Just a few months after adopting our three children from Ethiopia, we were sitting around the dinner table together one night and my husband and I asked them, “What do you miss most about Ethiopia?” They were new to the English language, so our communication was limited, but increasing daily.
“Our brothers”, our oldest daughter responded without hesitation.
Umm...excuse me? Do you mean cousins? Or friends? Surely you don’t mean brothers...in all the piles of adoption paperwork we have filed away, there was never a single mention of you having “brothers”.
After a lot of back and forth conversation to verify what was said, we were left with our jaws on the floor and our hearts bursting with joy and anticipation. We thought we had kept their family unit together when we adopted our three kids. But they, indeed, were FIVE.
We prayed, we researched, we hired an investigator, and we sent out endless messages on social media in search of the boys. And ultimately, God paved the most unexpected and beautiful path for our family that led us here...to Gambella, one of the most remote areas of the world we have ever travelled to, where our children were born, and where we got to witness them embracing their brothers and extended family whom they hadn’t seen in six years.
They were five. And they were TOGETHER. My daughter said she had prayed every day for six years for this moment. It was healing. It was renewed hope. It was the most visible evidence of God’s love and faithfulness for our children.
We had heard stories from the kids of what it was like growing up in Gambella, but until we were actually there, with our own feet walking the dusty dirt path through the tall grasses of the village, it was a world we couldn’t fully comprehend. Many of their homes were mud and straw huts with ragged curtains hung up as doors. Most had no beds to sleep on, no running water, and no electricity. They cook their meals over open-flames, hand wash their clothes and hang them to dry, and walk miles every day to get to and from their daily activities. Their toilets are holes in the ground and the river serves as their shower. Mosquitos flood the air when the sun goes down and malaria runs rampant.
The schools in the area were closed while we were there due to tribal fighting and violence. And not only that, some of our Gambellan family members couldn’t even sleep in their own huts at night for fear of being killed when the sun went down. Before it got dark, the entire community on that end of town had to walk miles to spend the night elsewhere before returning home to their own properties the following day.
The fear and sickness and material poverty there existed in stark contrast to the stunning beauty of the people and their kindness and generosity that were also abundant. We have travelled to many poor areas of the world, but God opened our eyes more than ever before through this experience because this was our FAMILY living there. It challenged and it changed me to my core with that reality. Because it’s easy to ignore the hurting world when you don’t know their names and you don’t see their faces and you don’t hear their cries. But when you do...and especially when they are your very own brothers and sons and extended family...that is something that you can’t look away from. God had called us to Gambella with a purpose far greater than just reuniting siblings. I believe that He brought us there to light a fire within us that would move us to action. People don’t disrupt their own lives to serve others because of what they KNOW…they do it because of what they FEEL. Action starts in the heart...and God gave my heart a complete remodel!
The entire trip, I couldn’t stop thinking about our life back home in America. The flood of emotions were hard to sift through...it was extreme guilt, and overflowing thankfulness, and anger, and confusion, and conviction all wrapped up together. One month after this life-changing adventure, I’m sitting here in my cozy, heated home with a hot cup of coffee and my laptop computer and I’m still trying to process everything and discern where God is calling us now....
One thing I know for sure is that it’s outside of my comfort zone. But I also know, without hesitation, that I’m ready. I may not feel equipped or capable, but I’m willing. And we shouldn’t wait for opportunities, we should seek them. Because right now, this very minute, someone needs the love of Jesus. And WE get to be the ones who deliver that.