Last week my family enjoyed a "staycation" while we hosted some family friends from a couple of states away. This gave us the wonderful opportunity to plan for some activities we may not have prioritized had we not been planning this visit for a few months!
One of our grand adventures (well, probably THE biggest adventure) was going whitewater rafting. While Ted and I had been before, none of our children had, and they were eager and a bit nervous about the new experience. We left the house bright and early to drive the 95 miles and make our 8:30am arrival time. We chose a half-day tour, opting to go before lunch in order to beat the heat.
We couldn't have asked for better weather! It was so beautiful, with a nice breeze and lovely blue skies. (This was a day before we had a tornado watch...! In Colorado!!!) Our guide was enthusiastic and shared plenty of corny jokes as we made our way down the river. Our raft brought up the rear of our 3-boat entourage, which was perfect for splashing our friends, who were in the raft just ahead of us. We enjoyed a series of Class II and III rapids, which were very fun but definitely left all of us wanting MORE! Unfortunately, kids under age 14 were not allowed on the more intense part of the river, but I think everyone had a great time anyway.
In between the rapids, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the Arkansas River as it snaked its way toward the Royal Gorge. Seanin (our 9yo son) was deeply disappointed that the whole ride wasn't whitewater rapids! And that made me contemplate a little life lesson...
We all have "rapids" in our lives: exciting, thrilling adventures and high points that leave us invigorated and energized.
Sometimes those rapids take a turn and become dangerous, even injurious.
We need a loving, all-knowing guide who will travel with us through the good, the bad, the fun, and the difficult times of life. Jesus is that guide...or at least, He is for me. Are you navigating life with a Guide? Or are you trying to steer the boat and avoid the rocks all on your own?
And another aspect to this little life lesson: what do we do in between the rapids? Do we chafe and moan, wishing life could be one big adventure? Or do we look around and notice the beauty of where we are? Not just our physical environment, but also the spiritual beauty of resting, waiting, traveling at God's pace instead of running ahead?
Just some thoughts from our Journey Quest adventure!
June 28, 2023. This day happened to be Ted's and my 26th anniversary! These roses you see pictured were in the hotel lobby. I just love all the fresh flowers we saw everywhere!
So...our last wake-up in Ethiopia. So bittersweet! I took my Bible downstairs for my last breakfast time, where I visited with some of my teammates while eating and then had my quiet time. I don't have a photo, but I had a lovely conversation (several talks a few minutes at a time) with one of the servers, Abraham. He is a believer and connected with our team members over the course of the time we were there. He would see one of us reading a Bible and ask if we were a Christian...so by the time I met him, he had already had conversations with just about everyone on the team! My heart was so blessed to listen to his testimony and to share the bond of faith.
After my final walk by the pastry counter to enjoy a second helping of their delicious donuts (!!!), I reluctantly headed back to my hotel room to start the packing process. BUT FIRST!! I had the incredible privilege of meeting a sweet lady whom I've only known of long-distance for years! She and her family spent years in Mexico as missionaries. We learned about them through the church we attended while we were in Iowa, as their extended family attended Common Ground as well. Over the years we've prayed for each other...Mary and her family prayed for Verity when I was pregnant with her and have followed her journey ever since! Anyway...imagine my surprise when our pastor's wife connected us, saying that Mary's family was now in Addis Ababa! Mary and I began messaging, as I eagerly agreed to help transport some homeschool materials and other items from the States for her and her family. Tobin and I only needed one suitcase a piece, so we pretty much packed a 3rd bag just for Mary's family, ha!
With our full schedule, the only time for us to meet up was this last day, and it was just perfect. Mary and I honestly could spend hours talking together, but we made do with just one! She made this darling little dress for Verity...I'll flash forward and show you a photo of Verity wearing it to church the following Sunday...
It was SO wonderful to visit with each other! Mary's husband now has a job with Samaritan's Purse, so she shared a little bit about their work there. He had been busy with the auditor who had come to do an internal audit...the only reason I mention this is because, small world, I sat NEXT TO the auditor on the way from Ethiopia to Virginia! She's a lovely lady, too! Anyway...I connected Mary with our Cru friend Marc so they could make more ministry connections, and then I really had to get to work packing so I could get all my items out of the hotel room. We used Marc and Evangeline's suite as a holding area for all of our baggage, since our flight home wasn't until 10:40pm that night.
Thankfully Tobin was feeling much better this day! We had a lovely lunch at the hotel with the Ethiopian team. It's crazy how you can spend only one week with folks and yet feel like family...that's the bond of Christ! Here are some photos of our lunch fellowship...
The Ethiopians gave each of us gifts...so sweet! I was delighted to take home Ethiopian coffee and a beautiful shawl! The men also received something that I don't know how to name, but I'm guessing "shawl" isn't quite the word, lol. Here's Tobin sporting his!
Our team had a surprise for them as well. We pitched in and contributed a monetary gift for them to put toward an upcoming team retreat-type of event that they have been saving for for quite some time. I don't know how much we raised altogether, but I'm hopeful they will be able to enjoy that retreat sooner rather than later!
Following our lunch and goodbyes, it was time to meet as a team and debrief. This was a wonderful time of sharing and hopefully helpful to Nate and Loree as they plan to make this an annual "thing" for supporters to be able to get an up-close look at these ministries. We shared what we thought went well, what maybe could improve, and what a highlight was from the trip.
I won't speak for everyone, but for me, I thought so much went well! We joked several times that "nothing went as planned," and yet "everything went as planned." God's plans are the best, and we all came into this experience holding plans and expectations loosely, wanting to be open to God's leading and purposes rather than our own agenda. Despite so many changes, I think communication amongst us went surprisingly well.
For future trips, I think there are additional items I would recommend putting on the packing list (or even suggested items to bring). Considering we only knew about this trip 3 weeks in advance, honestly, I'm pleased with what I brought! But personally, I would have loved to have brought special treats for the children (such as bubbles or small toys). Thankfully, Loree and Evangeline had extras for us to give out, but still. I may also have chosen to pack more "comfort" items considering all the stomach issues we had...but really, I survived!
And my highlight? Hands down our weekend in rural Ethiopia! It's hard to say whether the Jesus Film Premieres or the church plant visit and fellowship were more of a highlight; they were both so incredibly special and meaningful. But I'm also very thankful for the opportunity we had to learn more about digital missions and how we can be involved. The whole trip was simply incredible.
We had a light dinner and then headed to the airport about 3 1/2 hours before our departure time.
If you think going through security at American airports is annoying, you should try going through THREE security checkpoints at the Addis Ababa airport! First we went through with ALL of our bags...which meant we had to pull out all of the liquids, electronics, etc. Then we checked in and got to offload our checked baggage. Then it was through another security line. Then through the airport to our final security line, which was right before our gate. AND...no place to purchase water after we went through this last security, where we had to empty out our water bottles. SIGH! We were all pretty thirsty and disgruntled as we waited to get on the airplane! I did have a 16-ounce refillable water bottle (which was filled with water) that I had hidden away in one of my bags, and it did not get flagged at all. So...that was nice, but I wish we had all known that and been prepared!
Anyway, we survived and boarded the plane for our 17-hour journey (8 hours to Dublin, then refueling, then 8 more hours to Dulles). I visited with our seatmate, the auditor for Samaritan's purse, for awhile, slept a bit here and there, and watched a couple of new-to-me movies (Luca, Mary Poppins Returns).
Dulles was a disaster. I'll keep this short, but it was a series of unfortunate events that ended up with us on the plane for 6.5 hours past takeoff time. Then we were in a holding pattern over Denver because of weather. Our flight was originally scheduled to land at 2:23pm, June 29. We landed at about 10:15pm and left the airport at 11pm because Ted had thankfully been able to collect our luggage during the time we were stuck on the ground waiting to pull up to the gate. Honestly...it was exhausting and a huge inconvenience, but considering we had spent time with men who have been persecuted for the sake of the gospel, "inconvenience" was about the worst I can say it was. Not fun or enjoyable to be sure, but...perspective.
In fact, now that we've been home for as long as we were in Ethiopia, I pray that I never lose hold of this perspective. I continue to ask the Lord just how He wants me to use this experience, how I can share with others the needs and opportunities for God's kingdom work. I don't want this to just be a trip full of great memories but rather a life-changing experience.
I will keep pondering and praying over all of these things...
June 27, 2023. During this morning we had an incredible treat: the opportunity to hear from two men who have devoted their lives to sharing the gospel via the Jesus film! These full-time missionaries have some stories to tell, to say the least! It was so incredibly inspiring and humbling to listen to their accounts of how they started out in ministry and some of the highlights (and danger) they have experienced over the years. I believe both of them have been doing this work for over 2 decades, and they have personally seen millions of people accept Christ. (Not that they would tell you that...their humility and desire for God alone to be glorified prevents them from focusing on numbers.)
One thing that was impressed on us during their presentations: they adamantly affirmed that the Jesus film is THE BEST "return on investment" as far as sharing the gospel. In other words, it has proven time and time again to be the most effective breakthrough strategy, the most effective means of opening the conversations and starting people on the journey toward a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. For Christians who want to invest in God's kingdom, this organization would be a wonderful place to send your dollars and prayer support. Not only do they introduce the idea of eternal salvation from sin through the showing of the film, but they also have long-term strategies for cultivating knowledge and making disciples who then make more disciples! This is not about an evangelistic campaign that is a "flash in the pan," then disappears and leaves people to figure things out on their own. It's a holistic approach to the Great Commission, showing care and concern in practical, physical ways as well as spiritual.
Above you can see both of the missionaries...one became emotional when I asked how we could pray for them specifically. It took some time for them to admit personal needs. I was moved to tears when the first words out of their mouths were that God would provide resources and strategies for more people to hear the gospel. These men are so tenderhearted for their countrymen and women to know Jesus. Other ways we can pray: through a translator, we heard these requests:
1. "We don't always understand the suffering we must go through." (My heart goes out to them--this is an understatement after hearing about just a few instances of persecution they have experienced.)
2. It is difficult to consistently provide for their own wives and children. Stability in the living situations in Ethiopia is hard to come by; home ownership is rare, and rent is expense and can be jacked up at any time. One of the men shared that his family had to move because the landlord found another tenant who would pay a higher price for rent.
We had the privilege to gather around and lay hands on the men, praying for these specific needs as well as their work in sharing the gospel. Again...if your heart is so moved, I encourage you to pray about a one-time or a recurring financial donation to the Jesus Film Project! It is an eternal investment!
A few of our teammates had to slip out or miss this day's activities altogether...let's just say the unfamiliar food was doing a number on some bellies, and one family was fighting a respiratory illness. The rest of us left the hotel where we had been gathered all morning and drove to the GCM Ethiopia national office to see those facilities and learn more about the work they do there.
Valerie and I pose by an old projector used to show the Jesus film!
I should mention that GCM Ethiopia owns this entire building! That is such a huge blessing in and of itself, since it's so rare to be able to own property. Their bank actually rents space from THEM on the ground level!
A peek at this floor of the building, with offices/cubicles behind these partial walls (including the AWANA office!)
Leadership training also takes place in this building.
Here we are in the soundproofed recording studio. In the fall of 2023, this team is set to provide 24/7 news & other content on the local (and I believe national) TV stations plus internet! The facilities will be made available to other ministries as well for producing more content that glorifies Christ and tells people about Him.
Also in the recording studio; another background. These members of the Digital Strategies team shared more information about their personal involvement plus their dreams and visions for the future.
So, funny fact...by this point, it was WELL past lunch time (though 3pm lunches seemed to be typical there, lol), and yet none of us were really up for an actual meal. Nate and Loree brought peanut butter and crackers, so we stood around at the office and dipped crackers into peanut butter and called it good! It was helpful for our tummies for sure!
Then it was time to do some shopping! Aside from our first day in Addis Ababa (when we walked around the city in an effort to overcome jet lag), we had not had any opportunities to buy gifts or souvenirs. So in the late afternoon, we had a grand total of ONE HOUR to navigate a little mall area, shown below, while utilizing our Ethiopian friends to help with bartering! (We Americans aren't usually very good at that, lol.) After a quick walk up all the levels to peek at the merchandise, I determined what I wanted to get for my husband and kiddos and had to chuckle listening to the exchanges between the merchants and Senay and Mistre, both of whom helped me negotiate reasonable prices.
We placed orders for bags of coffee from a local place, so we didn't physically have to go shop for that. I got Ted an "espresso" set (well, after living in Italia that's what I would call it) with a pattern of artwork showing the Queen of Sheba since that is ancient Ethiopian history/legend. Kenna got two pairs of earrings; Rhema got a bracelet; the younger boys got cut and painted stone animals; and Arden got a bottle of Ethiopian ketchup. (If you know Arden, you know this was entirely appropriate, lol.) Tobin was feeling yucky all day, and he's not a shopper anyway...but I got a patterned mug for him since he enjoys hot tea. For myself, I found this beautiful shawl, which I purchased after seeing the one Valerie got. Aren't they beautiful? And so warm!
After all of this, you'd think our day would be finished...but we still had a treat in store! Sami and Senay hosted us (two groups, two homes) for dinner! I was with the group that went to Senay's apartment, which meant I got to meet his wife and new baby boy Caleb (only about 7 weeks old). What a privilege to get to see his home and enjoy their hospitality. One of my favorite parts of our experience was not only the food and fellowship, but also we ended up going around the room and sharing how we came to know Jesus. I just love hearing people's testimonies! It was a little piece of heaven, truly.
Salam, Senay's wife, brought out the delicious food. I loved everything! But I was too full for French fries, lol. (Senay is seated all the way to the right.)
Such a wonderful way to end this day: breaking bread with our brothers & sisters in Christ!
June 26, 2023. After an incredibly full weekend at the Jesus Film premiere(s) plus visiting the church plant, Monday was a comparatively calm day. We went back to the Digital Strategies team office, where we heard reports from 3 different campus ministry teams. The young men who represented each location were all part of their campus digital teams, and it was very interesting to hear how they help empower and equip their peers to share their faith in various ways online. Each team was unique and yet there was overlap and sharing of ideas and strategies. Once again, I was so encouraged and inspired by the enthusiasm and passion they displayed!
One thing I love: these self-led teams have systems in place to train up their replacements! The creativity and initiative of the students contribute to strong, sustainable ministries.
We spent all morning hearing from these teams, then took a break for a late lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant, where we enjoyed some more familiar food as well as the fellowship.
From left: Evangeline, Annada, Senay, Sami, Julianna, Loree, Dean, Bernie, Valerie
On the left, the 5 young men from the 3 campuses who shared during the morning sessions.
At the table's end, Etsub, one of the digital strategies team members/one of our wonderful hosts; I don't know who is sitting next to her, but then it's Nate, Marc, and Aragorn (Marc & Evangeline's son).
In the late afternoon, we had quite a bit of time to visit and ask questions. Sami helped me finish setting up my TMM account and showed me how it all works from the mentoring side. Tobin had a nice, hour-long chat with one of the campus presenters, and the two found they had a lot in common! They've connected on IG!
After another full day of listening and learning, we were thankful for an evening to rest and recover. I think some folks may have met together for dinner, but some of us (myself included) did another night of room service and hit the sack!
June 25, 2023. Breakfast at the hotel, then loading up the bus again, this time to a remote location so we could visit a church plant for their worship service. I have no idea how long we drove, but eventually we were no longer on pavement of any kind, passing scenes such as this...
Our destination was inaccessible by bus, so at some point we parked and began walking. It wasn't too long, perhaps 20 minutes. Here are some views from the walk...
When we arrived at the church, we heard more from some of the missionaries about the story of how this church body got started. This group has been in existence just a little over 2 months! It is in a community where only 1-2 families were Christians for some time. Then, after the Jesus film was shown, more people came to Christ, and now there's a church! The building and land were donated by a sweet little lady, whom we got to meet and pray for during the service. Here is my view while listening to the story of the church beginnings:
Tobin and I got a quick picture with the church building behind us. Soon the church members came out, bringing the benches outside with them, so that we could get a photo of everyone. Then we all joined in worship together (an utterly Spirit-filled, emotional experience) and listened to Girma, national director of GCM Ethiopia, give a completely impromptu sermon on Ephesians 4:1-6.
We enjoyed some fellowship for some time afterward, and then we walked to a church member's home (perhaps the pastor's?) because we were of course invited for lunch. This was such a treat! "Eat an authentic Ethiopian meal in a Christian's home where everything you eat and drink was produced on the ground around you" was not on our official agenda, but WOW, are we blessed that God orchestrated our schedule for us! It was truly, in my opinion, the BEST food and the BEST coffee I had during my time in Ethiopia! Sharing the time with our brothers in sisters in Christ undoubtedly made it all the more flavorful and memorable!
The host home
The meal: injera (their bread) with FRESHLY made cheese (on the left) and flavorful lentil dishes. "Kocho" is what the square item is: it's basically a flatbread made of fermented "false banana" (enset plant). Kocho is very dense; I could only eat part of mine. But everything else...well, I happily accepted seconds! It was all amazingly delicious!
I was sitting at about the center along one of the walls, so here is a look to my left and right. You can see Dean getting his hands washed after our meal (no utensils typically used).
Getting ready to drink the BEST cup of coffee EVER! (And yes, I did accept 2 spoonsful of sugar!) This coffee was grown right behind the house!
Before we left, I just HAD to talk to the children! My mama's heart was about to burst! With the help of a translator, I spoke blessings on this next generation, that they will be strong and courageous and grow in Jesus, helping others to know about Him as well. My emotions were definitely brimming over, as I was also missing my own little girls back at home plus the rest of my family. My heart longed for all of the Jacobsons to experience fellowship with these believers, but for the time being, I was just so thankful to have this time with Tobin and our team, who were rapidly becoming more like family than a group of near strangers coming together for the first time.
We had a long way to travel, with an event to attend in the city of Addis Ababa that evening, so our leaders began ushering us in the direction of the bus. (Remember it was a 20-minute walk to get back to the bus!) As I reluctantly said goodbye to those precious little girls and their mamas, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a young man with distinctive facial features. I nearly stopped, but we were being tugged along, and so I didn't. My heart was already full...and yet...I longed to connect with one more person...did I really just see someone with Down syndrome?!
I walked with Marc back to the bus, weeping with emotion as I tried to express my heartfelt gratitude that he had invited us to consider coming on this trip in the first place. As we reflected on the events of the day, Marc asked me if I had seen that the young man with Down syndrome was sitting right in front of Tobin and myself when we were worshiping and singing during the church service! I had not! At the time we were standing in the back along the wall of the church, and later we were seated on a bench just in front of the preacher. In all of the happy chaos following the service, I had been blowing bubbles with the children and hanging out with the women. So I had not seen him until that moment just before we had to leave the warmth of the hospitality we had been enjoying.
When we got to the bus, I saw that some of the church leaders were there to send us off. I dashed inside the bus to snag a few Verity's Village brochures, which feature pictures of our sweet Verity. With one of the Ethiopian team members to translate for me, I told the men about our special girl and that I had seen the special young man from their community and wanted them to know how much he is loved and valued! And while I knew they wouldn't read the English explanation about our ministry, I wanted them to have the pictures of Verity and know when they see them that my family and I will be praying for THEIR community and for that precious man, who is obviously loved and accepted just as he is (praise God)!
Mistre, the young lady who was helping me communicate, asked me if I wanted to meet the young man. He had come along with the others to the bus to see us off! Sadly, I never did get his name, but I'm so thankful I could at least meet him and share some words of love and encouragement! Isn't God amazing?!
I spent the bus ride back to the city praying, reading God's Word, and thinking...feeling a bit like Mary who "treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).
Unfortunately, we missed the conference that we had been planning to attend, a massive celebration of the 51 Days of Digital Outreach. Over 10,000 people attended, and we pulled up to the conference center as attendees were pouring out into the streets. I was disappointed for Sami especially. It was a bit like the disappointment we felt for Dean not being able to see the premiere of the Jesus film in the language he had funded. And yet...we were so very grateful for the incredible opportunity to be with the people in the remote little church. I hope and pray they were even half as blessed and encouraged to be with us as we were to be with them!
Although it seemed as if this one day had already lasted far longer than 24 hours, we returned to our hotel in the early evening, with plenty of time to get into cozy clothes and gather in the meeting suite for a room service dinner and time of debriefing. What a precious time it was, sharing our perspectives and experiences. We were more than ready, though, to tumble into bed for a much-needed night of sleep!
This day, this weekend, was one of the most beautiful times in my life. I pray I never forget it.
I returned to my hotel room to find two dozen roses arranged by my sweet housekeeping attendant.