This being my second Lakeland Missions trip, of the many things I have learned to expect is the unexpected. As we endeavor to serve in whatever capacity we can, what starts out to be a task that serves others, invariably turns out to be a divine appointment that challenges, blesses and encourages.
Let me tell you two stories of Hope. First, there is the story of Melis. While painting the handcrafted metal poles to support the lights requested by the missionary physicians so they have light when called to the hospital at night, I met Melis. As Melis walked down the sidewalk beside my makeshift work stand, I saw a young man walking with crutches, wearing not only a white medical coat, but also a broad beautiful smile. We greeted each other with the Ethiopian greeting of Salam and traditional double pat of the shoulders and began to chat.
Melis was introduced to the hospital 10 years ago when he developed polio, which left him in his words “handicapped”. I learned that when a child becomes handicapped in anyway, they are rejected and abandoned by their friends and family. At about 15, where he had no control of his circumstances, he went from being accepted by both family and friends to being rejected and cast aside in every way. Soddo Christian Hospital changed that by showing Christ’s love and unconditional acceptance toward him in spite of his disease. Melis grew, but stayed close to his new hospital family. They encouraged his new walk with Christ as well as his personal development and education.
When I met Melis, he was on his way to the metal shop after his shift as a translator, where he translates 5 different languages. He was on his to the metal shop where he produces custom crutches that are distributed to patients where needed. These crutches are based on his own design developed from his own personal experience. Melis also invited me to his office in Soddo where he founded a business employing handicapped people throughout the city. Melis said the name of his company is Immanuel, which he quickly translated for me means “God is with us”. He was also eager to show me his new wheel chair design with only a single wheel in front so that disabled users could maneuver easier on Soddo’s dirt and stone roads.
In spite of the adversity and challenges Melis faced and putting His faith in Christ, his life and attitude characterized hope. Little by little, language-by-language, crutch-by-crutch and labored step by step, Melis radiates hope. I will never forget Melis and his radiant smile of joy that day outside the metal shop.
The second story is that of Leman. I was asked to help Leman, who is Soddo Christian Hospital’s electrical technician. Leman had injured his foot falling off a ladder, so my job was mostly to hold a ladder while he climbed up light poles replacing fluorescent bulbs, starters and ballasts where needed. As is usual among the amazing staff here at Soddo, Leman greeted me with a broad smile and warm hug.
As we worked together that morning, I heard the story of my new friend. As a young boy, he lost both his parents in a very short time to a terrible disease similar to Ebola. This left little Leman alone where eventually an uncle took him in. Through the influence of his uncle, Leman came to know Jesus personally. Most of his life was spent alone, finding odd jobs, getting an education at a local technical school and ultimately serving at repairing many of the broken things at SCH. Leman is the father of 3 wonderful children, and was proud to tell me they each attend a Christian school. He is a leader in his church and is heading up a building program expanding his church to accommodate 600 to 1000 people.
Again, in spite of the incredible challenges Leman faced and putting his faith in Christ, his life and attitude characterized hope. In spite of the challenges of losing his parents, fending much of his life for himself, today Leman too radiates hope. Like Melis, I will never forget that day working with Leman as we walked in the field with arms around each other, assuring each other we will stay in contact.
As I said earlier, on our mission trips, I have learned to expect the unexpected. As in the examples of Melis and Leman, what began as tasks to serve the missionaries and hospital here at Soddo, turned out to be unexpected experiences. This type of story is repeated over and over by our Soddo Team. I will not forget these two stories of hope, where I trust that when I am faced with adversity and challenges that appear insurmountable, I remember my two Ethiopian friends and the hope and courage they displayed.