by Matt de Boer, VLM
Greetings once again from Jimma, Ethiopia. I was supposed to be en
route to Bahir Dar (where I was last year) right now, but you never
know with things here in Ethiopia. Thus, our flight was cancelled and
I’ll try again next weekend. Thus, here is a quick update on the past
week and a half and some reflection. I hope all is well with all of
you and the summertime is everything you hoped it would be!

I believe the last time I wrote was before we began teaching, so that
has been a big part of our lives lately. I am teaching grades 8 & 9
(on paper) and grades 7-11 in actuality. I guess it is a good feeling
to know that half of my class is only there because they WANT TO LEARN
and really they are not supposed to be. It reflects their ambition,
work ethic, and passion to succeed. All of the secondary and higher
education classes here in Ethiopia have English instruction so if
you’re English is not up to speed, odds are you will not go to school
past the age of 14 or 15.

My students truly are incredible. Their future plans range from
doctors to architects to university professors to pilots. Very rarely
do I hear them say they want to be rich. Rather, success is the word
they prefer. However, one thing I have heard a lot is that many of
them, especially the brightest ones, want to live in the USA. While I
cannot blame them for their desire to go to a place with much more
economic promise than Ethiopia, I wish I could explain to them the
phenomenon of “brain drain.” I want to say, “But if you leave, who
will bring about the change here that is needed to make Ethiopia a
great nation?” I resist, but hopefully the time will come for them –
and all of us – to understand that no matter where we are we share our
common humanity and a common purpose, to make this world a better
place in whatever way we can.

I have not made strong connections with too many of my students or
others yet partially because we are all around town quite often.
Unless we arrange a meeting, I do not see my students once they are
dismissed. However, yesterday I had a Coke with two of my students
(brothers) at their house and we had some nice conversations. Another
student dropped by and it was very comfortable – not awkward in the
least as it might be in the States. We talked about things from
Michael Jordan to the Swiss Alps to the upcoming election to the
different regions of Ethiopia and the political turmoil here.
AMAZINGLY bright teenagers, Isaac and Samuel. We are getting ice cream
later today with another student and tomorrow a few of my students
(including some females, which is very important to see their
confidence high! – CONFIDENCE was a word of the week) are taking me to
the palace of Abba Jiffar, the former king of this region of Ethiopia.
It should be a nice historical, recreational, and bonding experience!
Class has gone pretty smoothly, but there is a reason I was not an
English major! When your students whose third language is English
correct your grammar, something is not right ?.

We have also been doing some afternoon ministry working with some
kindergarten teachers, house workers, and other women from around the
compound. They want to improve their English as well, so we’re doing
what we can. We also run a Boys & Girls’ Club type atmosphere at Gingo
where three of us are teaching. There is nothing like 200 kids running
around, yelling, and screaming for 2 hours in a field as big as a
basketball court! The kids are precious and very affectionate. Saying
goodbye takes about as long as the fun and games – they have to kiss
our cheeks or hands and then run along side the truck down the muddy
road screaming and waving with shouts of the girls’ names, hello,
goodbye, and I love you! It is pretty easy to entertain the kids, I
just have to do one Arnold Schwarzenegger impression or some very
“formal” karate moves and the boys go crazy. Yesterday we had over 100
kids doing some combination of a Native American/Polynesian/Spartan
warrior cry and dance. You had to be there to believe it. I think they
heard us in Kenya!

The other place we are spending our afternoons is at the Missionaries
of Charity – the sisters that were started by Mother Teresa of
Calcutta. On the sign to this compound it literally reads a home for
the “destitute and dying.” There are women, children, and men there
suffering from tuberculosis, malaria, (I think HIV/AIDS), and other
ailments. Many of the children are orphans. Some are only a few weeks
old and just appear at the front gates in the middle of the night or
are brought there having been found in a bush or on the road. As one
of my fellow missionaries said, many of these children are victims of
attempts at post-birth abortion. They were unwanted, so they are taken
to a place where all they can offer are simple meals, basic care, and
presence, something I have found that I have taken for granted every
day of my life.

One little girl, Sara, was held for two hours Monday by Rose, another
volunteer. Rose was deeply touched by this young life (5 weeks old)
who was no bigger than a full-sized football. She had tubes in her
nose to help her breath, but it was evident to Rose that it was a
struggle, each and every breath. After Rose shared a deep reflection
about baby Sara, we found out Wednesday that she had passed away in
the night on Monday. This was difficult to take in, but at least we
can rest assured knowing that Sara had 2 hours of love, affection, and
warmth before she left this world. That is the life millions of
children live here (not to mention adults and the elderly), never
knowing where their next meal will come from, or shelter, or perhaps
even their next breath.

Amidst all of the poverty, suffering, and pain we see every day here,
there is an abundant amount of joy. Our students smiles and stories,
hearing “Hello, Goodbye” sung with an Ethiopian accent, and the
amazing work the sisters, priests, and other volunteers we have met
here from around the world (Holland, Spain, Austria, USA, Japan) are
doing. It is a good reminder of how small the world is as well as how
connected we all are.

As part of our program, we seek to connect with the reality of the
people in this community as much as we can. Thus, given the high rate
of inflation, high food prices, semi-drought, and widespread hunger in
this country, we decided to have a fast this past Wednesday. We fasted
for 24 hours and broke with bread and soup to keep it simple. Our
bodies handled it in stride but it was more of a spiritual thing than
a physical one. I’ll close with a journal entry I wrote about “hunger”
after our first visit to the Missionaries of charity. Enjoy.

(for the sake of space and time, I’ll start part of the way through,
sorry for any redundancy, it is from a journal, not well thought out –
just what came to my mind!)

…This establishment houses and cares for the sick, orphaned, and
dying. If you want to be humbled, here is a place for you. We got a
brief tour but for the majority of the time we attempted the ART of
being present to the children, men, and a few women (our time in the
women’s ward was limited). Many of the adults there are either
mentally or physically disabled, victims of malaria or TB, or have
some other ailment. While I have seen pain in the faces of the people
on the streets – beggars and laborers alike – the “sick rooms” as well
as the courtyards here radiated hurt and pain. However, as a result of
this perhaps, the joy emitted by our presence, as well as their
gratitude at our TOUCH was truly humanizing. “Human Touch,” a Bruce
Springsteen song and a powerful, powerful thing so many of us take for

A lot of the kids there are healthy (relatively speaking) but are
either orphans or children of sick parents. However, as Rose pointed
out, their energy levels were all over the spectrum. There were
beautiful children who physically fought for our attention, affection,
and touch; but there were also some who were very sick, wanted
attention, but had no drive to seek it out on their own.

“I just wanted to sit with them.” Rose’s words really capture a lot of
what we are truly able to do there – just sit, and as Thich Nhat Hanh
says, and BE. As I said before, the human touch was HUGE for these
residents, Metiku, Yohanes, and the others I was with, but a big part
of the touch was the PRESENCE that was behind it.

…Hunger and food…Two words that go hand-in-hand, right? Today, they
seemed like more than words, but REALITIES, realities lived by people,
young and old, near me and with me. I could SEE their hunger with my
eyes and FEEL their hunger with my hands. Holding the smaller children
in my arms I could feel their rib cages/bones with the tips of my
fingers. As I lifted up children up over my head to give them a “joy
ride,” I could feel their lack of nourishment. These kids were not
receiving their “daily bread” that we pray for all the time. However,
“in the words that Jesus gave us,” do we pray for these children and
all those who go without to receive their daily bread as well? Not out
loud at least…

…However, “The Book” also says that we “cannot live on bread alone.”
My eyes have seen that life cannot survive without bread, but I’ve
also seen that bread alone cannot suffice for our nourishment. This is
the other hunger we all possess – a hunger for the food of presence,
the food of touch. I experienced that today, not in my longing, but in
my sensed longing of the residents at the Missionaries of Charity in
Jimma, Ethiopia. Just like we are incomplete without our daily bread,
lack of daily contact and affection can lead to a fatal starvation.
This is not readily observed everywhere. Rather, I’ve only discovered
this here, at the hands of the poor. Isn’t it ironic that I’ve seen,
touched, and felt hunger like never before and more so than in any
other place on earth right here in the so-called land of milk and

May peace be with all of you and I will try to touch base at least one
more time before we take off.

God bless, with love,