A Team Member Experience by Sue S.
“I was sitting on the sun-warmed rocks outside the Zion church waiting for the evening service to begin when a small posse of unkempt children came straggling into the courtyard. They paused in front of me and I surveyed their little dirty faces. One tiny girl caught my attention. The expressionless set of her face was in direct contrast to the brightly colored dress she wore. Her deep chocolate eyes were blank and emotionless. I picked her up and held her. I kissed her tiny head multiple times and began to trace her features with my finger while she remained closely snuggled to my heart. After awhile she fell into a peaceful sleep.
When the time came for the service to begin I carried her with me to the church. A lady stopped me and asked ” Do you know her story? ” I said “No” so she began to describe to me the living conditions of this tiny girl-child. A brothel was her home, her mother a prostitute, “Cockroach” was the name she inherited after her real name was forgotten, and she slept in a bed stained with filth and adultery. She was the girl that Jonnett had planned for me to visit the following week after discovering my passion for enslaved women. But the girl-child found me first.
She was given a new name Bereket and the meaning is “Blessing“.
A few days passed until I saw her again. On our way to a morning service we walked down the red-rock street where I picked her up and intentionally took her with me. Again within moments of being cradled close she fell into a deep sleep. After she awoke I noticed that she rarely made eye-contact with me and I had yet to see her smile, but she remained silent and still, while holding my BCI name tag, she studied my photo over and over again.
Bereket stole my heart.
A few days later we were out on a day of home visits, we were walking to our last visit when we came to the bottom of the Red Light District street and I excitedly asked Nigist ” Are we going to see Bereket?” She said “Yes”. I scrambled to arrange my emotions in those next few minutes of approaching the brothel but I don’t believe anything could truly prepare one to appropriately process the conditions of these broken lives. We ducked past a stained sheer curtain, into the tiny bar area, a thin curtain partially concealed an unmade bed and a wooden door stood ajar leading into a darkened back room. We greeted Emebeat ( Bereket’s Mother) then sat down on the small wooden bench. A few minutes later a man emerged from the murky back room, followed by a young woman wearing a bright red shirt. Clearly a transaction had just been made. Bereket and a few of her small friends gathered around while four of the working girls lined a bench across from us. As I surveyed the scene before me and rocked Bereket in my arms, the tears began to fall unbidden down my cheeks. My heart bled for the children that innocently believed this was the way life was meant to be lived. And I cried for the sweet girls in front of me who were simply attempting to collect a few birr but somehow remained hopeless and stagnant in a place of disease and dirt. We took out a bright colored shirt, a small doll, socks and tiny boots and gifted them to Bereket. Again, she quickly fell asleep in my arms.
As much as I wanted to share my heart of love for the women, I couldn’t speak through the sobs constricted in my throat so my husband Randy began pouring words of life and hope into the women (thru Nigist our translator). He spoke of God’s love and care for them. He spoke of how God sees us as equals and how precious they are to Him. After abit more chatting, Nigist informed us that Emebeat had called her that day saying she wanted to get out, she wanted to change and she wanted a different job. Nigist told her she had to wait because the prostitution ministry/housing was not yet in place and the logistics needed to be worked out. We prayed with Emebeat, Bereket and the other girls then stepped out of that dark place. I broke down entirely, and as my husband and I walked arm in arm up that sad sad street, I ached to make a difference. A REAL difference. Later that night when asked by Jonnett about the visit, the tears flowed again and I said ” I don’t care what it takes, I want to get them out. ” Jonnett said we could start looking for rooms to rent and there was a slim possibility that in our remaining time there might be a chance of finding a place. With that knowledge I was able to rest and let go of abit of the awful ache that clung to my soul. The next day dawned bright and crisp in true Ethiopian style, and our day progressed like usual. It wasn’t until afternoon that Nigist contacted Emebeat to notify her that she should begin looking for a room to rent. I felt restless and truly American in my impatience to have things happen quickly, but all I could do was collect a few items from the donation pile and fill my polka-dot suitcase in hopes of helping to place these things in her new home. Only a mere 2 hours after notifying Emebeat, we arrived at our second home visit of the afternoon and there she was,waiting for us with a shining smile.
Almost immediately after we arrived she excitedly informed us that she had already found an available place. We decided to go with her to look at the room, so we crawled into the Bajaj and wound back to a small secluded area. The compound was surrounded by a tall green hedge with pink blooming flowers, just through the gate was a small, tidy courtyard shaded by a large sprawling tree . We were escorted to a mud room with a brilliant blue window.
The interior was decently spacious and smelled as though it had been freshly cleaned. In comparison to the brothel, it seemed to be a heavenly haven and the price was unrealistically fair. We agreed to pay half of the months rent that evening and then finalize details the following day. Meanwhile we had a chat with Emebeat alone in the Bajaj. “What is your plan for your life?” we asked. She expressed her desire to continue to learn how to read and write, to develop more personal skills along with her plans to search for a job, like selling potatoes or charcoal. She ended with “I have made the decision to leave and I will never go back. I simply want to follow Jesus.”
With heartfelt excitement we informed her that we would like to support her for a little while until she can be self-sustained but ultimately we want her to have abit of freedom to care for her daughter. Parting ways for the evening we agreed to contact her the next day with moving details. Sleep was chased away by my thoughts as I laid in bed that night. I imagined the excitement Emebeat must be feeling. How would it be to know you only have one more night in a place of dark degradation and pain? Only one more night in a bed wrought with semen and diseases? Only one more night on that dark, depressing street?
ONLY ONE MORE NIGHT.
Friday morning dawned clear and full of anticipation. The time was filled with washing and drying my own bed sheets and picking out some of my own clothes to give to Emebeat. A quick trip to town was made to buy a mattress, blanket, floor mat and other necessities.
Finally we were on our way to pick up Emebeat. She had her few belongings neatly packed up and swiftly loaded. A small crowd of women had gathered to say goodbye to Bereket and her mom.
I caught glimpses of some of the ladies faces, their eyes were laced with happiness yet displaying a deep , deep longing for freedom. I once again began to weep in my own inability to rescue them all. How could I only take one? I wanted to gather them all up and help them to freedom. But instead I held tightly to the small girl-child that was safe in my arms and thanked God that at least this tiny life would be eternally impacted that day. Another stop was made for coffee, sugar, lentils ,spices and a wispy broom and then we were off to their new home. The air was alive with life and hope and laughter! Even the Bajaj driver seemed intrigued and eagerly helped to unload the mattress and small mound of bins and washtubs. Emebeat and I quickly got to work unrolling the mat and fixing the bed.
How was it possible that a small mud hut could feel like a mansion? It did.
As dusk began falling on the courtyard we prepared to leave, waving goodbye with the promise to return soon for coffee!
In the meantime Randy decided to surprise Emebeat and build her a bed frame. The next few days he worked on constructing it. On the day we scheduled to have coffee with Emebeat in her new home we added the finishing touches of stain to the bed frame. We added a personalized note written in Amharic on the interior boards.
We arrived at their home and found Bereket smiling at the gate! I was in awe at the change in both of them. They were both clean, fresh and glowing with joy! My heart was so so happy. Emebeat seemed thrilled with the bed frame and was nearly giddy as she began roasting coffee beans.
I sat there not only drinking in the rich, sweet coffee but also the amazing changes in the two beautiful faces in front of me. Faces that initially were expressionless were now overflowing with giggles and fun! Bereket scampered about and played happily on the bright yellow mat. She even threw a small temper tantrum when forbidden to touch something, even in that moment my heart soared because before me was an entirely changed girl. In place of the blank robotic face were the natural emotions and expressions of a normal child. Their surroundings had gone from bleak to bright and suddenly their future was full of a splash of normal and a whole lot of HOPE.
In the middle of so much desperate need, God broke through the darkness and shone his light into a wounded heart and allowed us the honor of being his vessels to set in motion the change of a lifetime. The joy of walking through the door of opportunity God opened before us. The chance to pour love into a woman who was lost in a world of mere survival and sin.
The incredible privilege of embracing the heart of a child and truly being a “Blessing” to Bereket!