I cannot explain how it feels, after such a long fight, to finally be working with the children we have been praying and yearning to serve! I saw their faces, I know their names, but I have not met them personally. I, in fact, will not meet them on this trip to Ethiopia, and maybe not the next or the next. My position affords me the privilege to know some of their story, and the enormous responsibility to protect it.
One of the hardest things that Americans have to come to grips with is the fact that we are not saviors. Something deep inside of the DNA of an American is the idea that we know better how to solve the world’s problems, and many times, we can muster the resources to do so. This is a challenge that I have faced many times myself. There is a strong urge to interject ourselves, or for me to interject myself, into what is happening here. But, to do so, would halt all progress. It would undermine our in-country director, Dawit, and the team of workers here as they seek to bring healing to these children.
Here at Mercy Branch, we seek to bring justice to children. That means, we must treat them honorably, we must offer healthcare, clothes, food, shelter, education, clean water, etc. But we must also protect their story; we must also honor their humanity. They are in need, and we want to help… but they are not ours to exploit. We must honor their story and their right to share or not share it, at a time when they are safe and secure, and understand that it is their choice alone.
Please don’t feel like this is a statement that says “we know better, and are better, and if you feel like you want more intimacy and knowledge about the people you support, you are a bad person.” We are also not condemning other organizations or ministries who have chosen to proceed differently with their beneficiaries. Although, protecting our children in a very intentional way is a stance that we believe in with every fiber of who we are, honestly, it is also a very hard one to live by. The moment Dawit told me that the children we serve could be found easily, my immediate response was, “I want to meet them, let’s go!” And, with wisdom beyond his years, Dawit said, “you may pass by.”
It felt like when Moses told God he wanted to see Him and God said you can see the back of me as I pass by. I dropped Dawit off, gave him about 15 minutes as he gathered up our group of Mercy Branch boys and purchased them something to eat at a local café. Kyle and I then casually walked down the road and glanced in the direction of Dawit, like FBI agents trying not to expose ourselves. It was not until we had crossed the street, on a flyover bridge, so far away from the boys that it took the full zoom of my camera to capture them, that I was able to take any kind of photo, to offer to you all a chance to see the backs of our children.
I have been on the ground floor of this. I have had my hands in every single document on both sides of the ocean, this was a dream that my wife and I labored for, I have toiled for years to get to this point… and the right answer for this was a casual glance walking by. That is it. I could not now even identify these kids out from a crowd, but I am understanding more than ever before, that is what it takes to do right by them.
It is humbling for me to say that that is hard. It is very, very hard. I want to wrap my arms around them, and I want to tell them that they are loved. I want to tell them that I fought for them, and that I will continue the fight. I want to tell them that I have come for their rescue. That is what I want. But, read those last few sentences, soak them in… I am not their rescuer. I did not start this fight, and I cannot finish it. This is God’s and His alone. I am but a small cog, and these children need a greater Rescuer than I can, in myself, offer.
So, I long for the time that these children are healed and empowered and feel free to share their story. But I will wait. I will not push for that time to come faster, so that I can have stories and photos for fundraising. I will choose the long road, and I will trust the team that God has put together to see this work through. This kind of commitment to honoring children means sacrifices for all of us that are partnered with Mercy Branch. So many of you have been waiting alongside us to “meet” these children, and to know them, because we have loved them for years. But this choice means we will not have an abundance of photos of these children to share, and we will choose to not share exacting details that we might have otherwise desired to share. Thank you all for being with us in this. Thank you all for understanding why we do this, and for sticking with us. We believe it is a worthwhile, honorable endeavor. It also means that we are treating our fellow human as we would want to be treated if we found ourselves in a highly vulnerable position. It is a practical working out of “love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” So we rest in that, and choose that road.