In a few short days I board a plane for Ethiopia with my husband Steve and my youngest two children, Emma (12) and Luke (10). There will be 6 other team members with us as we travel to Ethiopia to meet with Faith that Works’ Somali leaders and work with students in the Somali Community Literacy Center. A trip like this involves risks and challenges such as unclean water, harsh living conditions, disease, new culture/language/food, difficult travel, and political turmoil. I face these risks each time I travel to see our Somali leaders, but how do I view taking my young kids into that risk? A woman recently asked me just that question: “Why would you take your children to a developing country like Ethiopia??” Here is why: I recognize there are risks and challenges, but I know there’s great value in taking my kids to see the work firsthand rather than just hearing about it around the dinner table. This has been a dream of mine for some time, and I feel very fortunate that after 5 years of me traveling to and working in Ethiopia, we finally get to experience this TOGETHER! I see the potential for lessons and concepts they can only learn through an experience like this, things such as mercy, compassion and service for the poor, and what it means to embrace others across cultural differences. They can come to understand that problems are complex while still being hopeful and learn that caring for others is not meant to just be talked about, but lived out - with gratitude for their own freedoms and prosperity. My oldest child is 26 years old and our youngest is 10. Watching my kids grow, I’ve noticed an increasing trend in the US of entitlement and self-focus among young adults and kids that is a real concern for me as a parent and citizen. Another mom told me recently about a conversation she had with her 19-year-old that is stark example of the disconnected, entitled view of many youth. The young woman was sick and went to the ER for care. When the mom asked her why she went to the ER and not her primary care doctor, who was covered under insurance, her daughter replied, “Because I was sick!” Her mom pointed out that a visit to the emergency room was a $150 minimum charge and asked her daughter who she thought would cover the cost. Her daughter continued, “The elderly and the rich.” This is a bold example, but it illustrates something that truly concerns me: seeing our children taking for granted how easy they really do have things. So how do we break down entitlement and teach our kids the precious value of opportunity, freedom, and education? Instead of interacting with others out of a sense of entitlement, I want my children to develop an alternate value system: one of gratitude, love of country, and humility based on the understanding that the freedom and privilege they were born into are not things they earned. Rather, these are privileges to be grateful for and stewarded well. There is also a responsibility that comes with them: using the privilege to help others who were not born into the same blessings they enjoy. I wonder how much one trip to Ethiopia will help build this value system in my kids. I’m sure it won’t solve every wrong way of thinking, and they won’t miraculously wake up counting their blessings everyday, either. But they will remember the stories of children just like them, with big smiles and high hopes who live under oppression and face the challenges of poverty like hunger and ill health. They will remember meeting the Ermias family who has given everything up just for a chance for their children to go to school. They will see 3- and 4-year-olds who spend their entire day fetching water and caring for livestock out in the fields. They will smell the effects of disease and raw sewage, and they’ll eat food they have only seen on the travel channel. And maybe one day, even far in the future, they’ll remember that little girl in the village they met, living without hope, and they’ll make a decision to do something for others and not just sit disconnected in their privileged life with all of their freedoms. They might just decide to live for something greater than themselves. This is why I am taking my kids to Ethiopia.
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