During my initial meeting with the Director of Strong Hearts, one of the first questions asked of me was “Do you love Jesus?” Never have I been asked that during an interview, and I must say, it was both startling and refreshing. As I’ve begun volunteering in the hospice program at Strong Hearts, I have seen the ardent love of Jesus as a value shared and upheld by all staff in word and in action. Thus far, what I have appreciated most about the hospice program is its holistic approach; not only is physical comfort a goal, but also spiritual and emotional comfort. Scripture readings, prayer, and counsel are always offered during visits. I have sensed that hospice care is not just a job to my Ethiopian teammates, but rather their unique calling from God. Patients within the program are not just sick people, but friends, brothers and sisters in Christ.
The most difficult aspect of volunteering has been the language barrier. I perceive that important things are being said, and oh how I wish I knew those things! Despite my frustration with the language barrier, visiting the homes of patients has been a joy and privilege. When entering homes within and surrounding the city dump, I am entering different worlds. The majority of the homes have one or two crowded rooms with dirt floors, walls made of a combination of rock, clay, and grasses, and roofs constructed with scraps of plastic and sheet metal. I have met men and women who have remarkably strong, steady faith in the midst of extreme poverty and physical suffering. I have met middle-school aged children who are forced to quit school and find day labor jobs in order to support their bedridden parent and pay rent. I have been amazed and humbled to find that patients and families have been such generous hosts despite having so little. During almost every home visit thus far, some sort of food or drink has been shared. A number of families have welcomed us to join their coffee ceremony (the whole process done over a tiny charcoal fire pit, from green coffee beans to steaming hot cups). These ceremonies are occasions where the barrier of language is overcome through the act of hospitality and the shared enjoyment of an Ethiopian tradition.
Over the next few months, I am looking forward to seeing more of how the organization’s vision of “transforming from the inside out” comes alive and bears fruit. God is at work in this community and I’m grateful to be a part of it.