“I will!” As soon as the words were out of my mouth I regretted them. We were all huddled around the bus hugging our arms to our bodies to keep warm in the damp morning air. Everyone looked relieved that I had spoken first. The leader smiled his appreciation and went off to talk to someone about the whereabouts of our bus driver. My heart pounded, what had I got myself into? I had just agreed to give my testimony at an orphanage on the first week of my missions trip to Ethiopia. I had never given my testimony before and now I had just volunteered to give it in front of a large group. Yikes.
We all clamored on the bus and set off for AHope Orphanage. There are many orphanages in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, but this one was different because every child there has AIDS and will probably die. We had no idea what we were doing. Maybe we’d teach them English, maybe we’d sing songs, or maybe we’d just play. We were there to do whatever they wanted. Whatever would bring them joy.
The bus turned into a muddy ally and a few minutes later we stopped in front of a blue gate. My stomach flipped. I had already been to two orphanages in the few days I’d been in Ethiopia and I didn’t like them. I was never sure what to do or what to say to the kids. They made me uncomfortable. But this was different. We walked into a large open area with brightly painted walls that shone from the bright sunshine overhead. All the children had smiles on their faces, eagerly waiting to play with us.
I pushed my fears in the back of head and smiled. Soon the courtyard was filled with laughter as all the boys played soccer and kids ran around with our cameras in hand, taking as many pictures as they could. I walked around taking pictures and trying to talk with the kids, but most of them barely spoke any English, so I stood unsure what to do. Finally, I walked over to a group of girls in the corner. Apparently it was wash-and-braid-your-hair-day. They were crowded around one of the leaders, eagerly braiding her hair. I smiled at the sweet sight. One of the girls noticed me watching and motioned me to come sit down. I went over to her and before I knew it she was braiding my hair. It hurt like crazy, but it was worth it. After ten minutes of excruciating pain the girl stepped back and nodded her head in content. She took my camera and took a picture to show me her work. When I saw the picture I felt all bubbly inside; I looked just like them (minus the bright blonde hair)! As I looked up to thank her I caught the eye of one of the leaders; it was time.
We rounded up all the kids and went inside a small, dim room with a tv set playing Toy Story 3 and lots of drawing done by the kids. As I took my place at the front of the room I felt at peace. The lyrics to a song ran through my head. “So tell me, what is our ending? Will it be beautiful, so beautiful?” I wondered how the lives of these children would end. I prayed a quick prayer and waited for everyone to quiet down. My legs were shaking and I looked nervous (as one of the orphans later told me…), but on the inside I was at peace. Thankfully, I had a translator so I didn’t have to worry about them understanding me. I slowly began to talk, explaining about how God has always been there for me and how’s He always takes away my fears. Everyone sat quietly, listening and, hopefully, taking my words to heart.
After I had finished, I sat down. I was finished. I had done it. And God had been with me the whole time. As we drove away from the orphanage I watched them slowly close the gate, straining to see a few last glimpses of the children inside. The bus started to drive away. I closed my eyes, a smile resting on my face. I would never forget that day. It was beautiful.