Story by Marianne H. from The Netherlands
It is late at night as I write this. I should have been asleep a while ago but my mind refuses to rest. The last several months of my life have been like a roller-coaster of happenings; feelings, thoughts, experiences, opportunities to learn, adventures and impressions.
About two months ago I was standing at the airport in Addis Ababa as I gave my Ethiopian family one last hug. No one likes goodbyes but this one was unexplainable. For almost a year, I had the privilege to work in the country that is guilty of stealing my heart. And all too quickly, that year flew by and the time came to go home and leave it all behind. It was scary because I was letting go of everything I had known for the last year. I didn’t know what I was going home to, what kind of life would I find back home and how would everything be after such a long time. No house, no job, nothing. Let me take you through a small portion of my big journey.
This story is about how I lived my dream and I hope it encourage you to take the step to your own dream.
The reason I came to Ethiopia is a very long story so l will shorten it. When I was a little girl, 6 years old, my parents involved me in their ministry in East Europe. At that time, there was a lot of poverty there. One day they took me to an orphanage for disabled children, where I handed out some of my own toys to the kids. I will never forget that moment even though it was 18 years ago. I can still see those poor, abandoned children who were neglected by their parents due to the shame of having a disabled child. Their sad faces and underdeveloped bodies were tight in car seats or on beds. It made a huge impression on me, the injustice of their situation. Their innocence in it all. It never left me.
When I was a teenager I did several short term mission trips in summer. I started to feel God’s calling for me to contribute something into poor people’s lives, to increase their standard of living. When I was in College I followed a minor in Development Corporation, did an International course and graduated in Social Work by doing research in South Africa. I started working, but God kept telling me He had something else for me. Then God gave me a vision and the main thing I took away from that vision was to ‘color lives with hope’.
Years ago someone told me to get myself more color. It took me a while to understand this. I didn’t show a lot of myself to other people, I didn’t shine. I was insecure and hiding myself. Nelson Mandela once said: “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” By getting yourself colors, by shining and using your talents and personality, you can bring colors in someone else’s life!
Once I understood this, I wanted to contribute. I wanted to give children the chance to develop and get out of the circle of poverty. I wanted to bring colors in their lives, I wanted to bring hope and dreams. During my stay in Debre Zeyit, I watched this movie called live58, about poverty. A boy in the movie who was interviewed said that he didn’t have dreams. He said it is better that I do not have dreams, because they will never come true anyways. This makes my heart cry. It is not fair. I have all the chances in the world yet so many children have zero chances.
I came to Ethiopia as a Social Work intern which means I would work with the social workers full time. But God had more, beautiful things planned for me. An art teacher was needed at the BCI Academy. I always said I wouldn’t teach. But during my thesis I did research about school drop outs and became interested in education. Talk about how God plans our lives and prepares us for every single thing!
“Well, since I like kids,” I thought “I’ll just try it.” From the day I started, I loved it and I never stopped. Of course, it was challenging. To be honest, there were days that I came back home, went to my room, cried and asked God why He didn’t make chances in the lives of these children. I was never a teacher before. I had no training or experience and at the beginning, I didn’t know their language. There were some large classes and their behavior was really challenging. Back home I used to work with kids that had behavior issues but this was harder for me, a whole new level of challenging. Even though it wasn’t easy, I loved it. God gave me big love for these kids.
I was able to watch my children grown for a whole school year. To build relationships with them, have lots of fun with them, challenge them to be creative, to think outside the box, teach them social skills through my classes, see their self-esteem growing. And most important, I was able to help them to just be children, to dream and to have hope. When I was teaching, it was so precious to see my kid’s faces during class when they created something and were proud of their accomplishment. I would almost forget that after school some of the children would go back to their mud huts and sleep on the floor with an empty stomach. I hope it also helped them to forget. I cherish the moments that we had fun and did crazy things. These children stole my heart. Not just a piece, but the whole thing!
My big, life changing journey was intense and challenging, but amazing! I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for me! I want to challenge you to take the steps you need to take, to follow your dream but more important, to be obedient to God. Sometimes while in Ethiopia, I found myself thinking: “This is it, right now, I am living my dream.” I made myself a promise. I will not to live my life for myself, not let my life be a grind and live for work, money and a big house. It is worth it to take risks and to overcome challenges, so you can shine and let others shine. Our world needs people to color it and to bring hope!
When God puts something in our heart, when God gives us a dream, He never said it would be easy. Let me share one last thing. Through it all, God has been so unbelievably faithful to me. He has taught me how to trust Him more, how to be patient and listen to Him. I can tell you how amazing it all was but really, there were times I felt like driving to Addis Ababa and taking the first flight home. And at those moments I really wanted to do that! It is not always easy to live in another country, far from your loved ones, working with people from a different culture, having no power or water for days, having no privacy, encountering lots of challenges in simple, daily things. But whenever it was tough, God took care of me. He picked me up and as Psalm 40 says, He set me back on a rock and put a new song in my mouth. He showed me that when He asks something of us, He will provide and take care of us. So there is no excuse for us to hold back and not to obey God. Get yourself a color. Take a risk, set a step, shine and make someone’s life more hopeful.