Just got back from running errands, which included picking up my prescription of Cipro. If you’ve ever traveled to a developing country, you know the significance of this trusty insurance policy. Cipro is an antibiotic that will clean you out when you’ve been “cleaned out”, if you know what I mean. I hope having the little bottle will prevent me from needing what’s inside the little bottle. But I’m not afraid of getting sick. Sometimes that happens.
As we get ready for this trip to Ethiopia, TOMORROW, I can’t help but think back to my first trip there. I had no context for anything I was about to see. I read a lot about the country before I left so, of course, I was prepared! The smells, the sounds, the stick scaffolding around new buildings…none of it made sense to me. I was a foreigner in a foreign place.
I remember walking into the Selamta Family Project Children’s Center for the first time…so many new faces…so many hugs and kisses. So overwhelming but at the same time, so beautiful and natural and human. There was no weird vibe, no over-sexualized physical tension…just people, warmly welcoming visitors and showing extraordinary hospitality from their hearts, not their wallets. It felt like home.
There are so many stories from that trip in 2008…way more than you want to read in a single blog. But the one that literally changed my life started on the airplane. There was this gorgeous family…white woman, black man and adorable little guy with wild hair and amazing skin. They were such an attractive family that they just stood out. We even saw them a few times at our hotel in passing.
One night, two teenage girls traveling with us were solicited by an older man back to his room. They were freaked out, said no thanks and he became very insulting and abusive. The girls found our trip leader, who happened to be one of their moms, and she promptly went to the front desk and demanded the man be booted from the hotel. The hotel didn’t seem too concerned but said he would be gone in the morning.
The next day was heavy for many of us. We learned more about the children and women who came to call Selamta their home. Their experiences broke each of us. Our new friends…beautiful, smart, joyful…had been through so much trauma and loss. Many of them were just young children and women in their 20’s and they confronted the evils of extreme poverty, abuse – physical, sexual, emotional – neglect and abandonment, AIDS/HIV and death. We went back to our hotel with plans for dinner. We were going to an Indian restaurant. I was hungry, drained, emotionally exhausted and I just wanted to eat.
When we met in the lobby, our teenagers spotted the perv in the lobby’s bar. The mom who fought with the front desk was about to wage war. She can cha-cha with the best of them and made it clear to the front desk, the hotel staff, every guest within earshot and the surrounding blocks that, “this is a bad man” and it was time for him to go.
Did I mention that I was tired and hungry? I just wanted to go eat. Sure the guy was gross but whatever…the girls were fine. Let’s move on.
Just then, the mom from the plane with the crazy cute son came up to me and my friend. She asked what was going on with the guy in the lobby. We told her what happened to our girls and she started to cry. See, the same man had tried to take her son from the hotel TWICE. He grabbed his arm and asked him to come with him. He told him he could get him a passport. The family was in town to adopt another child. They just wanted to get their kid and get out. They never reported the issue to the hotel staff because they feared he was a part of the hotel. They just wanted to get their kid and get out.
In that moment, I almost threw up. My friend was at the front desk fighting for what she knew was right. She didn’t even know about this part yet but she was willing to throw down for her child. And here’s what sucks…I wasn’t. I just wanted to go to dinner.
Shame, regret, humiliation…you name it, it rose up in me. Long story short…the guy was taken away by authorities, his visa was revoked and he was sent back to his home country. And we didn’t go to dinner that night. We went back to our rooms. We didn’t even say much. It was time for bed.
The next morning, with the events of last night still very fresh and brutal, I got in the shower. As I thought through everything that happened and questioned WHY I didn’t have that resolve to do what was right, these words kept repeating in my head, “I will not live in fear. I will only live in faith. I will not live in fear. I will only live in faith.”
I had no clue what that was about. I went into my friend’s room, who happens to be a Christian, and told her about it. She looked at me and said, “That’s God.”
I didn’t go to church. I believed in God but I didn’t really know much about him. I believed Jesus was the son of God but I didn’t really get how it all worked.
On the flight home, my other friend gave me my first scripture verse, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a strong mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
That changed everything. Life as I knew it would never be the same again. My world has been flipped inside out and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I see many people trapped in the hell that is fear. Not gonna lie…I battle it all the time. But when it creeps in, when it tells me I can’t or I don’t matter, I pull out that verse and I tell the enemy to back off. God made each of us in his own image. You might be reading this not knowing that yet. But I am here to tell you that you matter. Bad things still happen in our world. There’s plenty to be afraid of but when you know the power of love and you have felt it and seen it overcome and offered and received forgiveness…a little fear has nothing on that.
I’ve held onto this story for a long time. Today, a blogger I follow named Sarah Bessey published a post that inspired me to finally share this story.
Friends, we have been trapped in fear too long. What IF we stood up unafraid and loved each other? What IF we would rather be the light than be right? It would change the world.