Updates: Advent 2018

So much has happened in such a short time! We’re quickly learning how challenging it can be (and in Ethiopia, it likely will be) keeping folks updated throughout this immense transition. I’d intended to write this update shortly after I’d arrived in Ethiopia, but I’ve found a number of things have either distracted me from doing so or have made it difficult. In any case, I’m determined to get an update written this beautiful Monday morning (every day has been sunny, with the temperature hovering around 70*F).

Big news first: as the photo up top suggests, Kristen is pregnant! The baby is due June 10! This blessed surprise alters our planned schedule slightly, but not too much. As of right now, our plan is that I return to the States in March, at which point the family will make stops in Chicago and Ames on our way to Colorado Springs in April/early May, where we’ll attend a month-long cross-cultural and language learning course. We’ll return to Oklahoma and have the baby and leave for Ethiopia one to two months later – that would be the end of July or early August.

Per the court hearing last week, the adoption is technically scheduled for June. However, we’re told that it will likely happen sooner than that. That’s really all we know. It has been a profound exercise in patience.

Kristen and the boys are splitting their time between Tulsa and Stillwater (and a little bit in Edmond). Kristen’s found a gym with two hours’ daycare per day included in the membership, and swim lessons for the boys, so she can (hopefully) get a little break and the boys can burn off some energy (although, of course, they have plenty in reserve). Charlie loves pre-K at Jenks Southeast Elementary.

I (John) arrived in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, on Thursday, November 29. I spent the weekend visiting folks in and around Addis; coincidentally, my boss from Iowa State was visiting at that time, so I was privileged to visit Addis Ababa University’s veterinary college in Debre Zeit/Bishoftu, as well as the African Union’s Pan-African Veterinary Vaccine Center. On that Sunday I attended the Divine Liturgy at St. Frumentius Orthodox Church, which is part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa.

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Divine Liturgy (the Great Entrance) at St. Frumentius Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa.

I arrived in Mekelle on Monday, December 3, and was greeted by some ex-pat friends I’ve come to know during my travels. In fact, one ex-pat is currently in the States, probably for several months, and I’ve been blessed to stay in his house at an extremely reasonable rate while he’s gone. They’ve been a huge help to me as I’m learning where to buy groceries (and everything else), general procedures for food safety (e.g., uses for tap vs. filtered vs. bottled water, bleaching produce, etc.), where to set up a bank account (there are so many banks!), and a million other things that one wouldn’t think one needs to know. I believe that this preliminary trip will be immensely helpful for many reasons, but one especially noteworthy reason is that I will be much more comfortable with the little things when I return with Kristen and the boys, which should make the transition significantly smoother.

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My first attempt at roasting my own coffee. Note the amateur’s uneven roast on the left, and the teacher’s much more even roast on the right.

I’ve met with personnel at the veterinary college and at the seminary, and we’re all excited that years of planning are coming to fruition. We’ve begun working on Memoranda of Understanding, outlining the details of our work agreements in order to manage expectations (on both sides) to the greatest extent possible. I’m also doing due diligence to get visa issues worked through, which has been largely a waiting game (which is what I expected).

I’m quite grateful for the many obvious (and some less obvious) blessings that have been revealed as this adventure unfurls. The people, whether at the vet school, the seminary, or my ex-pat friends, have been the biggest blessing. I’ve grown unaccustomed to living alone, and I’m quite ready to glam on to anyone who gives me even a sideways glance. The food, the coffee, the weather, dipping my toe into the language(s) and liturgy, have all been delightful.

I’m struggling with the challenges associated with trying to stay connected electronically, and navigating both intermittent power and internet access (which is both intermittent and often agonizingly slow), and trying to become accustomed to my new normal. This is true in terms of the work I’m trying to accomplish (including writing blog posts!), staying connected with friends and family, especially Kristen and the boys (we’ve come to really like the Marco Polo app), or simply coming to realize what creature comforts will simply not be part of life here (I’m looking at you, Netflix). Again, some blessings are more obvious than others.

My current morning routine has me waking with the sun, saying morning prayers, and reading from Isaiah, Revelation, and Luke. Isaiah is a book I’d love, love, love to have more time to dive deep into. I feel like I know it while it yet remains an immense mystery (which is, of course, true for all of the Scriptures, but it’s more amplified for me with Isaiah). I’m currently in what’s referred to as “deutero-Isaiah”: chapters 40-55, which begins, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from theLord’s hand double for all her sins.” Words of intimacy and comfort follow, originally intended to encourage exiles in Babylon that it is time to return to Zion (Jerusalem). 2,500+ years later, it has been wonderful to read a bit of this message every morning as I adjust to a new way of life, as well as to prepare to celebrate the birth of the Messiah.

I pray that all our friends and family find comfort in knowing that we are invited to return home out of our (self-imposed) exile thanks to the One who became one of us in order to make it possible.