I'm not supposed to feel normal

I’m not supposed to feel normal

I just got back from Ethiopia. I’m having trouble fitting back into my normal life.

I’m back in a world that doesn’t smell of diesel fuel, spices, and unwashed humanity. Cars don’t mingle with pedestrians in the streets, all merging and swerving and honking with minimal stress and without collision. The sidewalks aren’t lined with beggars, and women don’t wrap their infants to their backs with their long head scarves and carry them around all day long. Buildings and houses aren’t clumped together, devoid of trees and grass. Uniformed children don’t walk to school unaccompanied. I don’t see throngs of people everywhere I look, wearing burkas, head coverings, or skinny jeans, all surging together on their quest to earn a living. To eat tonight. To survive.

My world feels familiar, yet abnormal.

I spent a week visiting children sponsored through Compassion International, children who are being rescued from poverty. Within the walls of simple concrete churches and bare classrooms, Ethiopian children find love, hope, and courage to dream that education is possible and futures are reachable. I miss their voices, singing joyfully about a God who cares. I miss their shouts as they run with us across a grassless playground, kicking a soccer ball to one another with enviable skill.

I miss trekking over rocky ground, down crooked paths that weave between rows of shanties, build from corrugated steel scraps and discarded beams. Each one-room shack is basically the same: a light bulb dangles through a ceiling draped with fabric; a small coal fire smokes in the middle of the floor, with an iron coffee pot sitting atop it, boiling coffee for us. Little cups and saucers surround the coffee pot with ornamental precision. A mother serves us coffee with heaping spoons of sugar and a bowl of popcorn for everyone to share. I’m worried they won’t eat later because we’re eating now. We perch on low stools or hug the edge of their solitary bed. I wonder how five people sleep here, how they don’t freeze to death at night, how they don’t suffocate from coal fumes.

I ask the mother what she wishes for—what she dreams of. I ask the same question in every home we enter. The answers are always the same.

“I want my children to get an education—to do better than I’ve done. I want them to pursue their dreams.”

This is why I’m here. I’m a small part of a large organization called Compassion International, a sponsorship program like no other in the world. Compassion not only feeds and clothes children, but it also educates, develops leaders, meets medical needs, trains students for a trade or helps them go to college. Compassion sends social workers regularly to children’s homes to assess the family need; social workers and teachers know the children personally. Compassion translates letters, stretches aid to benefit families. It continues care to children, even when sponsors drop out. Compassion teaches pregnant mothers how to care for their infants and provides support and immunizations so their babies will survive. And Compassion unabashedly shares the gospel of Jesus Christ. It does all this with minimal organizational expense.

From where I stand now, poverty smells like opportunity—like responsibility. It’s heartache and blessing and shame and inspiration. It makes me see everything and everyone with new eyes.

I am pained by empathy and warmed by opportunity. I will never feel normal again.

Perhaps that’s the best thing about a trip like this. Normal in America is not normal in Ethiopia or anywhere else. I don’t think Christians are supposed to feel normal. I think we are supposed to feel disturbed. Otherwise, we would never act with compassion.

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