O is for Orphans

O is for Orphans

A few months ago, I shared this picture. I wanted to share it again as part of this A to Z Challenge that was only supposed to be in April but has somehow managed to spill over into May. Because this photo is important.

Throughout this A to Z Challenge, I’ve highlighted some pretty amazing things about Ethiopia. I hope I’ve dispelled a few myths along the way. But there’s one thing that still remains very true about the situation in Ethiopia: there are a lot of orphans. And if things don’t change soon, there will be even more orphans (thanks, in part, to the ongoing famine in much of the country). So this photo is important. Because it reminds me of how many children need families.

We can do something about it. And I’m not talking about adopting. I’m talking about partnering with organizations with boots on the ground in Ethiopia. I’m talking about helping to provide clean water and transforming a village. I’m talking about helping to stop children from becoming orphans in the first place.

World Vision Sponsorship Page

That’s why i’m partnering with World Vision to help change the world in Ethiopia. Because there are already too many orphans in the world. And this is especially true in Ethiopia. Partnering with organizations like World Vision will help us break the cycle of poverty in Ethiopia and around the world.

We are more than merely the sum of our parts. We are #GreaterTogether and have the power to make a real difference in the world around us.

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N is for No Colonization

The floodgates opened in the 19th century. It seems like every European nation with any hope of appearing rich and powerful joined the race to overrun and colonize the African continent. Within a short amount of time, all of the African nations were overrun and became colonies of the various European nations.

Except Ethiopia.

There is still great pride in Ethiopia that they were never colonized like the rest of Africa. During my visits to Ethiopia, I was reminded on several occasions by several different people that Ethiopia is the only African nation that was not colonized.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t an attempt to take over Ethiopia in the 19th century. Italy tried. They brought their modern war machine and were met head-on by the Ethiopian army at the Battle of Adwa. Some consider the result of their military contest to be a miracle, thanks to the intervention of St. George. The Ethiopians defeated the Italians. And Ethiopia maintained its sovereignty while surrounded by European colonies.

Italy did eventually get some revenge. Some 40 years later, Mussolini’s Italy swept into Ethiopia with tanks, machine guns, heavy artillery, advanced airplanes, and mustard gas (in violation of international law). The Ethiopian army, armed primarily with swords and spears, was no match for this advanced military invasion. italy pulled out all the stops and swept into Ethiopia.

If I remember my World History classes correctly (and that could be a very big “if”), this invasion was one of the key events that showed how impotent the League of Nations actually was. Mussolini wound up occupying Ethiopian territory for around five years until the Italians were driven out by Allied forces in 1941.

But don’t call that a colonization. It wasn’t it was a military occupation.

It’s not just a matter of semantics. It’s a matter of national identity and pride.


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M is for Money

Birr is the Ethiopian unit of currency. When we were in Ethiopia in 2009, one US dollar was the equivalent of about 11 birr (I think). When we were there a few months ago, I was able to get approximately 22 birr per US dollar.

There was a little souk (store) right outside our guest house. They had all kinds of different goods available for purchase. I was happy to discover that they had my favorite soft drink – one that I’ve only been able to find in Ethiopia – for sale! And it only cost 17 birr for the equivalent of a 20 ounce bottle. You can’t beat prices like that. It’s pretty remarkable how much buying power the US dollar has in Ethiopia.

So imagine how much good could be done by partnering with World Vision and sponsoring a child. The results would be…I don’t know which word to pick….amazing? revolutionary? life-giving? world-changing?

I believe the answer is yes. All of the above.

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L is for Lions

L is for Lions

The lion – especially the Lion of Judah – is a popular national motif in Ethiopia. When Haile Selassie was crowned emperor of Ethiopia, his official title was “By the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God.” That’s certainly a mouthful. But it reflects the ancient connection of the people of Ethiopia with the nation of Judah. And even though a monarch hasn’t reigned over Ethiopia in more than forty years, there’s still an affinity towards the lion.

Lion of Judah Statue in Addis Ababa Ethiopia

Lion of Judah statue in Addis Ababa

In addition to the connection with the Lion of Judah, Ethiopia has its own unique species of lion. If I understand correctly, they were once Emperor Selassie’s pet lions. They have a darker mane and smaller bodies than most African lions.

Weldu and a lion

It was also recently announced that a new group of lions, once thought extinct, was rediscovered near the border with Sudan. One of the organizations that helped fund this expedition was Born Free, a wildlife organization that focuses on rescue and care of wild animals as well as conservation and education. They maintain Ensessakotteh, the Wildlife Rescue, Conservation and Education Center on the outskirts of Addis. It’s a beautiful sanctuary that we had the opportunity to visit with some missionary friends during our final day in Ethiopia. One of the things Weldu said he wanted to do before we came home with him was to see lions. So we told him we’d be sure to do that. Lions were my favorite animal when I was a kid. I even dreamed of being a lion tamer at one point in my childhood. So if my kid wanted to see lions, we were going to see lions, by golly!

The lions were neat to watch. We also saw some cheetahs and some other smaller animals. The view from the Preserve?

Born Free Lion Preserve in Ethiopia

The view from the Lion Preserve


Since we’re on the topic of lions, there’s one more story about lions in Ethiopia that is worth mentioning. It’s almost like a reverse Daniel in the Lion’s Den. A 12 year old girl was abducted and beaten by seven men. Their goal was to force her to marry one of them. They would have been successful, except the lions stepped in. That’s right. A pride of lions protected her from her captors. They kept guard until she was found by the authorities.

Sounds like a legend from centuries ago. Right? It happened in 2005. NBC News has the details.


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My memories of the 1996 Ichthus Music Festival

20 years ago today, I found myself walking through a field near Wilmore, Kentucky with a girl I had a HUGE crush on. A group of us from Milligan had made the trek from Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains to my friend, Scott’s, hometown. Scott lived a mere hop, skip, and jump away from the granddaddy of all Christian music festivals: Ichthus Music Festival. So we crashed at his house and spent the day Saturday listening to band after band after band. I honestly don’t remember many of the bands we listened to that day. We did get to hear Rich Mullins, which was an experience I’ll never forget. I’m pretty sure I listened to a band called The Choir. They had a really cool shirt with something that looked like a flying frog on it. I bought that and wore it until it literally fell apart.

That’s about it.

I’m sorry I don’t remember much about the bands. If you performed that weekend and I saw you, I’m sorry. I’m sure you were great. My attentions were kind of focused elsewhere. I couldn’t believe this girl wanted to hang out with me and walk around the festival with me and share a snack with me. We might have even held hands a time or two. I was in heaven.

Yeah, there were some awkward moments. We hadn’t exactly expressed our affections for each other yet, but everyone knew. Shoot, even one of the guys in one of the food trucks could tell. He told me I should buy some food for my girlfriend.

“She’s NOT my girlfriend!”

I snapped back at him. Yeah. Smooth move there, Casanova. They should’ve called me Rico Suave.
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In spite of my ineptitude, that girl still hung out with me after I shouted down that poor food on a stick salesman. And now, 20 years later, it’s a lot less awkward. I love hanging out with her and we don’t worry if anyone sees us hold hands. We’ve traveled the world together and we have four amazing kids. Yeah, it was awkward in Wilmore, Kentucky. But I’m incredibly thankful that she stuck around. We’ve been on an amazing journey together and I’m excited beyond words to discover the next chapter of our life together.

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20 years…

Has it really been that long? It feels like a lifetime and a blink of an eye all wrapped into one. And I can’t believe I get to share it all with her every day for the rest of my life.

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K is for “Konjo”

K is for Konjo

There are a few Amharic words I remember from my first visit to Ethiopia in 2009. I remember how to say thank you. I remember hello and goodbye. Of course, there’s also injera, berbere, and tibs. I didn’t really learn a lot of Amharic words that first time around. I definitely learned more during my most recent trips. But there’s one word that has stuck with me since I first heard it in 2009.



There is a lot about Ethiopia that is Konjo. Instead of wasting words trying to describe its beauty, I’ll just share a few photos. They’re supposed to be worth a thousand words each. Right?

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Ethiopia landscape from Lion Preserve

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Ethiopia DSC06682 DSC06696



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J is for Jewish Connection

J is for Jewish Connection

When Philip the Evangelist met the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, he was reading from the prophecy of Isaiah. The eunuch was accompanying the queen of the Ethiopians. Because it’s kind of assumed today that everyone around the world has access to the Scriptures* we don’t really think much about how unique this event would have been. Who had access to Jewish Scriptures other than practicing Jews? Yes, there were practicing Jews outside of Judea during this time, but foreign royalty making pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to worship Yahweh at the Temple?

That’s rather unusual.

By Мастер Георгий – , Public Domain

But what if Judaism had been part of the Ethiopian kingdom long before. What if Ethiopia had a connection with Judah that had spanned for centuries? I’m going to talk about the Queen of Sheba in a later post (see letter Q in the near future), but it should be pointed out here that she visited Solomon and his palace. And she was in awe. Legend has it that she brought something back with her (you’ll read more about it later – I promise), but she also converted to Judaism during her stay in Jerusalem.

If this story has even just a little bit of truth to it, it would stand to reason that a strain of Judaism remained in the Ethiopian court over the centuries. And during subsequent trade and diplomatic efforts, copies of the Hebrew Scriptures would have found their way into the royal court.

Even if this is all conjecture and has no basis in historical fact or reality and I’ve completely misunderstood this part of Ethiopia’s connection with First Temple Judaism, there is one claim I know that is still made to this day…

Indiana Jones was wrong.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy races the Nazis to find the lost Ark of the Covenant in the Well of Souls in Egypt. The Ark ultimately winds up under the watchful eye of “top…men.”

The Ethiopian Orthodox church claims otherwise. They say it was never lost. There are different stories about how it happened – some say it was sent there during the fall of Jerusalem for safe-keeping. Others say it was stolen. It all depends on who you want to listen to. But Ethiopian Orthodox belief is that the Ark is safely enshrined in the Chapel of the Tablet in Axum, one of the oldest cities in Africa – and a former capital of Ethiopia.

By Adam CohnOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I think it’s safe to say that Ethiopia’s connection with Jerusalem runs very deep. Some even argue that Moses’ wife, Zipporah, was from Ethiopia. She certainly had dark skin. There’s even a small community of Jews living in Ethiopia. They’re known as Beta Israel, “house of Israel.” Although many members of Beta Israel left Ethiopia when the communist Derg was in power, there are several thousand who are still trying to move to Israel.

The connection between Ethiopia and early Judaism is fascinating to me. It reminds me that you never know what kind of impact you can have on someone else when it comes to matters of faith.

* According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, more than 180 million people don’t have access to any Scripture at all in their original language. More than 1.5 billion people don’t have access to the full Bible in their native tongue. So it’s safe to say that this assumption is wrong. There’s still work to be done.

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I is for Injera

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I is for Injera - #AtoZChallenge

I know. I already told you this last year during my failed attempt at the A to Z Challenge in 2015: I is for Injera. And I might have even said in that post that I’m usually not a fan of injera.

Oh what a difference a year makes.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but something happened over the last year. I love the stuff. I can’t get enough of it. And that’s a good thing because we have it regularly – usually at least two times a week.  So I guess you could say that I’ve become a fan of that spongy, sour, crepe-like bread that’s used as a utensil for most Ethiopian dishes.

We haven’t figured out how to make good injera yet. That’s OK, though. I’ve been told by several folk in Ethiopia that they can’t make it either. They buy it from the store, just like we do. We love Major Restaurant in Indy. And now there’s an excuse for us to visit them once or twice a month: they sell bags of injera! This makes our house all kinds of happy.


I guess tastes change. And that can be a good thing.

Have you ever had your food preference change like this? I did once before. It was with fried bologna sandwiches. I used to eat them all the time. Then, one day, I ate one and realized I was tired of these sandwiches. In fact, I couldn’t stand the taste or smell of bologna anymore. That was at least 25 years ago and I still can’t stand the smell of bologna. And I used to be a big, big fan.

Oh, and then there’s cantaloupe. I used to love the stuff. Until I ate so much at one time that I started feeling sick to my stomach. And no, it’s not because I was watching the movie Krull.

Now the smell of cantaloupe makes me kind of nauseous. And that’s kind of depressing. Because everyone else in our family loves cantaloupe. I want to love it, too. But I don’t.

What about you? What food did you used to love/hate and have experienced a total 180 degree u-turn in how you feel about that food?

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H is for Habesha

H is for Habesha

He looked at my son, raised an eyebrow, and said,


Our son looked at the man, smiled, and quietly said “Yes.” They both smiled at each other as our family placed our order. We had just gotten off the plane at Dulles International Airport and passed through customs. Only minutes before, Weldu had taken his first steps onto a foreign land – one filled with people speaking a strange language with weird customs and white faces that all look the same – and officially became a US citizen.

In the midst of the the uncertainty of stepping into the unknown with his new family, Weldu found a brief reprieve. He was asked this question a few more times while we were in Dulles. Every time, there was a warm, but silent conversation between the two.

When we visited Ethiopia for the first time back in 2009, I don’t think I ever heard the term “Habesha.” We heard it all the time during our last trip a little more than two months ago. So what is Habesha? Habesha is a people-group that spans Eritrea and Ethiopia. Although approximately 15% of the population is not actually Habesha, it has become a term that is generally used for all Ethiopians and Eritreans. It’s basically a term of cultural pride, celebrating what unites their culture instead of dividing them by language and tribal group.

I think Weldu is still in shock about how many Habesha he met in the airport. It makes sense. Washington, DC, has a pretty significant Ethiopian population. But I think the mere mention of that word by someone else in the know made his arrival here in the States a little bit easier. In the midst of the craziness he had a small island of comfort, knowing there are other people here like him. And they recognized him as Habesha, too.

While I don’t think I’d never heard the word Habesha until a few months ago, I’m glad I did. Because that word has made a world of difference to my son.

And for that, I’m grateful.

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G is for George

G is for George

St. George is everywhere in Ethiopia. He’s a saint. And he’s a big deal. It seems kind of odd to me that a guy named George, who also happens to be the patron saint of England, but he’s a big deal in Ethiopia.

There’s a beer named after him.

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A prominent football club in Addis is named after him.

And there are two beautiful churches in Ethiopia that are named after him. There’s the St. George Cathedral in Addis Ababa. And there’s also the rock-hewn, cross-shaped church in Lalibela. It’s also named for St. George. Shaped like a cross, this sanctuary was carved out of one giant rock and it’s one of eleven monolithic church buildings in Lalibela. And it’s not only a national treasure, but a world treasure. The story goes that the emperor who commissioned the construction of this amazing building was inspired by a mystical visit from St. George.

While I’ve been to Ethiopia three separate times, I’ve never been to Lalibela. I would love to visit. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity when we return to Ethiopia. Hopefully, that’ll be sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I’ll just have to find inspiration from photos that my pal, Marshall, took a few years ago. Be sure to check them out.

Ethiopian Icon of St George

So who is this St. George? The legends differ, but he was some type of Christian warrior in the 4th century who was traveling on horseback through a town – possibly Beirut, possibly in Libya, possibly somewhere else – when he discovered that a dragon was terrorizing the town. In order to appease the dragon, the citizens fed the beast two sheep a day. When they ran out, they started offering their daughters as sacrifice. George defeated the dragon. The community was saved. And they converted to Christ.

Many believe the spirit of St. George helped the overmatched Ethiopian army defeat the Italian army in the Battle of Adwa.

So he’s a pretty big deal in Ethiopia.

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