Things I Thought I Knew

Pat Joyce - December 11, 2022

I first visited Ethiopia in 2007. I was ecstatic to meet three children with whom I had been exchanging photos and short informational letters for what seemed like an eternity. I arrived at Bole International Airport late one evening in early autumn. The two-year process to adopt three orphaned siblings was coming to fruition. After a fourteen-hour flight, and long layovers, we collected our bags and walked toward the airport exit. I came around a corner to get my first glimpse of the children who had been gifted to me by the grace of God. Nine-year-old Helen broke free of the pastors’ hand, literally running through airport barriers to jump into my arms. She wrapped her arms around my neck and showered me with kisses as I became a blubbering, sobbing mess. Tesfaye, Mulugeta, and the other children who were to be adopted followed with similar reaction. The entire, surreal experience was equal in scope only to the births of my three biological children.

I’m going to jump ahead fifteen years, to spring 2022. I am at the Bole Int. Airport for my fourth time. It is a very different place than I had experienced in previous visits. Welcoming parties are no longer allowed inside the airport for security reasons. I am reluctantly accepting a wheelchair ride due to deteriorating health. I am greeted outside by twelve little girls, ages seven to eighteen, donning traditional Ethiopian dress that they hand washed to make my greeting as special as possible. They each presented a fresh rose, and showered me with kisses, hugs, and unrehearsed, pure joy, rivaling my Bole experience from fifteen years prior. I thought I knew authentic elation… As we packed 13 girls and me into two vehicles, the girls began to sing.

Group Photo at Airport

Their singing is an expression of their love for life, and their appreciation for a Savior who is real and alive in every part of their days. It is fuel for my soul. I am awakened at five-thirty each morning to the sound of exuberant singing and laughing, as the girls wake and prepare to walk to their schools. I fall asleep each night to the same. I thought I knew how to worship Jesus…all their singing is reflective of their love for Him. I need no translation to feel the hope in their voices. They also love several popular American worship songs which they sing for my benefit and delight when I join them. They sing and dance as they perform very mundane chores. They sing when they are happy- they sing when they are not- they sing continuously! It is beyond inspirational. I am embarrassed as I envision a laundry basket full of machine-washed clothes that I’ve been disregarding for weeks in my bedroom at home. I feel ashamed of the puffs of my dog, Tucker’s hair, not so hidden, in most of the corners of my house. I thought I knew how to approach tedious work with a jovial attitude…

Laundry Day

Every day presents me with new opportunities for spiritual growth. Each of the sixty-plus girls and boys entrusted to our care carries emotional and physical scar tissue that would render most of us utterly unable to function. I thought I knew what the saving grace of relationship with Jesus Christ looked like…

I am attempting to present a trauma-informed care curriculum to all our caregivers at Hold My Hand. It has a Christ-centered approach to healing deep wounds that I think will be beneficial. Although trauma is engrained in the Ethiopian culture, it is not really acknowledged or understood. I ask those of you who pray to put this training on your lists as I feel it will be extremely helpful for the dedicated people who live with these kids every day and night. I am to be assisted by a dear friend from Ethiopia, who has lived with my family in Wisconsin for the past few months. He is a compassionate teacher who translated the lengthy text into Amharic and will help me present it in a way that will be sensitive to our cultural breach. I struggle to understand some of the cultural norms in relation to love, discipline and violence, but I am learning every day as I witness the power of a child’s redemptive love amid horrific betrayal. I thought I knew social work…

Street Boys Sleeping on Bench