Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Story - Part I

Each Christmas brings with it a story that is often told yet rarely truly heard - a story of an adopted baby (adopted by his father Joseph) who came into the earth in the most humble of circumstances, yet ultimately proved Himself to be the Light of the world.

This Christmas I'd like to share a story about another adopted baby who came into this world in the most humble of circumstances, yet ultimately has proven herself to be the light of her father's eyes. This story represents merely a fraction of my own life experience, but has evolved into such a prominent part of my life story. My purpose for writing this Christmas story is the hope that in some small way it will bless your Christmas season as much as it has blessed mine.

This story explores the life of a child, just like yours, except for the fact that she was born into poverty. There are two main components to the tale - what is, and what might have been. Clearly any discussion about 'what might have been' is by definition speculative and therefore fiction. So let me call out the fact that while this story is fiction - it is based on facts. Much like a CSI detective must put the pieces of a crime together based on both hard facts and circumstantial evidence, I assembled this story based on a combination of my own first hand facts, personal investigation and research while in Africa, as well as the experience and stories of other adoptive parents who have encountered similar circumstances. The result is story that is fiction yet very real at the same time.

Who Is To Blame?

Like THE Christmas story, this story starts with the birth of a baby. Just over two years ago, in September 2007, a beautiful young mother gives her first birth to an equally beautiful baby girl. Born into the cold clenches of poverty - on a dusty old bed in the one and only room of a tin can shack in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - the baby girl rests her almond shaped eyes, as her bundled body lays unaware of her meager surroundings and her odds of surviving until her fifth birthday. In spite of their brutal circumstances, the baby's mother radiates with joy and relief at the sight of her new baby, the spitting image of her mother. The joy of her baby's birth overshadows the fact that the 'relations' which led to this very moment were never welcomed - now she is sick, she is poor, but at least for the time being she is not alone....

Several weeks go by and the reality of her situation settles in. Her joy has melted away faster than an April snowfall, though little hope of spring blossoms exist on her horizon. She is unable to provide for her child's basic needs, she is hungry and her child's primary source of nutrition is drying up as a result. Her government has little support to offer her and the countless others like her. As a woman with limited education, her choices to earn enough Birr (Ethiopian currency) for her new family to survive are extremely limited and for a brief moment she considers selling her only personal asset, but even her daughter's hunger is not enough to convince her to cross through the dark threshold of prostitution.

The days pass by and though her situation deteriorates, she still struggles to reach a seemingly inevitable decision. One morning at the break of dawn she is finally brought to her knees by the weight of her anguish and emotional burden - she is broken, her hands and knees are firmly planted in the dirt floor of her home and she looks up through the tin roof into the morning sky and prays to a God that she hardly even knew - until now. She feels His compassionate response and listens intently to His direction. Comforted by His wisdom and counseling she finds herself at peace - for she now knows that she is not to blame and she knows what she must do.


Later that night at the outer gates of the Addis Ababa Sheraton she begins her final good bye. She's chosen one of the finest hotels in all of Africa to offer her daughter a chance at a better life. She spent a number of months as a maid at the hotel and is keenly aware of the regular security details around the perimeter of the grounds. She also knows about their significant experience working with local authorities while dealing with 'abandoned' children on their property. But make no mistake about this 'abandonment - hers is an act of devotion, heroism and Love.

Her dark brown eyes, swollen from the steady stream of afternoon tears, possess a look of focus and purpose as she goes about the most challenging event any mother could ever face - giving her baby UP in the hope of a better life. Her falling tears spread across her baby's face creating an almost angelic appearance as the distant flood lights shimmer on her little girl's brown cheeks. "I will always love you sweet girl - and I promise that I will see you again some day".

As she walks away from her now orphaned baby, her grief is consoled by a welling up of peace, hope and faith within her aching heart. She is at peace with her decision, she has hope that her daughter will have a better life, and she has faith that her new found God will find someone who loves her little girl as much as she does.....

End Part I


Friday, December 11, 2009

A Walk On The Lighter Side

Admittedly my past several posts have been a little 'heavy' at times - which is easy to do when you're in the environment we were in. So I wanted to take the time to share with you just a few of the lighter moments of the trip, of which there were many. Because for each an every heartbreaking experience there seemed to be an offsetting amount of levity and laughter - I don't know if that was intended to keep us sane or what, but ultimately we all had an absolute blast on this trip. Here are a couple of clips that will round out the intensity of our Children's HopeChest ( Vision Trip:

This video was taken from within our bus, moments after we struck and killed a small cow (originally reported to be a goat). Now my PETA brothers and sisters may think us heartless, but I'm sorry, this was hilarious and provided a much needed reprieve from the heart breaking scene we experienced at the Kumbolcha Care Point facility:

This next video was shot as we were crossing over a treacherous mountain pass in the fog and mud of an unpaved road. The video doesn't really do justice to the minimal margin for error we had between safety and disaster. We may have been laughing in this video but trust me, it was scary...

This next video was shot in the middle of a tunnel (Ethiopians call this it a cave which is probably a better description), no lights, no pavement and potholes the size of boulders.

Finally the next video was part of an air guitar/drum session we had with the kids at Hope For The Hopeless. Chris Tomlin's 'God Of Our City' song proved to be a lead track on our trip soundtrack. Check out the looks on the kids faces - they were so into this impromptu jam session. Also, take note of the scars on the head of the boy holding the music player - we are left to wonder about the cause.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Home sweet home.....

We left our guest house in Addis Ababa at 10:30 am yesterday, and I arrived home at about 10:30 am today. A 24 hour trek that was about as smooth and uneventful as I could have possibly hoped - a sharp contrast to the exciting twists and turns that we experienced abroad.

For now it is time to rest, recover and to be with my amazing wife and three children. After the last 10 days I can honestly say that I am wiped out both physically and emotionally. Tonight, for just one night, I want to my mind to stop processing all that I saw, heard, touched and smelled over the past 240 hours.

I don't want to see the scars on the scalp of the otherwise handsome street child who was abused in a way that you and I can't even fathom. Or the picture of kids eating grass to fill their stomach's in some way to ease their hunger pain.

I don't want to hear another heartbreaking story by an orphanage director about how their kids are hungry and their parents are dying. Or the haunting and ever persistent voices of the children in the streets begging for food or money to survive.

I don't want to think about feeling the bones protruding through the skin of the kids at Grace Baptist Church in Kumbulcha.

I don't want to think about the toxic smell of the stream directly behind the Kind Heart Care Point facility that nearly sent me vomiting (truly the most disgusting odor that I've experienced). Or the inescapable fumes of the diesel engines that dominate the streets of Addis Ababa.

For tonight, selfishly, I just want to be home.

But I can not....

My mind can not stop thinking, seeing, hearing, feeling, and smelling all that was - because it still is - and is to be - unless we do something about it. Just because I'm 10,000 miles away doesn't mean it's gone away. Does it? Just because I'm a resident of a different continent doesn't mean it's someone else's responsibility. Does it? Just because the children aren't in our direct line of sight doesn't mean we have an excuse. Do we?

It is good to be home tonight. It is so very good to be with my family. And at the same time I can honestly say that in my mind I've already started planning for my next trip.

If you were at all touched by what you read on this blog over the past week, I sincerely hope that you'll at least consider joining me. If there is something inside of you that knows that you are being called to do something I would love to share this life changing experience with you - life changing for you and for the kids that we will have the privilege to impact. Contact me at

Thank you for your consideration, thank you for all of your prayers and support. Good night.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Amazing Encounter

Today was a day like no other...

This morning I departed from the rest of the team to join Tom Davis and a small team to visit a very special project in the village of Nazaret (a.k.a. Adama) about 1.5 hours from Addis Ababa. While there we visited the Look Development Association care point - a facility that currently services approximately 100 orphaned and extremely poor children in the area. 

The circumstances of the children in Nazaret is no different than what we've seen in Addis Ababa and the surrounding regions - extreme poverty & HIV/AIDS. I don't want to diminish the need here by summarizing it as simply as I have, but I have limited time to write and I feel like I've covered the need in my previous posts. Simply stated, human beings are suffering and dying slow deaths right in front of our eyes. They have committed no crime but they are paying the dearest price. I could provide more detail, and I will at some point, but for now I'd rather write about the 'hope' side of this equation vs. the death. Justice vs. injustice. FAITH vs. fear. ACTION vs. analysis.

Today I met a woman who genuinely embodies these virtues of HOPE, JUSTICE and FAITH - and I can sincerely say to you that I was humbled to be in her presence. Her name is Yemeserachkeab (good luck on the pronunciation - we'll call her Yeme for short). Yeme was described to me as the Mother Teresa of Ethiopia, a tall claim to make, but after spending two hours with her I can tell you that she is unlike anyone I've ever witnessed. This is a Holy Woman - which is a phrase that I do not use loosely. I can not pretend to tell you her amazing story in a simple blog post, but I will share a few points so you might have a little insight into this inspiring leader. 

Yeme started this care point facility several years ago with nothing but a vision from God and FAITH to act on it. Not because she is a kind person, she claims, but because God shared a vision for her life. Yeme is a beautiful and distinguished Ethiopian woman who radiates a spirit that I can not adequately describe with my limited words. She has big brown eyes that convey sincerity, conviction and love. I was so comforted by her presence and her quiet but powerful way of communicating her story in her native language of Amharic (her brother in-law provided the translation). 

Yeme was fifteen years old when the fascist regime in Ethiopia was persecuting Christians throughout the country. Her father was a leading evangelist in the country and was thrown in prison, along side of his daughter Yeme. While in prison they were tortured and beaten in an attempt to intimidate and break them from sharing the Gospel. She would only share so much of the torture stories with us but one thing she did tell us was that they used to make her and her father 'walk' five kilometers (approximately 3 miles) from one town to the next, in nothing but their under garments.........on their knees. She spent one year and eight months in prison...

One day while she was being tortured (whipped) God spoke to her and showed her that her oppressors will some day give way - it was as at this time that God did a work in her heart and she began to really follow Him in her life. Here compassion for the poor grew in the days following her release from prison. She vividly described visions that she received from God on multiple occasions and the actions she took in spite of her fear. Actions to serve the poor and care for the oppressed, "the least of these". 

As I wrote earlier, there is so much more of this story to tell but I just don't have the time - but I am working With Childrens HopeChest to share the amazing details of this story with you and others. I will tell you that I was as much inspired by the beauty of the children at her carepoint as I was her amazing story.

So here's the bottom line:

1. Andrea and I came to Ethiopia because we were convicted to do 'something' - though we didn't know exactly what that was. 

2. During my first days here we were convicted of what that was - to support poor children and their families (not limited to orphans, though there are plenty of them here). 

3. Today I was convicted of who we will work with - Yemeserachkeab and her team. Beyond Yeme everyone I met with (Board Members, Staff, etc.) were amazing, compassionate and trustworthy. These are the kind of people that we will be honored to work along side in this mission.

4. Now we are convicted to build a team in the States that will partner with us. A group of caring souls who are not willing to just sit on the sidelines while these kids die of hunger and preventable disease. Yes this means you! 

It takes very little effort to support a child and I will explain the details for you at another time, but here are the basics: 35 dollars a month per child, intermittent correspondence, and if you have the heart and are willing - come to Africa with us to get up front and personal with these amazing kids (this is not required - but it will change your life for ever). Check out this amazing organization at

Our next step is to sponsor approximately 100 children at the Nazaret Look Development Association care point. Please join us (email in changing the live of these kids. I promise that you will not regret this decision. Thank you and God Bless!


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ethiopian Orphan Project Day 5

Greetings from Addis Ababa Ethiopia! It's getting late and we've been running on (diesel) fumes over the last couple of days so I'm goint to keep this short. Any of you who've been to Addis understand my diesel reference - the pollution in this city is unbelievable. While driving you are constantly sucking the fumes from the tailpipes in front of you - you simply can't get away from it. I'm guessing the reason they don't have Malaria problems in the city of Addis Ababa is because the mosquitoes to busy coughing to bite. Nasty.

Today was another jammed packed day. We got up this morning and headed to a town called Wiloso, a mostly Muslim community located about two hours south of Addis Ababa. While there we visited the Wiloso Immanuel Orphanage - a facility that cares for 43 orphaned children (25 boys and 18 girls). This place is unique than any of our other visits in that it was situated in the middle of expansive farm land with (an estimated) 3 plus acres of their own land. While the setting for this facility was different than others we visited, their urgent need was no different. A couple of things stuck out to me about this place:

1) Babies. They had three of them there and they are not equipped to handle these babies (no diapers, no formula ) can you imagine? One of the babies was brought in by her mother, a fifteen year old girl who was unable to care for a baby she never wanted - she was raped. The mother stayed in the orphanage for a short while (after all she was just a kid herself) but eventually fled. Another one of the babies was clearly malnourished, they claimed she was one month old, she was about the size of a one month old, but clearly she was exhibiting signs of at least a three month old. I guess you can say that malnourishment distorts time. The babies had no mosquito nets on their beds and Malaria is ever present in this part of Ethiopia.

2) Children. The kids in the orphanage were so laid back - just really enjoyable and almost relaxing to be around. We played volleyball, hacky sack and soccer with them and they had a great time. At one point my friend Shilo had most of the girls huddled up under a makeshift umbrella (for shade) and we played music for them on a portable ipod speaker. It wasn't long before twenty kids were huddled around the ipod - they just loved it! We listed to an Ethiopian Gospel signer by the name of Sophia (thanks to my Ethiopian friend Ted back in the states). It was just so enjoyable to observe them consume every note like it was a fine wine. Then is was their turn - we all piled into their on site church (a converted barn) and the kids led and unbelievable worship service. As with a lot of things around here, it's difficult to put words on certain experiences. How do you explain a room full of kids with no parents (dead or otherwise), with limited food, 3 mile walk to school each day (one way), mosquito nets with holes the size of a DVD - signing worship songs and praising God from the bottom of their hearts? Why aren't they angry at God? No musical equipment except the sound of their voice and a small drum - yet they filled the room with as much (or more) worship as any 6 piece praise band? How do they do that? What can I learn from them? What could you learn from them now?

I am humbled by the experience... 

Thank you all for continuing to follow along and pray for me and this team. I really appreciate your support.

- Pete

p.s. We stopped for lunch at a lodge that had wild monkeys all over the place. I don't know about you but monkeys kind of creep me out. However, I knew my daughter Isabelle would have been so disappointed if I didn't get as close as I possibly could. So I allowed one of them to eat cranberries out of my hand - then followed up with huge dose of hand sanitizer. 

No Isabelle, I'm not bringing one home.

- Daddy


Friday, December 4, 2009

Today, A huge Day

Going into an Orphanage from Tom Davis 

So my plan today was to write about the adventure of driving 20 hours on a bus over absolutely ridiculous roads, dodging livestock (donkeys, cows, goats) camels, and human beings all along the way. Ramming and killing a small cow (originally thought to be a goat) with our bus, getting pulled over by an Ethiopian police man, getting stuck in the mud and being pushed out by a few good Samaritans, driving through a river to get to our hotel, witnessing the most expansive and spectacular views mountain/valley views, seeing a village funeral procession with the men carrying a dead body on a stick strecher, crossing over a treacherous mountain pass with (at times) less than a foot to spare between us and disaster (apparently the guard rails are on backorder), observing people living in their mud huts and stick shacks, seeing hyenas on the side of the road and a man stopping traffic when he parked his truck right in the middle of the road to urinate (presumably because he was afraid of the hyenas that lurk on the side of the road). But today was so much more interesting than that.....

We started our day by visiting a facility called Hope For The Hopeless (HFTH) which is a ministry and 'rehabilitation' center for street kids. Boys and girls ages 5-15 who live in the streets of Addis Ababa. HFTH has staff members working the streets and identifying kids to come to there facility. If the kids choose to stay, they remain in the home for 3 to 6 months while they are rehabilitated (my words not theirs). Just to be clear, we're not talking about drug rehabilitation here. These kids get messed up and seriously abused on the streets (emotionally, physically, sexually) and HFTH takes them in and prepares them to live in an orphanage. Many of the boys are scarred from the abuse. One boy had scars covering his head - we are left to wonder what a nightmare that must have been. After living in the orphanage for about a year HFTH seeks to place the kids into foster care. Their ultimate objective is to get these kids into HOMES not just into an orphanage. That is key here - the ultimate goal is a family - not an orphanage if at all possible.

We visited what I view as their stage one facility which is where the (former) street kids begin their 'rehab'. They receive a bed, food, Christian education, counseling and hope. In an environment filled with so much chaos, this facility was incredibly organized. The pastor of the orphanage was so clearly genuine - the type of guy you love after meeting him for a minute. Currently this facility cares for 15 children (13 boys and two girls). Some of who you should have seen in the video posted above.

So we spent a couple of hours with these kids, learning about them, talking to them and playing with them. I was particularly taken by one boy who told me that he loved music (keyboards) - all of the other boys told me that they loved futbol or other games but this guy was different. After 20 minutes of all the kids playing I tracked him down and asked him if he wanted to listed to some music (I brought my ipod and a portable speaker system) - he was all over it. Over the next 20 - 30 minutes he and a small group 'jammed out' together. We had the kids playing air guitar, air drums and air keyboards. Some of the music was Ethiopian, some was American - they loved it all!

It was then time for us to leave, we had another facility to visit. So we gathered the kids up in a tight group, circled them with member of the team and prayed for them and their care takers. Then we hit the road.....

We went to this other facility (which I don't have the time or energy to get into right now) and hung with some younger kids. At the end of our visit we were all meeting as a team and once of the teammates voiced her concern for HFTH. She got the stong sense while we were their that they needed food - which we later confirmed with a phone call that they had little to no food. So after a brief discussion we decided to head back across town, buy some food for them so we could be certain they'd have some immediately, and give them some cash to buy more. We stopped at a market and bought 10 kilograms of bananas, oranges, carrots and some bread - then we headed back over to the Hope For The Hopeless Facility....

From then on the scene is very difficult to put into words and I'm a little hesitant to do so because I know I can't do it justice. What I can do is tell you the facts, but I'll never be able to fully describe the deep emotions of humility, gratitude, awe that we felt - and the spirit that was so ever present and visible like steam in a amazingly hot shower. We entered the facility courtyard and gathered up the pastor, staff members and some of the kids along with our team. We presented the pastor with the food that we bought and a wad of cash. One of our teammates explained that the cash was not just from the people present but from all the people back in the states who supported us with donations. The pastor, filled with emotion, went on to explain that they were out of food and they have zero funds in their bank account. I know that sounds hard to believe, but trust me, come over here for a few days and your belief systems will shift (radically) - and you will appreciate how this can happen. The situation here is desperate. He said that they prayed TODAY for help, for food. They received enough food and cash to keep the kids well fed for a just over a month.....

God's presence was so vivid in that courtyard today and I felt so humbled and honored to even be there. 

In many ways this city/country is a disaster - poverty, orphans, disease. But the irony is that God's presence is more apparent here than any other place that I've ever been. If you feel led to do so, please partner with Andrea, me and Childrens HopeChest to make a real difference. The video below was shot a few months ago but provides excellent insight into our mission here.

Ethiopian Orphans from Simon Scionka on Vimeo.

Presenting the money

Hope for the Hopeless Orphanage from Tom Davis on Vimeo.

Hope for the Hopeless Orphanage from Tom Davis on Vimeo.




Some Pictures

Pictures from Tom Davis's Facebook update:


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