When we decided to adopt from Ethiopia, we knew that we would be required to make 2 trips. The first trip is about a week in length. This is when we get to meet our children for the first time. We spend a few days together at the Transition Home where they are living (kind of like an orphanage but for the children who will be adopted into families soon). We go to court and if everything goes as planned, the judge signs all the paperwork to make the children legally ours! It is after this court date that we will be able to post photos of our new kids.
But, after they are legally ours, they are still not allowed to travel outside the country until all of their paperwork is in order. We have to apply for visas and passports and wait on the embassy to clear them to leave for the United States. This process usually takes about three months. During this time, our kids would stay at the Transition Home and we would wait in U.S. until we get the call that they are cleared to travel! Then we would fly back to Ethiopia and bring them home.
Almost from the very beginning, my husband and I have been talking about our crazy plan. What if we stayed in Ethiopia with our children for the three months that we are waiting for their paperwork to clear? What if we could all move into a home together and start getting to know each other? What if we could have help with the language and the culture and start bonding while we are in an environment somewhat familiar to our children?
We started praying about it. A lot! Our prayers went something like this….
“God, this would be wonderful! This would be amazing! This is crazy but we would love to do it! If this is your plan, please make it all work out. If this is not your plan, we will know because we for sure can’t make it all work out ourselves!”
If our new family of 8 was going to stay in Ethiopia for three months, we needed a safe and affordable place to live. We also wanted to find a ministry opportunity for our family to serve in while we were there. We found all of these things through God’s direction to Levi and Jessie Benkert.
Levi and Jessie and their four children have been living in Addis Ababa since 2009. They moved there because God called them to serve the widows and orphans of Ethiopia. They started a ministry called Bring Love In. Here is an excerpt from their website…
We are Levi and Jessie Benkert, and even though it still sounds crazy to us every time we say it, we live in Ethiopia with our four children. We are still not sure what part is more unbelievable, the fact that we have four children or that we call a place like Ethiopia home. Since 2009, we have lived here to work with children who have been orphaned and have no families to care for them.
Together, we are doing our best to advance the work that Bring Love In is taking on in Ethiopia. As a family, we have devoted our lives to finding better ways to give orphans the love they deserve. It’s not always easy – and, at times, just plain frustrating, but we are passionate about the call we feel God has placed on our lives. We strive to do what we can with what we’ve been given.
Our family has lived in Ethiopia for the past two years. During that time, we have met countless orphaned children on the streets, children we wanted to help. However, when we’d try to do something, we’d always run into the same problem: Even though these children wanted to be in a safe orphanage, they could not be placed. They could not, because every single one of the orphanages, private and government, is already full.
In Africa, nearly 12% of the children have lost at least one parent, and Ethiopia has one of the highest orphan rates of any African country. To make things worse, the orphan population in Ethiopia is growing exponentially as HIV and malnutrition run rampant among the population. The infrastructure simply does not exist to care for the children who are left alone when their parents die.
We know that it’s always staggering to hear these numbers – overwhelming really. But when you come right down to it, it’s not about numbers. It’s about each and every one of these children, each orphan forced to grow up on the streets – each one a child, a person, God’s creation, no matter where he or she was born.
I have met with government officials and was told that the need for new orphan care projects is so great in this country that, in Addis Ababa alone, if we were to build to the capacity of two thousand children, the orphanage could be filled to capacity in less than six months. Of course, we would love to meet the needs of each and every one of these children, however we are going to start out smaller and build from there.
Through God’s providence, we “met” the Benkert family via facebook. Take a look at this chain of God connections….my mom sent out a christmas letter to all of her friends that included the news of our adoption. Her pastor from 23 years ago who lives in Oregon read the letter and told my mom about his daughter who is living in Texas. His daughter had a friend who was adopting from Ethiopia. This friend had a blog. I started following the blog. I asked this friend about a place to stay in Ethiopia. She gave me Levi and Jessie’s name and the name of their ministry. I then sent Levi a message. From that very first message I knew we were on to something special.
For the past three weeks we have been corresponding about our possible place in their ministry. I will boil all of our conversations and plans down to this. Our family will be living in an unfurnished guest house one block away from the Benkert family home. This is also in the same neighborhood as the intake center for Bring Love In. While we are in Ethiopia, we will be working on furnishing the guest home and getting it ready to open by the end of summer. When this guest home is open, the income provided from it will help to fund their ministry. We will also be helping in whatever areas are needed most by Levi and Jessie with Bring Love In.
Not only are we so excited about this wonderful ministry, but we are also so excited to live and work closely with this amazing family. They have children close to our children’s ages. They have experience in this culture and knowledge of this language. They have a passion for orphans and widows. And they have a love for the Lord that can be felt from half a world away. I am so thankful that God saw fit to introduce us!