Ethiopia Will Break You

Neighborhood kids in Addis Ababa - © Michael Gowin

It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.
–Dag Hammarskjold

In the two posts I’ve written about our trip to Ethiopia this week, I’ve shared the agendas and details of our days but little of what’s taking place inside of me. Reflection takes time and I’ve been able to let some things simmer for a few days. Here’s a quick summary:

Ethiopia is killing me.


The kids at the transition home. They’re kids without families. And they want families to love them. We’ve played cards with them, passed out glow sticks, bracelets and other treats. They want to sit with you (and on you), to touch you, to hold your hand. They want to be wanted.

The kids outside the transition home. Each time we pull up in the van, they’re out there–the ones I photographed above–asking for a bit of food or a toy car. They live in the crowded apartments nearby and spend their time outside in the streets. They smile and laugh and push and clamor. They want attention, too.

Solomon. He enjoys our company, smiles and laughs occasionally, but he’s also pensive, thoughtful, and lost in his own reflections at times. His Ethiopian name means “how much I see” or “how much I’ve experienced.” In his 15 years he’s endured more loss and tragedy than most. There lies a deep sadness behind his dark, gentle eyes. I hope that we can help redeem his story.

The future. My children could enjoy a more prosperous material life than me, or at least a similar life, if they go to school, work hard, seek opportunities. Same holds for most everyone who lives in America.

Not true for the majority of Ethiopians.

Much of this country’s population still lives in conditions similar to those of people living in the time of Jesus. That’s 2000 years of non-progress.

Most children here will live the same way their parents did, and their children will live the same way as well. Planting, harvesting, raising sheep or goats or donkeys or cattle, eking out a living from one season to the next. Or not.

For them, progress (or a “better life”) is less than an abstraction; it is an impossibility.

For me, Ethiopia raises more questions than answers. If Ethiopia and I were in a relationship on Facebook, I’d indicate, “It’s complicated.” This is a remarkable place with remarkable people in so many ways. And it’s a frustrating place in so many ways.

Ethiopia will break you. Break you like glass dropped on concrete.

So what do I do?

The problems here are overwhelming. And not just here: pick any third-world country and you can tell the same story.

So–I plod forward one step, one day at a time. Attempt to be faithful to simple commands.

Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Who is my neighbor? Go and do likewise.

Continue to love in this dangerous time and kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

In the midst of questions and frustrations, give myself completely to the One who gave himself for me and to those whom God has entrusted to my care.

Today: take in a boy who needs a home and a father.



  1. Becky

    Thank you for this heartfelt post. I am reading your entries every day. One thing I wondered about Solomon was whether he’s thinking about how it will be hard to leave the people he knows and loves. You said he is very loving with the little ones there. I share anticipation with you about what the future holds for Solomon.

  2. Pingback: Something I Saw: I, Spy 3 (DFW) |

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