Recently, I joined a team of twenty Americans from across the country and headed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with the sole purpose of extending mercy. We arrived in Addis Ababa, the capital city in the midst of extreme poverty. The dichotomy between wealthy and poor is overwhelming as you drive down the streets. We passed rich and expansive embassies adjacent to ragged shelters of scavenged materials housing some of the poorest people in this bustling city.
In the midst of this city of extremes, we found a place of hope, the Addis Ababa Mercy Center. In what was once meant to be a bottling plant, two thousand children are fed, educated, and loved every day. Although the complex is large, it was stretched beyond capacity, making it necessary to rent a small tin building down the street for the preschool. Prior to our team’s arrival, the remaining factory equipment had been moved from the property and a space cleared for a new preschool to be built within feet of the existing complex.
Within hours of arriving in Ethiopia, we were leveling the ground and mixing concrete. We worked alongside a small construction crew and were amazed at their skill and dexterity as they climbed over a delicate framework of wooden poles. Our tools were makeshift replicas of the real things and in short supply, like our “wheel barrows” crafted from two poles with sandpaper nailed between. Those of us periodically sidelined by the lack of tools spent our breaks interacting with the children who were curiously watching what was taking place in their courtyard. We eagerly took photo after photo of children begging for our love and attention. During our time there, we developed incredible relationships with the children through games, photos, times of worship both in Amharic and English, Bible stories, and by just being near them.
The construction progressed smoothly, and by the grace of God, accident free throughout the week. The leveling of the foundation was followed by a framework, which was soon encased by the concrete floor. Before the concrete had even dried, the roof and sides quickly took shape. We were repeatedly forced to stand back and watch as the construction crew ingeniously showed us how to build without the typical ladders and scaffolding. As much as we hate to admit it, we were often in their way. Nevertheless, after one week of hard work, a rough shell of the preschool stood complete with a roof, painted sides, a concrete floor, and outlines of the classrooms inside.
Several months ago, not far from the doors of the Mercy Center, there was a pile of abandoned bottling equipment. Now, however, endearing preschoolers are sitting in classrooms learning about the love and mercy of God. The funds that were once used to rent an offsite building can now be used to further the care of the children who attend the Mercy Center.
It’s hard to say who was touched the most through our time in Addis: the children, the project staff, or the twenty silly Americans who couldn’t learn Amharic. For me, the face of sponsorship and Africa looks astonishingly like the precious children I came to love. I’ve learned that while extending mercy to others, they extend even more mercy in return. I’ve now been on the frontlines and seen just how remarkable sponsorship is in the lives of these beautiful children.