By Rachael Burnett
About the author: Rachael and her husband, Paul, live in Memphis, TN, where Rachael is a high school English and Language Arts teacher. She describes herself as a lover of learning, antiques, anything homemade, and - not to be left out - chap stick. All of these things pale in comparison to Rachael's love of Jesus, who just so happened to prompt her to go to Ethiopia with a team from Central Church in June, 2013. As the team's blogger, she brought those of us not fortunate enough to travel with the team face-to-face with the daily work with the children living on the streets of Addis Ababa. This duty left her primed to continue blogging for us once she returned to Memphis, as her eyes were opened to the joys and sorrows of life in beautiful Ethiopia.
It first started for me as I was moving through the airports with my team on the way to Ethiopia. As we were wrangling our bags, standing in lines, waiting to board— you know, all the usual airport fun—I felt a sort of surreal excitement. After all the months of planning, praying, support-raising, and being preoccupied with this far-away place to which I’d never been, I was finally, tangibly, on my way there! Only 7, 924 miles and 18 hours of flying time separated my feet from Ethiopia and the people I’d been earnestly praying God would use to change me.
It was in the airports that I finally realized something : people are real.
I know, hold the phone, right? Yes, people are real. I’d been hearing about TFC and Ethiopia and these street kids for three years now. A couple in our “Sunday School” class is involved with TFC and have been on several trips, so I’d heard their testimonies, seen their pictures, read their blogs, and, most importantly, seen their lives change as a result of their experiences in Ethiopia. God had been spurring me towards missions, both locally and globally, for a while, and He began using this couple to prick my heart for this place. BUT, however passionately they spoke and however heart-tugging their photos were, Ethiopia and its seas of precious children living on the streets was not really real to me.
You know how this is, don’t you? You hear about this beautiful destination from a friend, but, until you see it for yourself, it just seems like a dream. Or everyone tells you how having a child will rock your world, but you don’t really “get it” until the nurse puts that baby in your arms for the first time or you’re up at 2 a.m. with him/her screaming their lungs out. Or you see the commercials for sponsorship of starving, hopeless children in impoverished countries, and they seem like characters in a movie until one of them is glued to your lap and puts his finger on your chest and says, “Mother.”
That detached sense of concern and curiosity and burden is how I felt before I went to Ethiopia myself; a second-hand experience can be enough to pique your interest, but it is usually not enough to create a real understanding—an understanding that changes you inside and out.
God began revealing this reality to me in the airports and on the planes. This is what I wrote in my journal after we boarded our third plane en route to Addis Ababa:
“It occurred to me as I was sitting here watching everyone settle their bags and find their seats that these people are real—that sounds silly and obvious, but it is so easy to just see moving bodies and forget they are just the houses of eternal souls that God loves deeply.”
When I’m singly focused on my agenda, comforts, and perceived needs, I only see others as “moving bodies.” My natural eyes are the only ones that are working. When my natural eyes, rather than my “spiritual eyes,” are the only ones functioning, people are just faces in a crowded sea, obstacles to my convenience, and of no eternal value. Ouch.
God used traveling to Ethiopia to awaken my "spiritual eyes" - to help me see the seas of people. I was finally experiencing Ethiopia first-hand, boots-on-the-ground, skin-to-skin, and He began to help me “get it.”
People—seeing them and loving them as Jesus does—is all that matters in this life.
Whether I’m in Ethiopia or Memphis, TN, there are people all around me who are desperate to be seen and to be loved and served selflessly. God has been using the following passages to challenge me to open my eyes.
John 21: 15-17 (ESV)
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Philippians 2:3-8 (ESV)
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Oh, for the grace to see what’s real.