(Fekadu and Ruth)
It was a Thursday. Our week at the drop-in center was coming to a close. The last day of the medical clinic was in full swing and patients and children were everywhere. I spent the week entertaining and loving on those precious children, helping in the pharmacy, and doing whatever I could to help. While I had some things on my agenda to accomplish while I was there, the most important of these was learning Fekadu's story - a personal account from Fekadu, himself. It had been insanely busy and the entire week had yet to provide a time for me to sit down and let him share his story. But, Nega, in the midst of his crazy schedule, remembered that I needed to learn some things about him and he suggested we use that afternoon to talk. So, that's just what we did.
We left the busy, medical clinic and Fekadu and I walked hand-in-hand toward Pizza Corner, a couple of blocks from the drop-in center. I will never forget that walk. Ever. Fekadu, carrying my notebook, walked with a stride that exuded confidence and pride, making sure at every "intersection" that I was safe. It was then that I noted and admired his leadership. Later, I would learn of his strengths, his passions, and his perseverance.
We sat out on the patio, each ordered a Mirinda (a popular soft drink in Ethiopia) and we began our chat - a chat that would open my eyes even more to the heartache these children have already faced in their short little lives. It is more heartache than many of us will see in a lifetime. I learned of a young boy from Jeda, a village 370km north of Addis. He was orphaned at age five when his mother died from epilepsy and his father had been murdered by a brother when he was a baby. At 8-years-old, an aunt in Jeda sent him on a train to Addis to "find" another aunt when she could no longer afford to raise him. He lived on the streets until he found his aunt in the city. He stayed with her for a while but after being bullied and "hated" by his cousins, he left for the streets again. Fekadu recalls, "I left because my aunt's four children began to hate me. That is when I started a new life on the streets."
As I listened to this young boy share his past, I was overcome with grief and I struggled to maintain composure. Then, Fekadu began to describe life on the streets. As I choked back tears, I realized that there was never going to be a way for me to fully understand the pain of living on the streets in Addis Ababa. While I could try, it was just not possible.
Fekadu shared, "The streets are a very, very difficult life. Life on the street is bad. Bad doesn't describe the streets well. One time, I was very cold and sick and I slept alone for 3 days and no one helped me, " he said. "We got a lot of suffering on the streets. The police don't allow us to sleep under the buildings so we go to the land to sleep. It's tough. It is a difficult life for me. I couldn't get one meal a day on the streets."
As he continued, I processed the thought of the other 100,000 (something) children just like Fekadu, who were searching for food and shelter, at that very moment, on the street. I ached for them and I hoped God would continue to reveal Himself to me in these moments.
After describing his life on the streets, Fekadu shared how he found Onesimus. At this point, my tears could not be contained, as the joy I felt for this young boy's new life was overpowering. Just 10 months earlier, in November of 2010, some of the staff at Onesimus met Fekadu at the Coliseum (a popular hang out for street kids) and they invited him to the drop-in center. When I was there in June, I visited with Fekadu, a shy young boy who was withdrawn and lacked confidence. Now, just three months later, I sat with a confident, 15-year-old young man who shares all the changes that have occurred in his life.
He said, "I have seen many changes in my life. Changes spiritually, physically, and with my education. Spiritually, I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior. (Praise God!) Physically, my personal hygiene- I get two meals a day, clothes, shoes, and I get to shower twice a week."
It is here that God's miracles start to become more clear and I am able to truly understand the amazing things that are happening through Onesimus and TFC. Fekadu came to the drop-in center where he found acceptance among his peers and the staff. Love and security from his new family at the boy's halfway home.
He continued, "Living there is nice. We couldn't get love on the streets. Now, we get love as a family from Abezu and Alemayu. They play with us and love us." And, finally, he found hope. With tears streaming down and a smile on his face, Fekadu said, "I'm very happy now. I didn't have any hope on the streets. Now, I have HOPE."
That day, God revealed to me how he has not forgotten any of those children and He loves them just the way He loves ALL of us. And, while there is great suffering among the street children, God is using safe havens like OCDA (Onesimus Children's Development Association), leaders like Nega and Joe , organizations like TFC, and people like you and me to be his hands and feet to bring these children to know and cherish a personal relationship with Him- the only ONE capable of truly giving them a future with lasting hope.
As for Fekadu, his future is bright. As we finished up our Mirindas, I asked him about his future. A future he can now see and he said,"I hope to continue my studies. Also, I have a gift to play futbol and I hope to play and be a known player like Rooney (a famous soccer player in Ethiopia). After I have my own income, I hope to support Onesimus, if it is God's will. I want to help the street children."
That afternoon I spent with Fekadu taught me more than I could ever have imagined. It taught me about God's heart for the broken - God's heart for me and God's heart for Fekadu. That afternoon taught me about what God and His hope can do for me and for a kid who has nothing at all.