Presentation of Kombolcha, Ethiopia Mission Trip
Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, May 20, 2012
(1) LEAD UP TO THE TRIP
In December 2009 my wife Candy Tennant and a dozen others traveled to Ethiopia and visited “care points” run by Children’s Hope Chest. One of those sites was Grace Baptist Church in the city of Kombolcha.
In March 2010, Peter Abera, an Ethiopian man from Kombolcha visited here and told his story to HillSong Church. He was born Ethiopian Orthodox, a form of Christianity and the most prominent faith in Ethiopia. During the famine, he worked at a World Vision feeding center run out of Grace Baptist Church in Kombolcha. There, he accepted Jesus as his Savior. I am not suggesting the Orthodox Church does not preach the Gospel. But Peter did not learn to be a Jesus follower in the Orthodox Church. He didn’t come to Christ until he was mentored by a World Vision worker who shared both food and the Gospel.
Word traveled to Peter’s father who came to the Grace Baptist Church with a gun, intent on killing his son for leaving Ethiopian Orthodoxy. Peter was terrified, but the man who had discipled told him to go into the building. That man brought out a table and poured some coffee.
Peter’s father set his gun on the table. The man who himself had grown up Muslim and then turned to Jesus at Grace Baptist Church, explained the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter’s Father listened. His heart softened. They called Peter. His father put the gun away and embraced his son.
These events took place in the 1990’s. Peter toured the United States in 2010. One of his stops was here, HillSong Church. He shared his story, which I just told. That day, we invited people to support Grace Baptist Church by supporting the Children’s Hope Chest Care Point there.
Support is rendered by sponsoring a child. You send $34/month and you begin a relationship with a child who is educated at the school run by Grace Baptist. The child gets a uniform, school supplies, and a meal every day. Some of these kids live with their parents who are extremely sick. Some have lost one parent and live with the surviving parent; these kids are called single orphans. Some children lost both parents and live with a relative or guardian. These are double orphans. Whether the child is a single orphan, a double orphan, or a kid whose parents are alive but very poor, their needs are tremendous. We have poverty in America, but in most cases, even our poor would be relatively well off compared to the poor in Kombolcha.
When Peter spoke at HillSong, people signed up to be sponsors. Today, there are over 160 children in the program at Grace Baptist Church and about 90 are sponsored. Over 40% of those sponsors come from HillSong church.
What if we went to visit these kids? What if we did that every year?
(2) WHAT WE DID
In 2011, Candy and I went to Ethiopia to adopt our daughter Merone. While there, we went to Kombolcha, an 8-hour bus ride from the capital city, Addis Ababa. We saw children who have great potential but are shackled by poverty. The kids embraced us and loved us. All we did was pass out care packages and take pictures. And give hugs. Lots of hugs.
I met with the leaders because I wanted HillSong to visit but only if that would be a good thing for them. Maybe hosting a bunch of Americans would put an unneeded burden on them. They assured me that a visit would be most welcome.
When Candy and I returned to the United States, we began planning. There was enthusiasm for the trip here at HillSong. I imagined us as a church visiting Kombolcha every year. That’s still my vision, but now that we have been on the firs trip, the vision is expanding.
Last year, May to November, many at HillSong attended the initial meetings. Then, the interest waned. Conflicting schedules, health, family obligations and other things got in the way. For various reasons, autumn was passing and we had me and Sara Timmons and Laura Driggers. Candy has also advertised the trip to sponsors outside our church, and they began signing up. Soon, we had a team of 15, people from Michigan, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Virginia, and North Carolina.
We began preparing through conference calls. I asked team members to share their Christian testimonies, on the calls. In addition to that time of sharing, we planned our Bible camp. Essentially what we would do in Ethiopia is go to the Grace Baptist Church every day and put on a 3-hour Bible camp for some of the kids in the morning. The camp consisted of Bible lesson, arts/crafts, recreation/parachute games, and the distribution of care packages. We also had several donations to pass out – balls, backpacks, water bottles, etc. And, each day, we fed the kids a snack. We’d take one group through in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
As our team took shape, I thought, “This is not what I had in mind.” I envisioned a HillSong team. This team was a collection from all over with only three HillSong members. But God was in it. I was affirmed in the calling that yes, we were to go to Ethiopia. At the same time, God showed me it wouldn’t look exactly as I thought.
The time for the trip was getting closer, and I got a phone call. “Rob, I need to come and talk to you.” That usually means something is wrong, which is OK. Christians walk with each other in life when something is wrong. “Rob, I need to come and talk.” Heidi Soden called and said those words, but it was because deep inside her, something was very right. Even though all the deadlines had passed, she felt compelled by God to go on this trip. So, she came to see if there was any way. I called the organization handling the logistics of our trip, the One Child Campaign. Thy made it happen. Our team of 15 was now 16, four from HillSong.
Then March 21st came – the day of our departure. I learned that Sara Timmons can sleep anywhere – plane, floor of the airport, uncomfortable, crowded van. Because she can do this, she is rested. When the team is groggy and tired, she is awake, smiling. We were working with 160 kids who speak Amharic. A bright smile goes a long way.
I learned that nothing seems to faze Heidi. She handles it all – the travel, the jetlag, the moments of scheduling uncertainty – she handles it with grace. And she steps right in to any situation.
I learned that it is important to have a physician like Laura on the trip. I also learned if you sit next to her for 13 hours on a plane, you won’t get bored. She is extremely committed to Jesus and she is a conversationalist.
We all learned that the Ethiopian airlines feeds a lot of meals and when it is meal time, they wake you up no matter how much your seatmate urges them to let you sleep. Every time poor Laura would talk herself tired and drift off to sleep, they’d come with more food. I would say, “Just let her sleep.” Ignoring me, the flight attendant would shake her and say, “Chicken or fish.” Half the time, I think she was so tired she wasn’t sure what she ordered even after she ate it.
I learned (again) what a fantastic my wife is. With Merone only being with us 10 months, it wasn’t right for Candy to leave for 9 days. But the entire time we were in Ethiopia, her fingerprints were all over the trip. She was the conference calls in on all the planning.
Here’s an example. At the guest house, when we checked in, I was given a cell-phone. Then I looked at the rather detailed notes Candy had put in a folder for me. It said, “When you get to the guest house, a woman named Mercy will give you a cell phone.” I looked at the woman and said, “Um, is your name, Mercy?” She smiled and said, “Uh huh.” I thought to myself, “I better read this folder carefully, every day.” And, by the way, four members of the team used that phone to call back home throughout the week.
Our team was truly brought together by God. We had a teenager, a nurse, a waitress, two pastors, a physician assistant, a school principle, a special ed teacher, a university professor, an office manager, a groundskeeper, and five stay-at-home moms. There are super-Christians or sophisticated world-class travelers. Some are over 50 years old, and one is 14. Some are have a lot of formal education. Some do blue-collar work. One team member is a diabetic and she did fine. One is a vegetarian, a vegan in fact, and she had some food challenges, but also did fine. Look at these people. YOU can sponsor a child and you can go on one of these trips. You can be spectacularly used by God just by making yourself available.
At the Bible camp, the kids loved the games and the care packages. They threw themselves into the crafts time. They listened and participated when I taught the Bible lesson. As we did our camp, in the distance, over a loud speaker, we would hear the Muslim call to prayer. Many Muslims live in Kombolcha. Among the children and within the Grace Baptist Church Family, some come to Jesus from a Muslim background.
This trip is about telling Jesus’ salvation, sharing basic needs of food and education and love with extremely poor children, and establishing relationships with those kids and the adults who care for them daily. With the sounds of Islam filling the air, we told these kids that Jesus is God come in the flesh to take the sins of the world. We went to Ethiopia to share this, to meet material needs, and to love the children in person.
The most emotional portion of the trip for most of us came when we got to visit the homes of the children we sponsor. We got to see 3rd world poverty up close. This wasn’t a CNN report. With our bags of gifts –fruit, coffee, sugar – we went and visited the children. The child Candy and I sponsor lives with 5 others in a home that’s not bigger than my office here at the church.
There is a reality about who Jesus is and some of us cannot see that reality until we step out of our familiar surroundings and into another world. We go to help the kids yes, but also because we need to. In order for us to become who Jesus is calling us to be, we need to go.
(4) WHAT’S NEXT
Next year’s trip is March 9-18. That corresponds with UNC’s spring break. MY hope is that we double or triple the number of HillSong people who go. I’d love to see five from the Encounter small group on next year’s trip. Already, 17 people have signed up. I now know this trip is God’s, not Hillsong’s. The people in Ethiopia were so enthused with our time with them, they are eager for us to come back. They cried when we left, and we did too – a lot. Many have already signed up to go back.
I am convinced God is calling Hillsong to be part of this. I urge you to pray and ask God if you are being called to sponsor or to go.
I see this as the beginning of a long-term relationship: HillSong Church, Children’s Hope Chest, Once Child (the organization handling logistics), and Grace Baptist Church in Kombolcha. In 2013, our Bible camp there will be during UNC’s spring break March 9-18.
We might plan other 2013 trips to Kombolcha. I am exploring the possibility of a medical team going in the Fall.
(6) WHY IT MATTERS (TO YOU) (ON MAY 20, 2012 IN CHAPEL HILL)
What does this mean here, now? We invite you to be part it. Sign up now, so we can begin preparing. See Candy or me if you’d like to go. All you need to is be available. Teachers, waitresses, maintenance workers, nurses have all gone – these aren’t extraordinarily wealthy folks. They are folks who hear God’s call, trust in his help, and sacrifice things so they can go where He is at work. Teens, people over 50, diabetics – all are happy they went and plan to go back. You can do this too.
Or, maybe you’re called somewhere else. Laura Shrewsbury goes to Ukraine nearly every year where she is a part of a Bible camp for Gypsy children. Uganda, South Africa, Haiti – we have people who have been or are going to these places. There is the potential for a future trip to the Dominican Republic.
Maybe you are called locally. Jonathan has the youth on mission every summer. It’s home repair work and has been done in downtown Roanoke and on an Indian reservation. We have numerous ministries right here in Carrboro-Chapel Hill and right in our own church. Personally, I want everyone to go to Ethiopia. But more than that, for the sake of your growth in Christ, I want you – every one of us – to answer God’s call to step out of comfortable places and into uncertain places where trusting Him is essential. We don’t live in Faith until we truly give up control.
As we move into a time of prayer, singing, and invitation, let this also be a time of considering. God is calling you, maybe to Ethiopia. Maybe to something else. As we sing during this time, I invite to come to the front and pray, asking God where He is calling you. Or come and ask God, if you already have an idea, to clarify the call on your life. This isn’t only for young people. This isn’t only for travelers or people with a certain skill set. God has a call on every life here. I am asking today that all of us come and kneel and pray and ask God to reveal the call, clarify the call, and solidify the call. Maybe coming to the front to pray is not what you usually do. Maybe that’s the first step in being willing to say to God, “I’ll do as you command. As the worship team leads, come and pray and ask God to show you the way to the live of service in Jesus’ name he is preparing for you. Come.