Full Circle: A Sponsorship Journey

The story of Mekdes Shisema, by her longtime sponsor, Rick.

My wife, Sheila, and I fell in love with Mekdes (name meaning “temple”) on our second trip to Ethiopia. She was a full orphan. Looking back, we saw potential in her that needed to be brought out. We couldn’t see her having the opportunity to overcome the harshness of her life on her own so we made the decision to welcome Mekdes into our own family. Since then, we’ve seen her through birthdays, braces, university dorm living in Addis Ababa, and university graduation. We’ve met her aunt, some of her extended family, and we’ve taken on her younger brother, Adana.

Since graduating from university, Mekdes has moved into the workforce and is now employed as an English teacher at the Bethlehem campus of the BCI Academy. Her English skills have been fostered by the many English speaking missionaries who have all had a profound impact on her vocabulary. She picks up on the nuances of sarcasm and humor, and some travelers from Texas even tried to teach her a drawl.

Mekdes has faced typical struggles adjusting from the security of the sponsorship program to living as head of household. In fact, she has told us more than once that “adulting” is not as fun as she imagined. As a result of sponsorship, education at the BCI Academy, and the influence of international missionaries, she has been afforded the opportunity to strive for her potential. She is a young adult and will continue to mature with time.

We’ve noticed signs of her maturation by the questions she has begun to ask, such as “how do I manage expectations?” and “what books should I read?” She’s much more observant toward her own culture, with its pluses and minuses, and she’s much more observant of Sheila and I, with our pluses and minuses. She is in the process of discovering a bigger world view than is possible only in the context of one’s own country.

As we reflect back on the past decade of sponsorship, we realize that it has been a two-way street: Mekdes has helped Sheila and I see our potential. The gratitude also goes both ways.

The Power of One

Imagine you’ve spent your last dollar. There is no savings in the bank. No assets to sell. You’re now out of work and your cupboards are bare. You’re hungry, and your neighbors, friends and family are unable to help you because they are facing the same dire situation. Your very survival is at stake.

At the height of your despair, someone comes along and stocks your cupboards with enough food to last you for months. There may be millions of people around the world in the same situation as you, but you’re not a statistic. You are a real person with hunger and heartache and you’ve been handed a life preserver, maybe by someone from halfway around the world whom you’ll never meet on earth. You most certainly would not be feeling like their help was insignificant.

When we look around the world, especially during the unprecedented crisis we are currently facing, we can feel so small and powerless. Our actions can seem insufficient when an entire world is hurting, but we must not lose sight of just how significant it is to make any sort of impact, no matter the size, to ease the suffering of others.
A short time ago, we were faced with 42 families in acute hunger crisis and 200 children out of school and highly vulnerable to the global pandemic. The needs certainly felt overwhelming, but God is good – ALL the time. When we gave the circumstances to Him, He led our donor family to unite, and the actions of many individuals joined together to cover food support for each and every one of our 42 families, protecting entire households from hunger for the duration of the summer.

City officials from Debre Zeyit were present for the distribution of the food support, which took place June 9th and included 220 pounds of food per family. The city officials gave a speech expressing their gratitude for the impact of the ministry’s food support distribution, and shared important health advice.

Discouragement has been rampant in the community, but the gift of food support has given the families a sense of security and restored a feeling of hopefulness about the future. We are grateful for each and every person who made this possible, and for those holding the ministry up in prayer.

Inspiring Teens: Eayasu Wondimu

Eayasu Wondimu is an 18-year old grade 12 student who has been in the BCI program for more than 10 years. Eayasu lives with his mother, aunt and cousin and enjoys spending time with his best friends, Bemnet and Tewodros, who are both in the BCI program. The three friends attend church together and enjoy discussing Bible verses and visiting recreational areas.

Eayasu has some musical abilities, and he can often be found writing and singing his own songs. He feels that singing is one of his callings and he would like to pursue singing professionally in the future. Academically, Eayasu’s favorite subject is economics. He aspires to become a successful businessman and use his earnings to create an organization that is concerned with the welfare of youth.

Eayasu is involved in the local youth community and spends time with youth whom many consider to be “bad kids” in order to try to bring them to Jesus. Even though he knows in his heart he is doing the right thing, his life is made difficult because of his choice to associate with these youth. This makes his social life especially challenging. We commend Eayasu for his strong character. He is a testament to the impact of sponsorship and an education at the BCI Academy.

Trip of a Lifetime

Teyent Asrat is a 21-year-old university student who lives with his mother and sister. His father died from tuberculosis when Teyent was just a baby. After awaiting sponsorship for many years, he now has support to help him attend a local university where he is developing his musical talents. Teyent recently had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel on a study abroad trip to Madagascar. His university covered all of the expenses to travel to Madagascar for 10 days and attend music camp. Many young Ethiopians have never ridden in a car, let alone on an airplane. Teyent could not have dreamed of such an opportunity on his own. It’s so exciting to see the unique stories God is weaving in the lives of our children as they grow up. Teyent’s gifts have already taken him beyond Ethiopia’s borders to explore the world. We look forward to seeing where his musical talents will take him in the future.

Hirut’s Testimony

My Testimony

I come from a very large family in Debre Zeyt. Being one of the oldest child among my brothers and sisters, I took care of them very early, starting from my childhood, proud to support my mother. Since then I have always loved to work with and care for children of all ages. I learned from my mother and I realized myself later that correct feeding is of tremendous importance for the development of children and their abilities in the future. I believe also that if a child is well fed and feels loved, he can accomplish whatever he wants and show love to his brothers and sisters and most importantly to God.

I took nutrition studies at Addis Ababa university, participated into literacy campaigns for children and worked during five years in harsh conditions such as refugee camp on the Somali border, caring for malnourished children. Then, I devoted my time to my own children and husband, continuing my university courses in Belgium where we settled. One of my life goal has always been to open a cantine in my neighborhood in Debre Zeyt to care for children in need.

I was thus so amazed and delighted to hear that an organization like BCI Academy was already in place while I was planning to stay a few months in Debre Zeyt for family purpose. I contacted “Bless the Children” to offer to volunteer as nutritionist to monitor the children, give health and nutrition advice to the mothers, etc. They responded quickly, we have discussed the matter and I have been warmly welcomed, feeling a sense of family!

My first concern has been how to deal with and get added value from the kitchen’s waste disposal. Especially the organic waste. We have started to produce compost with the children so they can learn about the environment and sustainability by diminishing waste and re-use it in other ways. They will also learn how to grow plants from that compost.

Then, we have worked on the kitchen arrangement and diet plan. We want to increase the fish intake of the children because it is a great source of proteins and other important nutrients for growth. Arrangements are needed with local fishermen to carry quickly the fish in frozen bags from the numerous lakes surrounding Debre Zeyt to our freezer to avoid waste.  Furthermore, it is good to teach the children the importance of local products and markets. We will introduce fish at least once a week in the children’s diet.

A few days after my arrival, we greeted 13 young volunteers from abroad. Our young students welcomed them and prepared our traditional coffee. Afterwards, they all discussed together and exchanged ideas, read texts from the bible and sang songs. It was really so pleasing to see them all together. Among all the activities planned, the distribution of school material an equipment to the families in need was the most interesting one for me. During home visits, we are asking a lot of questions to understand the situation in order to donate some material according to their real needs. We can see people in their own environment.

It is always moving our heart because the poorest people are usually the kindest people and they are offering us their only asset, love and respect. By being in their home we realize what is appropriate or not. For example, what is the use to provide cereal in grain to a single mother if she cannot buy charcoal for cooking? We have to find other solutions.

The newcomer volunteers also did a really good job painting the walls, chairs and the doors. The night before their departure, our young students showed great kindness by cleaning the feet of the group to show them love and politeness. It was really moving to see them do that with genuine love. It really shows their love of God and to one another.

The social workers organized everything efficiently and in a very correct way. At the beginning of the school year, they started the distribution of school material for the university students who also received transportation money to go to school. The fresh students also received money for their transportation as well as school material. The little girls were also being taken care of, they received uniforms as well as bras and hygiene kits. It is important to teach them proper hygiene to avoid any kind of health problem.

This morning I stumbled by chance on my return plane ticket. I got emotion and tears welled up my eyes. It was a mixture of joy – the perspective to be reunited soon with my husband and children – and sadness – leaving all those children who gave me a thousand time more than what I could ever give them. They made me strong, they raised up my soul and spirit. They raised up my faith in God. They made me better for my family. I would like to thank “Bless the Children” very sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, for trusting me and for giving me the chance to go through this spiritual journey.

Yours faithfully,









No Excuse for Dishonesty

If you can imagine being a young child in Ethiopia and watching mom or dad or grandma struggle to put food on the table, you can imagine the temptation to pocket the money you found on the school playground one morning. That is the temptation faced by four young students at the BCI Academy recently, and all four passed the test of honesty with flying colors. When the girls encountered some lost money on the school grounds, they immediately reported it to a staff member. The staff member was so pleased with their honesty that he brought them up in front of the entire school body for public recognition. The BCI Academy doesn’t just educate, it instills values and character. It is a good lesson for everyone – there is no excuse for dishonesty!

BCI Academy Keeps Growing

We strive for “Excellence in Everything”

KG students at the BCI Academy are now learning in brand new classrooms. We recently finished construction of a new KG building, which has meant that our 160 KG students have more space to learn. Our previous building served us well but we have outgrown it. The new building has five classrooms and is well-lit and painted with vibrant colors. It is a welcoming learning environment that will allow us to further improve the educational experience for our KG students.

KG is a combination of preschool and kindergarten age groups and serves children from approximately the ages of 3 to 6. The former two-classroom building is being used as a daycare, which is especially helpful for teachers and staff who have young children. The BCI Academy continues to improve and grow!

Melkam Gena

Ethiopia recently celebrated Gena (Orthodox Christmas) on January 7th, 2020. We had a wonderful time celebrating with our children, their families, and our staff. Celebrations took place on the eve of Gena – January 6th.

Our staff shared a delicious cake, fresh coffee, and warm conversation, and had a much needed break from the rigor of shaping young minds.

Our students at the BCI Academy dressed up in fun costumes and clothing, performed plays, and sang songs.

Our sponsored children and their families shared a warm meal and fellowship and were visited by a missionary who read from the Bible.

We are so grateful for our sponsors and ministry partners who made this uplifting day possible. It was just what the children and adults alike needed.

Future Doctor Tariku

We have spent much of the fall season feeling humbled by bearing witness to God’s hand in the life of 18-year-old Estifanos Tariku (nicknamed “Steve” by his American missionary friends). His story has the feel of being too good to be true, but it is true, because God is good.

Steve in his early days at the BCI Academy

Steve was raised by his mother, Messay, who grew up with an alcoholic father and a brother full of rage. One day, her brother beat their mother so severely that she spent a year in a coma, and beat Messay to the point of breaking her neck. She fled to Debre Zeyit to escape the violence and danger.

Messay’s life took another tragic turn when she lost the ability to walk right at the time Steve turned two years old. She had to rely on neighbors to help care for her young son and she continued to live in fear that her brother would find her.

When Steve was 10, his life was changed when his mother received a wheelchair from the BCI ministry. Although he was initially timid to push his mother in her wheelchair through the busy streets of Debre Zeyit, this blessing opened up a new world of possibilities for Steve and Messay. It was at this time that a BCI missionary noticed Steve and took a shine to him. Steve displayed great maturity and intellect and the missionary took him under his wing and not only provided for his basic needs through monthly sponsorship, he went above and beyond in visiting Steve, writing to him, and guiding him as he grew into his teen years.

A young Steve with his mother, Messay

Grade 10 school photo

Steve excels in academics and is a driven student with lofty goals. In fact, he has long stated his intention to become a doctor. Of course, this is a common childhood career aspiration that is difficult to achieve in any case, let alone when you’re growing up in a rural neighborhood in Ethiopia with no financial resources.

Steve took his grade 12 national exam in June, and when the results came in during the summer, we received our first indication that his dream may have legs. His scores were exceptional and he easily secured university placement.

Shortly after this, Steve indicated that he intended to enroll at a private medical school in the capital city of Addis Ababa. The school is part of a Christian teaching hospital and comes with a price tag of more than $5,000 USD in annual tuition. In a country where the GDP is $570 USD, this surely seemed to be a whimsical dream.

It wasn’t long before we received word that Steve was not only accepted to his dream school, he was offered discounted tuition due to his excellent scores and financial need. Although this was wonderful news, Steve was forced to decline and notify the university that he would be unable to pay anything to attend the school.

Leave it to God to clear the way and move the university to extend Steve a full-ride scholarship, which he immediately accepted. It was a whirlwind of events that started with receipt of his national exam score, and by the end of August, he had moved to Addis Ababa and started classes as a first-year medical student.

In the university cafeteria

Everything felt like it happened so quickly, but in reality, it did not happen overnight. It happened when God drew Messay to the town of Debre Zeyit. It happened when He led a missionary to discover a gifted 10-year-old boy who needed a little support and encouragement to rise above his circumstances. It happened day-in and day-out as Steve grew, applied himself to his studies at the BCI Academy, and continued to hope and dream. And it happened when God fueled this hope by regularly bringing compassionate missionaries into contact with Steve.

As Corrie ten Boom famously said, “never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” There were so many things that could have derailed Steve’s journey to becoming BCI’s first-ever medical student, but God knew all along the plans He had for Steve, and Lord willing, we will one day introduce him as Dr. Steve Tariku.

Meskel Holiday

Meskel is an important holiday for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It has been celebrated for more than 1,600 years and marks the finding of the True Cross. It is celebrated on 17 Meskerem in the Ethiopian calendar, which is the 27th of September in the Gregorian calendar.

There are nearly 50 million members in the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia. Large crowds gather in Meskel Square in the center of Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa. There is a large bonfire and a procession of people bearing torches, merging from all directions. The celebration lasts until dawn and includes traditional foods and music.

Meskel Celebration in a small village in Ethiopia

Adana Shisema celebrated Meskel by traveling 250 km (155 miles) to spend time with his extended family. They shared a meal of cultural foods that included kitfo and kocho, and enjoyed socializing with one another and with local villagers.

Adana Shisema and Family