I DREAMED OF SIERRA LEONE…and somehow DISCOVERED ETHIOPIA

Sometimes it is simply difficult to know where to begin. But I know that everything begins and ends with GOD.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

 Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

For those of you who know me, you are aware that this has been the worst year of my life…But it has also been the best year!

For many years, God has been tugging at my heart. As a new medical student, I dreamed of traveling to Sierra Leone. I was fascinated by this new virus, HIV, that causes AIDS. And I have to get right in the middle of things, scrubs on and hands dirty. Trying to save the world. But somehow the birth of my two beautiful children, changed my pace and priorities.

God continued to tug…but I was too “busy” with life to answer and obey. Obey, which I am not very good at, is a tricky word when it comes to God. So it took a major personal and professional disaster to get me moving in his direction.

Back in 2010, I sponsored a mamma with my friend Teff in an organization called “Because Every Mother Matters” (BEMM). The idea is to empower women in Ethiopia to create small businesses so that they are able to feed their children. Many of their husbands have died of AIDS or simply left the family. Many children have been left orphaned and “mammas” have poor self-esteem. How can you believe in yourself when you cannot even feed your children?

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Needless to say, the program has been very successful. Most of this is due to the vision of the President and founder of BEMM, Stephanie Cooper. She created a grass-roots organization, and 90% of all contributions go to the “mammas”.

While I have been on hiatus, I had the opportunity to learn more about Stephanie, BEMM, and the mammas. I learned that much of our budget was going to health care costs and even with assistance, “mammas” and children were dying of preventable problems. Health concerns were an even bigger problem in the southern regions such as Arba Minch where there are 42 villages.

This time, God did not tug at my heart. He gave me a directive….Go to Ethiopia and I will show you what to do…

So two women, two weeks, hiking 200 miles began the adventure of a lifetime. Much of the trip had to be done on foot because of poor access to the southern villages by road. We lived among the natives and shared available food. I did without almost everything that I would have at home, but somehow I didn’t seem to notice. We hiked steep mountains with a few personal belongings and all the medical equipment I could put together.

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I walked and listened to God, and he carried me up the mountains. Over 4 days, my diet consisted of 1 boiled egg (thank you village #1), a piece of bread, and a banana. But I was never hungry.

On the most challenging day of the trip, physically and emotionally, we hiked for 20 miles, climbing rocks and navigating steep inclines. Then I saw more than 100 patients with the help of our guides and Stephanie. They all had the same problem: infected wounds mostly on the lower legs and feet.

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This sweet little guy could not bear weight on his right foot. Everywhere I touched, pus flowed like a river. There is only so much I could do in the village. He needed a surgeon and an operating room. The idea that had our team arrived 1-2 weeks earlier, I may have been able to treat him on site permeated my thoughts. What if??

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This smiling father brought his daughter because she is small and not gaining weight. She is a beautiful little girl whose mother left her many months before she was ready to stop nursing. Biologically, she is 1-year-old. Physiologically, she was the size of a 6-month old baby. Formula is not available in the villages, and the villagers had never been introduced to the concept of a “wet-nurse”. She will likely die from complications of malnutrition. Again, completely preventable. I cried.

The most memorable experience was one of holding a new-born baby girl. I missed the birth by 15 hours. Fortunately, it went smoothly. She was wrapped in swaddling clothing similar to the baby Jesus…I felt the presence of God all around me. And a perfect peace.

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I returned home, a changed person. The difference between needs and wants was quite clear. God no longer has to call me. Ethiopia calls…

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“May you find God’s grace in every day.”

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elmbyrd

Christian, Physician, Photographer, Journalist

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