This land is sacred. All land is, in reality, sacred ground upon which we live, work, play, dine, and fellowship with God and our neighbor. However, for me, it has always been easier to see the sacred in the midst of the ordinary, here, on this patch of ground in Ethiopia.
Currently I am bumping along in a Land Rover Defender, punching keys as I reflect on the nature of God and His plans amidst circumstances I could never have orchestrated.
Three years ago as I stepped onto Ethiopian soil for the first time with my whole family in tow, we were making a huge move and leap of faith and we were ready to finally call Ethiopia home. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a new face, Yonatan. He greeted us warmly and radiated hospitality and kindness. He is one of the kindest, gentlest and most giving men that I have ever met. In those first days of transition, as we navigated this new world, Yonatan stood by our side every single step of the way, defying cultural norms of bribery and profit that many times accompanies assisting new foreigners. Time and again I heard him tell businessmen he wanted no commission and to treat our family as his. He had no reason to do this for us, but chose to, because that is the kind of man that he is.
Yonatan is a lawyer by education, and in those first days and months he navigated legal and procedural matters for our family that we were far too naïve to understand. He did this without salary, without expectation, because we are friends and that is how he would want to be treated if he were navigating a whole new world. One day police officers stopped at our home to check passports, and Yonaton quickly deflected them stating our rights to be in country because of our Ethiopian children. The police officers quickly moved on.
In the months that followed, as it became clear that we were brought to Ethiopia to found an NGO, Yonatan volunteered his time as our first in-country director in order to move things along. He plotted the path forward, met with many officials, and submitted many, many drafts, edits, and rewrites of our proposal. He translated for us and navigated things that we could have never done on our own. He did it all without expectation of receiving anything in return.
Lest I paint a picture of perfection for my very dear friend, one should understand that he is human, and flawed, just like me. I have disagreed with Yonatan; he has made mistakes, as have I. We have fought together, cried together, apologized to one another, and forged a relationship that could no longer be called friendship. He is truly my brother; he is family. At one stage, because of various circumstances, Yonatan came to live in our home for a year or so. It was an amazing time of growth for all of us, where we talked of many things; we spoke of God, of family, of doubts, of love, and life.
When the time came for Mercy Branch to salary an Executive Director for Ethiopia, Yonatan was the man that Tiffany and I wanted. He was the man that we trusted and loved most to do this job. However, at that time God had different things for him. Yonatan had just begun a business venture, and was pursuing that. So, we were required to move forward with other plans. However, Yonatan stayed active with Mercy Branch, serving as the Chairman of our Ethiopian Board of Directors and working many hours behind the scenes to bring this dream to life.
When the news of our former director’s disappearance surfaced, Yonaton again stepped in, as he always has, and cared for the immediate needs. Yonatan attended to legal matters, calmed our staff, and lent the organization money from his own pocket to ensure that Mercy Branch met all its commitments.
I am sitting, as I type, at a red light looking out at the stadium where we work. The truck is sitting underneath the bridge I stood on when I first laid eyes on our first Mercy Branch boys… and in that context, with this view before me and memory in my mind, I am thrilled to share with you that we have now hired Yonatan as our new in-country Director. God is so kind to us. His timing is over perfect.
I have spent the week sitting with Yoni, planning and praying. I have shared, once again, our collective heart for this work. I have shed tears with him. I have spoken of the Gospel and its work in my life, its work in his, and the love of Jesus that compels our work with the precious forgotten children of Addis Ababa.
Yonatan shared with Kyle and I that although business was successful, he had always dreamed of living a life dedicated to the service of the vulnerable. It was with tears in my eyes that I told him, “Yoni, those are our people. The world’s forgotten and vulnerable are Jesus’ people, and the Scriptures define pure and unstained religion as one that cares for the forgotten and at-risk in society.”
As I shared with our board in America about Yonatan, I was asked, “is this someone you would trust with your children?” the answer was, and is, “yes, I would; yes, I have.” Each of my children look up to him, love him, and see him as a part of our family. My family is better because he is in it. Mercy Branch is better because He is our director.
Join me in welcoming Yonatan to the staff of Mercy Branch. I am sure, as you get to know him, you will fall in love with him just as my family has.