The In-Between

Reverse culture shock.  Re-entry.  Whatever you want to call it, it happens.  I’m finding myself in this weird place between life here in New York and my two amazing weeks in Ethiopia.  It feels like life here was placed on pause, and on Tuesday night, January 11th, I pressed play and jumped back into it.  My life in Ethiopia feels so far removed from my life here.  I’m still fighting to reconcile the two, to find a place where they can converge and be meaningful.

I have seen and experienced so much.  I have rediscovered a place and a people that I love deeply and miss terribly.  My heart has been overwhelmed and overflowed, broken and overjoyed.  There are moments I well up with tears, sometimes of joy, sometimes of sadness.  There’s a loneliness I’m struck with, the idea that no one here can understand.  Missing my team, my family for the past two weeks.  Wishing I could transplant myself back in time and back to Ethiopia where life just makes more sense.  And yet it’s also a place where life makes absolutely no sense.

My heart aches for my friends who have no place to sleep tonight.  My heart aches for my friends who probably did not eat dinner, who have no shoes on their feet, who have no family to go home to.  And I log on to Facebook or Twitter and see post after post about things that do not matter.  I see complaints and greed and self pity and then I get angry at the world for not knowing any better.  Then I’m reminded that there was a time that I didn’t know any better.  And even worse, a time I knew better and disregarded it.

Living in ignorance seems ideal, doesn’t it?  “Ignorance is bliss,” we say.  But our ignorance does not erase the pain of the world.  Just because we pretend something does not exist, or even honestly don’t know that it does, doesn’t make it any less real.  For so many people it is their reality.  Homelessness is their reality.  Poverty is their reality.  Abuse is their reality.  Prostitution is their reality.  Being orphaned is their reality.  Illiteracy is their reality.  Disease is their reality.

What do I do with those realities?  That is the question I bring to God.  May He teach me and lead me and guide me.  May He deliver me from my selfish tendencies and my fleshly craving to live in ignorance.  May He continue to provide opportunities for me to be His hands and feet to a lost and dying world.  May He continue to change and soften my heart.

Jesus came and died for all those harsh realities that are so very wrong with this world.  May the love He gives and the hope He brings be that which drives me and that which I long to share.

“I know I’m filled to be emptied again, the seed I’ve received I will sow.”

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Words fall short, but I’ll try anyway.

Selam, friends and family!

I arrived back to New York City last Tuesday night after two weeks in Ethiopia.  Since then I’ve been going through what they call “reverse culture shock” or “re-entry” and trying to make sense of all that I saw and experienced.  This is the time I really start to process it all and seek the LORD on what it means for my life here in the States.  If I’m being honest with you, I’m not sure how to begin to write this email.  I’d love the opportunity to talk to each of you, answer any questions you have, and share with you my heart for the people of Ethiopia.  I’d love to be able to put my experience into words and allow you all to see and understand each moment.  I’ve come to learn, however, that experiencing it for yourself is the only way to truly understand.

I saw things during this trip that would never have affected me had I only heard about them.  To see and experience them first hand was overwhelming.  There was a constant battle within between staying, seeing and letting it affect me or closing my eyes and running away.  At the end of it all, I can no longer live a life of ignorance to the pain and suffering that exists in this world.  I also know that I do not know the whole of it.  I have only scratched the surface.

As I was at church on Sunday, the pastor was teaching on Psalm 8 and David’s question, “What is man that you are mindful of him?”  We are created in the image of God and we are precious in His sight.  As the pastor put it, no matter how mentally handicapped or intelligent, no matter how rich or poor, black or white, our God is mindful of us and we are precious to Him because we have been created in His image.  That brought great comfort to me as I thought of the broken, hurting and impoverished people of Ethiopia.  Our God has not forgotten and He certainly has not ceased to care.

Alongside the poverty and pain is that ever-perplexing joy I see in the Ethiopian people.  There is a love and appreciation for the things in life that truly matter.  Time is given freely, there is no rush to move onto the next thing, and relationships are stronger for it.  Children with tattered clothing and bare feet laugh and smile and giggle.  Women whose pasts can only be described as horrific lift their hands and their voices and praise God for His goodness and grace in their lives.  There is a hope in the people of Ethiopia that is contagious.

I was able to see a woman I had met last summer who had completed the Women At Risk program and is now working in the kitchen at a cafe they opened, Sisters Cafe.  I saw joy in her face, I could see the transformation that had occurred, and I saw her proud to be working a respectable job and even more proud that her two daughters were in school.  Organizations like Women At Risk are being supported financially by Mocha Club.  The more support they receive, the more lives they are able to touch.  As the lives of these people are touched, they go back out into the world, sharing their hope with others.

I also walked alongside my friend Cliff and watched God transform his life.  Cliff came on this trip having spent much of his life in church, but always keeping one foot in the world.  He was a self-admitted partier who cared for nothing more than going out and drinking with his friends.  During our time in Ethiopia, God showed Cliff the emptiness of his life hitting the bars and going the way of the world.  He showed Cliff the infinite treasure we have in Christ.  This past Sunday, Cliff was baptized by our co-leader, Cole, back home in Colorado.  As I spoke with him Monday night, his words were drenched with love for Jesus.  This is not the same Cliff I met on day one.  Cliff is a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Mocha Club has a saying, “I need Africa more than Africa needs me.”  I was yet again reminded of this truth.  Our hearts are forever changed, our eyes forever opened.

It seems as though I learn more every day as to what my time in Ethiopia means for my life here in New York.  I believe that I am to tell the world what I have seen and what God has done.  I believe I have a responsibility to be an advocate and a voice for those who have no voice.  I also continue to see the depth of Christ’s love, and begin to better understand what the apostle Paul meant when he said he considered all things rubbish in light of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-14).  I press on to know and to treasure Jesus more with each day.

Please pray for the people of Ethiopia and pray for the members of our team as we return to life in America.  I hope to post prayer points here on the blog by the end of the week.

If you want to be a part of the work Mocha Club is doing to bring hope and healing to the people of Africa, you can join one of my “teams”:
 
Join me in supporting Orphan Care & Vulnerable Children:
http://mochaclub.org/joinme/brittpollard

Join me in supporting Child Mothers & Women At Risk:
http://mochaclub.org/joinme/foraddis
 
Or, if you prefer, you can create your own by visiting http://mochaclub.org.
 
Thank you all for your support, prayers, encouragement and love.  I am humbled and words will never be enough to express my gratitude. Egziabher yimesgen!!! (Praise God!!!)

For He will deliver the needy when he cries,
The poor also, and him who has no helper.
He will spare the poor and needy,
And will save the souls of the needy.
He will redeem their life from oppression and violence;
And precious shall be their blood in His sight.
Psalm 72:12-14

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Borrowed Words.

My teammate (and now dear friend) Kathryn posted this note on her Facebook yesterday.  I can identify with so much of it and was moved to tears, so with her permission, I’m sharing it now with all of you:

 

As I sit here in my bedroom in Knoxville, TN on my first Saturday morning back from Ethiopia, I reflect back on my time there. I am a mixture of emotions, reality, and biblical truths. I try to make sense of my life here in America. Over the past few days, I have told stories from my journey and realize that to so many people, they are just that, stories. To me, it is the reality that Jesus has called me to. I struggle to find my purpose for sitting through a 3 hour anatomy lecture on cells and body orientation when I could be worshipping with my sisters in Nazret or feeding my friends that live on the streets of Ambo. I sit through dinner with friends and feel so absent, like my body made it back home, but my heart did not. At times, I am filled with joy to tell of my time in Ethiopia. Other times, my heart breaks because I know that the people listening cannot fully understand or appreciate it the way I do. I miss my new family (team members) more than words can express.

I am responsible for telling America where I’ve been. I am responsible for telling of the LORD’s work in Ethiopia. I am responsible for telling how God has changed my heart in the past couple of weeks. I am finding that the hardest part of missions is not being surrounded by poverty or hearing heartbreaking life stories in a foreign land, but it is the return home to the life lived before such heart transformation. I settle for not making sense out of why I am here in this season and not in Ethiopia. I run fully after the LORD, knowing that He has every single day ahead planned out and that He has a purpose for it. He knows when and in what capacity I will return to Ethiopia.

“For those who love God, all things work together for good.” –Romans 8:28

In this season, I trust that my time spent studying for nursing will be used for something. I can only speculate as to what that purpose is right now, but I am comforted to know that God already knows. I think back to this past Sunday when I sat in a hot church in Ambo and read these words from Isaiah:

“For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me… I will accomplish all my purpose” –Isaiah 46: 9-10

God has shown me how self-centered the life I have led has been. I strive for more humility and compassion for the needy of this world. I realize now that I have viewed all of them as lazy, but that many of them are my brothers and sisters in Christ who have had major tragedies in their lives that I have turned my back on. I am ashamed of this. I am better than no one in this life. All I have is Christ.

I think back to my time spent at Little A Hope orphanage, where all of the children are infected with HIV/AIDS. As I looked into the beautiful brown eyes of those children, I was reminded that God is a god of all days. He knows the number of days given to each one of us here on this earth. At the end of my life, I want to be able to say that every day was spent in pursuit of knowing my God in a deeper way than the day before. My goal for this 2011 year is to know Christ in a far deeper way than I can even imagine right now. I don’t know what this year will hold regarding that, but I welcome whatever it entails.

“That every eye would see… Jesus, our God, great and mighty to be praised… God of all days, glorious in all of Your ways… With everything, we will shout forth Your glory… With everything, we will shout forth Your praise”

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Silence.

Our time at Women At Risk in Nazret was special, beautiful and difficult.

In working with ministries such as that (a Bible-based rehabilitation program for former prostitutes), it’s impossible to remain ignorant to the kind of pain that exists in this world.  It’s impossible to deny the evil that exists here on this earth.  It’s also impossible to deny the incredible power of Jesus to overcome the darkest places with His glorious light.

We spent the morning of January 5 sharing testimonies.  Two of our team members shared as well as two of the women.  As the women were sharing, I could hear every other woman around us crying.  That may have been one of the hardest parts.  I just knew that they could identify with the pain and the brokenness of the woman sharing.  As if it weren’t bad enough that this was the life of one woman, there came the realization that it was a life lived by many others.  As we finished up that morning, many of the women and our team went outside to enjoy each others company.  A few women stayed behind, though.  One of them was Genet.  She sat there, by herself, tears streaming down her face.  I sat down next to her, put one arm around her, took her hand in mine, and sat there in silence with her.

One of the most frustrating things for all of us on this trip was the inability to communicate in a common language.  In that moment with Genet, though, I found myself so incredibly grateful for the forced silence.  I could not ruin the moment with words.  I couldn’t say the wrong thing.  I sat silently with her and prayed for healing and comfort.  I had to accept the fact that I couldn’t say or do anything, but trust that Jesus can, will, and already has.

Jesus is changing the lives of these women.  He speaks what I can’t.  He heals what I can’t.  He restores what I can’t.  He does what I can’t.

And so I sit, silently praying, thankful for a God who hears and loves and saves.

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Journal Excerpts

December 30, 2010 from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:

“When we landed today I couldn’t wipe the stupid smile off my face.  I felt like I was coming home in a sense.  I still find it hard to believe that I’m in Ethiopia right now. God has been so faithful each step of the way, even when plans were going haywire.”

December 31, 2010 from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Women At Risk):

“Cole and Dave (with Aberham translating) were sharing on Romans 8… I pray that the words shared would take root and dwell richly in the hearts of the women and that Christ’s love would bring comfort in their afflictions.”

January 3, 2011 from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Women At Risk):

“I love watching the women, seeing heir smiles and hearing their laughter.  Cole shared the story of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples before the men washed the women’s feet.  The girls gave them pedicures, did their make-up, took their pictures, and at the end of the day we gave them jewelry bags as a gift.  One of the women stood up and gave a short speech.  I wish I could remember exactly what she said, but essentially, she thanked us for coming from a far land, to them who were without value, and making them feel valuable.  I couldn’t help but cry.  I pray that the LORD would continue to reveal to them how valuable and precious they are in His sight.”

January 6, 2011 from Nazret, Ethiopia (Women At Risk):

“After dinner we sang (or, they sang) worship songs and danced all around outside.  I’m not kidding, this was the most fun, joyful, happy night I’ve probably ever had.  We all had a blast jumping up and down, laughing, dancing.  It was the perfect end to our day.  We had a coffee ceremony and the girls gave us small gifts.  I wonder if those women realize how much they have given in just a couple of days.  God is so amazing to bring us together from across the world to encourage one another and minister to one another.  I am always in awe of Him at times like this.  Seriously, how incredible is it that the same Jesus reaches into all of our lives and draws us to Himself?  Ethiopia used to just be a random spot on the map.  It used to exist for me merely in stories, textbooks and atlases.  To think that God has made it a place that I now know and love affirms how powerful He is in changing our hearts and transforming our lives.  The LORD has changed my heart.  He has placed in me a love and compassion that could come only through Jesus.”

“As hard as it was and is to leave, I am comforted knowing there is coming a day when we all worship together in the presence of Jesus and all the pain and hurts of the past will have vanished.  Thank You, LORD!”

“Then came Sisters Cafe.  Abrehet had said Addis (a women I met last year) might be there.  I walked back into the kitchen and there she was.  It was such an overwhelming moment.  I can’t explain in words the joy I felt when I saw that woman.  Not only that, but her little girl, Kalkidan, was there! My little peanut!!! She has grown up so much and is a beautiful, funny little girl.  Abrehet tells me that both she and Tigist (Addis’ older daughter) are going to school now.  Before we left, Samson came in with me so I could tell Addis how joyful I felt and that I had been praying for her.  She told me she thinks of me always.  I am grateful beyond words that my God would allow that meeting to happen.  I’m really just so overjoyed.  Missy told me I was glowing.  How could I not be?”

January 7, 2011 from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Mother Teresa Hospice):

“How do you even being to process all of that pain?  I’m beginning to realize the implications of praying for God to break our hearts over that which breaks His.  It is certainly a prayer I will no longer pray lightly.  I feel like I could barely look.  I’m so convicted because these are the people that Jesus would have surrounded Himself with.  Not only would He look at them and see their pain, but He would be with them.  I couldn’t even stay in each room for more than a moment.  I felt like a coward.  I couldn’t even look at them.  I couldn’t bear the thought of connecting with their eyes and having no words and nothing to give them.  How incredibly selfish.”

January 9, 2011 from Ambo, Ethiopia (Street Boys):

Psalm 72: 12-14
Isaiah 58:7-11
Psalm 146
Psalm 147:3-6

January 10, 2011 from Ambo, Ethiopia (Street boys and Compassion kids):

“When I saw Howie I nearly screamed, I was so thrilled.  She looked exactly the same and had remembered me.  It came as no surprise that she attached herself to me for the rest of the day… At one point she asked me what my mother’s name was.  When I asked her the question in return, she said, “No mother.”  Made me really sad to heart that.  Her father is alive and takes care of her and her sister, Gifti.  As we were leaving the church grounds to leave, Howie was walking with me.  She looked up at me, and with her sweet Ethiopian accent, said, ‘My mother’s name is Brittany.’  My heart melted and at the same time I was so overwhelmed.  I got on the bus and started sobbing uncontrollably.  What do you do with something like that?  How did I hear that and then run onto the bus to escape the madness that was happening?  I still don’t know how to handle it.”

“One of the boys I spoke to, Kumela, is first in his class (he is 18 and in grade 9) and wants to be a doctor.  He wants to be able to help his people.  He kept talking about how strong God is and how He makes all things possible.  It was encouraging and was a bright spot in a very difficult situation.”

“I love the boys, but I know that Jesus loves them even more than I can fathom.  It’s only Christ’s love that has power to change the lives of the boys.”

January 11, 2011 from 38,000 feet:

“Now I’m here on a flight back to D.C. wondering what to do with all that happened.  Praying that I will continue to reflect and let it affect me.  Praying Jesus would do amazing things in my heart and use me to glorify Him as I share all that He has done.”

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The depths of His love.

Another trip to Ethiopia has come to a close and I’m back to life in America as best I can be.

As with last time, there’s so much to take in and process.  I will, once again, post some excerpts from my journal, as well as share more details with you in the coming weeks.

The one thing I keep thinking is this:

When you encounter pain and suffering, orphans, street kids, shame, anger, disease and all sorts of other difficulties, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed.  Sometimes I can barely stand it.  But as I come face to face with all of that, I also come face to face with Jesus.  I have come to better see and know the depth of His love.  I have looked into the eyes of so many broken and hurting people and known, in the midst of their pain, that there is a Savior who loves them and whose heart breaks for them more than mine ever could.  He looks upon all of the things I looked upon and so much more.  And He loves.

Oh, how He loves.

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World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day.

Let me start by admitting that I am no expert on HIV/AIDS.  In all honesty, I’ve always felt very removed from it and unaffected by it.  That was until I traveled to Ethiopia last summer and met men, women and children affected by the disease.  Suddenly, what was once a “cause” was now… people.  Friends.

Today, I urge you all to pray for those who have HIV/AIDS.  Pray for hope, healing, acceptance into their communities, support from their loved onces, access to proper medical care.  Pray that they would know the love of God through Jesus and find rest for their weary souls.  Pray for their families.  Pray for the children orphaned because they lost their parents to this disease.

Remember that this is not just a blanket cause, but that it is tied to people.  It is not faceless and nameless.  And we are to love, serve and pray for those affected more than one day a year.

I encourage you to look into the following organizations and consider supporting them prayerfully and financially:

AHOPE Ethiopia
Caring for HIV+ orphans in Ethiopia

Mocha Club
Create a team and support Mocha Club’s HIV/AIDS & Health Care projects for as little as $7 per month. 

Mocha Club Emergency Needs
Give a one-time donation to help provide ARV’s (Anti-Retroviral medication) to HIV+ men, women and children in Sunyani, Ghana.

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