particularly with Charlie heading back to the USA that week. Then Gigi travelled to Abebe’s village for a few days to access the situation. She took him blankets, clothes, tools, a torch and medicines that Charlie and Gigi had agreed to provide.
Gigi’s heart went out to finding a way to help this man who’d fallen so low, to lift him up and to fill him with God’s grace.
Beginning of the fall
He’d begun his fall when his wife died in childbirth, leaving him with an infant and five children. He couldn’t keep up with his work and he had to pledge half his farmland for a loan to pay his wife’s funeral and feed his family. He had to adopt out the infant. His health began to fail. A few years later his younger sister and a niece and nephew moved into the hut making him responsible for eight young people. Abebe pledged the second half of his farmland for another loan to support them. He worked day labor. His health continued to deteriorate.
During these challenging times he turned his back on God and his Protestant church and fell into a sinful lifestyle. Then, summer’s rains collapsed his hut and he didn’t have the funds to repair it. Many people discarded him as if he were unworthy, a lost sheep not valuable enough to be found.
Jesus loves us all
We strongly believe that Jesus loves us all, particularly sinners (not the sin), and that a church–the Family of God–should be loving and help find that one lost sheep out of a hundred. Isn’t that what Jesus did?
As Christians, we must try to walk as Jesus walked and not just talk about it. So, we committed to help rebuild Abebe’s material and spiritual life. Our immediate goal was to build Abebe and his family a new farm house and regain his land so he and his extended family can work and support themselves. Through this process we wanted to help Abebe and his family open their eyes to God’s love, mercy and grace.
The ultimate goal is that this work would be an example to the community – a seed that grows within their hearts so they seek and save ALL lost sheep – just as Jesus did.
Part Two: In God’s Hands—Building a Home and a Relationship
Despite a country shut down in martial law, a brief window opened and Gigi bravely climbed through it, grabbed God’s mighty hands, and accomplished the Abebe Family Mercy and Evangelism Project.
After massive protests, factory burnings, and fighting throughout Ethiopia, including Addis Ababa, the government announced a State of Emergency – shutting down Internet, setting curfews, putting out a strong military presence, and forbidding foreigners from travelling outside the city. A few months later, we heard people were carefully travelling outside the city by public transport. Gigi, and our manager, Abu, felt it would be safe to travel to our project area about 10 hours south by public transport. As a foreigner, Scott would not be allowed to go and would indeed put Gigi and Abu at risk. We prayed about this journey and trusted in the Lord that His will would be done – whatever it was that he had predetermined.
Good planning, God planting…
Gigi set up everything before she and Abu began the journey, with the help of Ermias, our community coordinator. They agreed to sleep on a mattress on the coordinator’s rural home floor to save money. When she arrived in this extremely rural area, paid workers and volunteers joined together to complete a new house for Abebe in four days! This is a house of mud and stick framing and metal roof. It has a door and two windows, a separate living room and bedroom, and a corridor that leads to the old hut that will be used as the “kitchen.” The new house has a dirt floor, consistent with local homes.
A mud mix would take over two weeks to create. Applied to the home, it would completely seal the house as if it was concrete block. Gigi contracted with Abebe’s church choir to made the mud and apply it to the framing in exchange for a donation to support the choir.
Gigi convinced two people who’d been given Abebe’s land for a “loan” to “sell” the land back to Abebe. This is only about a third of Abebe’s original land but it should be enough land for Abebe’s family to generate income.
She also continually counseled Abebe. He is a notorious rogue – a real lost sheep in the biblical sense of the word. She brought the neighbors – many deeply Christian – into the spiritual revival of this man who is head of a mixed family of eight people. Abebe’s church pastor preached and prayed over the home and Abebe’s family. (One Muslim neighbor and his teen son even volunteered and worked side by side with the Christians. His wife brought food and they stayed for this final prayer time.)
Now, it is in God’s hands.