The opportunity to give, to meet the needs of those less fortunate, is one too precious to pass by. It was in early September of 2008 I received a call from Global Expeditions, an organization that operates in sending teens around the continents for mission work. For the first time in their twenty years of service, they had the country of Ethiopia as one of the choices. Immediately I signed up to travel to the place I treasured most, my beloved homeland. I was born and raised in Ethiopia for nine years and returning to serve my own people was a chance I couldn’t pass by. Before beginning my years in high school, I desired to make my summer productive and worthwhile. In the coming summer, I was to journey 8000 miles away with fifty other teens to Africa.
Upon my arrival in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I could hardly contain the excitement of experiencing my old life again. The fresh Ethiopian air, the early spring rain and the clamor of many tongues around brought back memories I hold dear to my heart. I was determined to capture every moment of my stay. I began to greet the faces welcoming me with a smile. Though I was not fluent in Amharic, the main language spoken in Ethiopia, I began to utter it the best way I could. While in Addis, most of our time was spent with children coming from all walks of life. We devoted our time to kids in orphanage homes and those on the streets, who suffered from the loss of their parents to HIV/AIDS. We also went around the neighborhood, sharing the love of Christ and giving heed to the needs of people. I enjoyed sharing my culture with my missionary friends and witnessing the change in their stereotypical outlook of the poverty- stricken Africa. There was immeasurable richness and beauty in my country, and I longed for others to see it. My biggest struggle was expressing my care for the children in my native tongue. Though that might have stood as an obstacle, our language of love had the power to break through the barrier.
What made this travel a priceless experience was my time with people. Though I went with the mentality of making a difference, I came back deeply impacted. At one instance, I witnessed a woman giving her pair of shoes to a homeless man and walking home barefooted in the muddy ground. This act of selflessness is forever engraved in my mind. It challenges me to defeat my selfishness and learn true humility. The love people shared for one another went deeper than mere words. I learned to care, to embrace and reach out to others wholeheartedly.
This unforgettable experience transformed the way I live my life. For the longest time, I’ve wondered why I was given the opportunity to come to America, a land filled with boundless opportunities. Was it to pave a brighter future for myself or use these opportunities to also serve my country? I believe the answer is both. My voyage to Ethiopia expanded my limited dreams and visions. In a world of diverse cultures and beliefs, it taught me to stay true to myself and treasure my language as well. It created in me a desire to value and educate children around the world, to never forget where I came from. My return to Minnesota was of one with mixed emotions; feelings of sadness in leaving my country behind, but overwhelming joy in knowing that this was only the beginning.
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