Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

In 2007, I boarded a plane bound for Africa for the first time.

That trip took me to Kenya, Tanzania, the island of Zanzibar, and Malawi.

And that trip changed me — heart, mind soul — forever transforming my family and my world.

Today, five years almost to the day since I flew to Nairobi to begin my first African adventure, I’m sitting in the international terminal of Dulles airport in Washington, D.C., waiting to board a 787 Dreamliner bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

An adventure lies ahead. And yet, so much more than that.

I’ve been to Africa twice now (this is my third visit to continent), and each time the people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had on the journey — all of it dripping with a grace so palpable I could almost smell it like so much sandalwood smoke wafting from an incenser — have shaped me and recalibrated my spirit.

I don’t know specifically what Ethiopia has in store for me, but I am sure of one thing: The Spirit will be there.

It will move my soul. I will be changed. My capacity to love will deepen. My concept of beauty, joy, faith, courage, and suffering will grow.

My traveling companions are a dozen women  — all are members of ONE Moms — a group of mothers from around the globe who are part of the ONE Campaign, a non-partisan advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.***

Backed by more than 3 million members, ONE works with government leaders to support proven, cost-effective solutions to save lives and help build sustainable futures. I’ve been orbiting ONE for a decade, way back when it was called DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) and I was still a newspaper reporter. I tagged along on a trip across the American Midwest (called the “Heart of America Tour“) with ONE co-founder Bono, Bobby Shriver, Chris Tucker, Ashley Judd and a merry band of activists determined to get the American church (read: Evangelicals like me) to do something about the AIDS emergency in sub-Saharan Africa.

For years, I’ve covered ONE as a journalist — from the outside looking in, as a bystander and (mostly) neutral observer. I could tell ONE’s stories, but I couldn’t get involved in its work directly.

And then earlier this year, having left the news business in 2011 when I joined the staff of Sojourners as its Web Editor and Director of New Media, ONE extended an invitation to me to join the advisory board of ONE Moms. I like to think of Sojo and ONE as kissing cousins, both dedicated to doing Matthew 25 work — feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, sheltering the homeless, healing the sick, reaching out to the margins with love and respect — and, because I was no longer a traditional journalist, very happily I was able to say YES! (A great, big, full-throated, fledgy YESSSSSSS!)

Soon came another invitation from ONE to join other ONE mamas on a listening-and-learning visit to Ethiopia. And more fledgy YESSSES.

Beginning Sunday, we’ll be visiting various NGOs and projects in and around Addis Ababa that work  (predominantly) with women and girls, and we’ll many of our counterparts — Ethiopian mamas, our sisters from the other side of the world.

We will sit with the weavers at fashionABLE, visit patients and doctors at the world-renowned Hamlin Fistula Hospital, organizations that work with orphans and widows, AIDS prevention programs, nutrition centers for newborns and children, and women farmers near Bahir Dar, in northwestern Ethiopia’s Ahmara district not far from the Sudanese border.

My prayer is to enter this adventure with a wide-open heart and mind. To be present. To listen well. To learn and to tell the stories of the people I meet as well as I can.

Five years ago, on that first trip to Africa, I was working on a memoir called Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace. The idea was to explain (for lack of a better word) what grace feels/sounds/smells/tastes like for people who don’t know what it is or feel like they’ve never experienced it. I did so by telling stories from my own life — including tales from intentional experiences I’d had to see how grace would “turn up,” certain that it would and spectacularly so. With jazz hands.

And it did.

On Oct. 12 this year, I will be in Ethiopia, about 4,000 kilometers north of Blantyre, Malawi where I was on Oct. 12, 2007.

That’s the day I met a little boy by the side of the road who was dying of a heart defect. He had no parents. He was desperately poor. Some would have said he had no hope.

The tiny boy was wearing a dingy t-shirt with the drawing of a dove and the word, chisomo, written on it, which means “grace” in his native language, Chichewa.

But, as a friend told me yesterday when I was talking about how I believed Ethiopia would be a transformational experience, God is even bigger than we think.

As many of you already know,that boy is now my son, Vasco.

(L) Vasco in Malawi, 2007. (R)Vasco in California, 2012.

The first time I went to Africa, I went looking for grace, and I found Vasco.

The second time I went to Africa, in 2010, I brought Vasco with me for an adoption hearing, not knowing if I’d be able to get him out again.

But God is even bigger than we think.

And I returned home to California with a family — legally and forever.

My flight’s about to board for Ethiopia.

I’m not looking for anything or anyone. I’m going with an open hand and heart.

And I know — more than I ever could express in words — that God is even bigger than we think.

Tune in here and at for (hopefully) daily reports from Ethiopia and watch for my tweets (and those of my traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

***I’m in Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of The ONE Campaign. We are here to report back to you how lives have been improved or saved by American-supported programs. ONE is a non-partisan organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease by pressing political leaders to support smart programs that save lives. ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice.

Categories: From, GODSTUFF, VASCO | Tags: , , , , , , , | 61 Comments

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61 thoughts on “Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

  1. What a divine story! May you continue to be transformed by our unimaginably HUGE God.

    Many blessings,
    Pat Arnold

    • Yeah I guess it’s nice how God has told the Catholic church to fight prophylactics in a continent so devastated by the AIDS epidemic. God truly does work in mysterious ways.

  2. margaretfeinberg

    Waiting breathless to hear more about your adventures!

  3. Awesome!! God bless you as you do His work!

  4. Absolutely amazing!

  5. You made it… waiting for more from your adventures …

  6. Fantastic! Wishing you and the other Moms Godspeed.

  7. What an amazing journey! I am new to your blog, and I teared up when I read that you have successfully adopted Vasco, knowing how difficult that process can be. I love the ONE idea and I can’t wait to follow more of where your life leads.

  8. This story made me feel so good and positive inside and you really made me think on the lines- ‘God is even bigger than we think.’ All the very best for your mission.
    And thanks for sharing this :)

  9. action taker

    so what exactly are you doing in Ethiopia, other than preaching and thanking god that you were’nt born there?

  10. Good luck on your journey. Africa certainly gets under your skin! From another mother that cares about improving the lives of African people, particularly the women and children.

  11. Pingback: Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think « jamesnac007

  12. congratulations!! :) so amazing

  13. very, very interesting work you are doing…long may it continue…form the humanity point of view.
    however, i wouldnt go as far as bringing that eternally mysterious being called god into it! in my humble experience, i have seen many things in this world of ours, with always, always the innocent bearing the brunt of the suffering, whilst the devious and criminally minded ones reap the benefits…someone tell me what kind of a god is that who allows this to happen… offence to anybody…just my personal feelings and 2 cents worth!

  14. Feeling Good after going through this post of yours:) It’s so good to know that there are people out there, who’ve been doing some fabulous things, helping the most-needy!

    Wish you a happy, transforming journey! Would love to know more::) Keep updating.

  15. Reblogged this on whispervibes and commented:
    It is not what you do that give you joy but it is the joy that you put in doing it.

  16. What an awesome and amazing work you are doing. Be abundantly blessed on your journey.

  17. Thanks for visiting Africa, and spreading the love. Congrats on being freshly pressed. I’m from Uganda and the photos are so touching.

  18. Heart beating, eyes teared… are a blessing, living, breathing, walking, writing blessing.

    I have a friend who just came back from SA. I know you’re busy now, but maybe later if you have time…..

    If the opportunity ever presents itself to collaborate, I love this mans work:

    I look forward to your updates and posts.

  19. free penny press

    It’s people such as yourself that indeed make the darkness bright. Godspeed on your travels and hopes you continue to teach and serve.
    So well deserving of being Freshly Pressed!

  20. Umm? I’m struggling with the God part. Didn’t he create the problem (him being so powerful and all)?

    But god aside, well done on helping out.

  21. My Husband was born in Nairobi and left when he was two. He has never been back even though we would love to share his history with our children. Thank you for sharing this, God really is bigger than we can ever imagine! Blessings to you and your wide-open heart! :)

  22. May you be as blessed for your good heart and work. Godspeed.

  23. A truly lovely blog!

  24. It is so wonderful to see someone with such beliefs and values being Freshly Pressed! Congrats! Wonderful post as well, it is truly amazing how great our God really is. This world pales in comparison.

  25. You are wonderful to do all of this. Thank you!

  26. I have been to Africa once myself at age 16 with two members of my church at the time, and the experience changed my life as well. I was never able to look at the world the same way again. The next year I went to a Kuna village in Panama, and this year I hope to leave the U.S. yet again.

    It gives me great encouragement to hear of your involvement in ONE, as I am now a college student trying to figure out how to hold on to my dreams of changing the world. Thanks for the post, God bless

  27. Daniel Gillespie

    Awesome blog, take a look at mine! :)

  28. Reblogged this on healingthymeproducts and commented:

  29. adetokunbohr

    amazing. I will make sure i come here more than once.

  30. Hi God Girl. I grow increasingly uncertain about God and his greatness or bigness — but I can see that you have a big heart and you are not afraid. People like you make a big difference — thank you!

  31. When I went to Africa it changed me too. I have never been the same.

  32. techietalk

    Reblogged this on Techie.

  33. kzackuslheureux

    Good Job WordPress for picking a REAL winner. What an inspiration, not you as much as your testimony, eh? I was so blessed as a teen to have my life touch by missions in Nicaragua, there is just something about it… You can’t describe it but to say, “I was forever changed.” I’ve always believed in ONE. Big time doers, the way I can respect it. This is an excellent post. Blessings from another mommy: Where the wind blows, you cannot tell, where it comes from, where it goes, so is everyone born of the Sprit. ;) God Bless you and all your work in and with Ethiopia. May you and your team be safe and sound from head to toe, with little inconvenience, but big impact, with lasting hope.

  34. Africa leaves no person unchanged …that is if they are willing to change. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog and can’t wait for more stories from the beloved Mother Africa

  35. wow, this is so beautiful and inspiring!
    thanks for sharing your story! <3

  36. Truly wonderful story.
    love peace & harmony to All…

  37. gotterd j

    That is interesting

  38. No matter what we face, we must remember, as you so eloquently
    expressed, God is always bigger than we think.

    Outstanding post. And I pray God will be with you and yours always.

  39. Wow. That is amazing that your son’s shirt said “grace”. :)

  40. olivesmeltz

    So if God is so loving and wise why does he inflict such constant disasters on these poor Africans?

  41. Good Post GG!. God is so awesome that we cant even begin to wrap our minds around that fact.
    God Bless!

  42. Hi
    I just found your blog I too can’t wait to hear more!

  43. What a timely post given that today is the feast day of Philip, the evangelist we often credit with bringing the good news to Ethiopia through the story of his interaction with a eunuch of Candace.

    May God bless you in your work and your family. +

  44. andydbrown

    By far the best freshly pressed post I have read to date! A clear picture of God’s grace lived out through your life. A-W-E-S-O-M-E! Thanks for sharing your life here with us. May God continue to bless you and your son, Vasco. I pray that God continues to blow your mind on this trip to Ethiopia and continues to reveal Himself as even bigger than you think! (Ephesians 3:20)

  45. Great story! Good luck onyour mission.

  46. Africa has been an amazing experience for me – the diversity of culture and the warmth of the people has had me in a trance. Thanks for sharing your experience!!

  47. Nicely done. Kenya pried my heart open several years ago, and many other countries flooded in. Keep on!

  48. I envy your journey…God is with you.

  49. A friend of mine in Australia always says,”God luck,” when she wishes one well. Quite a story here… God luck on your travels in Ethiopia. A beautiful story indeed.

  50. now following your blog. can’t wait to read more about your awe-inspiring ministry! Blessings!

  51. wow! it’s a very good adventures!

  52. Wow! I am so glad you were freshly pressed; I wouldn’t have found this otherwise. But I LOVE this! Your words brought me home. Ethiopia is deep in my heart (I lived there for 2 years, have been to most of the places you listed, and have 2 Ethiopian children). And you are so right: God is bigger than all of it! May He bless your journey! I’m looking forward to reading more about it.

  53. AmoreECucina

    Good luck with your trip! The ONE campaign does some great work. I was in Ethiopia last Oct. and the country was a gorgeous. Food was great too!

  54. kgrafix

    May god be with you as you bless the lives of others during your trip. May he keep you safe.

  55. Having grown up in Ethiopia, I was really excited to read this. Thanks for writing it.
    My dad was involved in flying the BBC crews around Ethiopia prior to Live Aid in the mid 1980s, and Bob Geldoff visited again in the 90s… he wore a Biker Mice From Mars leather jacket and gave me a stick of Wrigley’s chrewing gum. I’d love to go back to Ethiopia one day soon.

  56. May God continue to bless you! Thank you for restoring our hope!

  57. An amazing story. I got chills simply READING this! I LOVE AFRICA!!!

  58. God Loves You For Your Determination To Help People, May He Keep Continue To Bless You For Your Good Work

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