Four members of EverGreen Ministries, a congregation of the Christian Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Mich., recently traveled to Ethiopia, continuing a longstanding partnership with that country through a child sponsorship program known as Children’s Hope Chest.
The members visited two “care point” sites in Ethiopia—Aware (Ah-wahr-ay), a slum area in the capital city of Addis Ababa, and Burayu, a small community on the outskirts of the capital. They met with families of children sponsored by church members through Children’s Hope Chest as well as representatives of the local church they partner with in Aware, said Jodi Cole Meyer, who organized the visit.
“You actually make a relationship with a certain child (through the sponsorship program), and they encourage you to go and get to know the community,” Cole Meyer said. “Every year we send people over so they get to know the community, they get to know the family of the child they sponsor, and all the other families in that community.”
During their visit, the EverGreen members offered a vacation Bible school-type event for children in Aware, held a feast for families of the children, and discussed upcoming projects with local church leaders, Cole Meyer said.
About 150 children are currently sponsored through EverGreen’s involvement with Children’s Hope Chest in Ethiopia, with sponsors including friends and extended family who are not part of the congregation, Cole Meyer said.
EverGreen members have renovated homes of the families whose children they've sponsored in the past; future plans call for them to help develop a village savings and microlending program. But members say it’s the human connection that lies at the heart of the relationship between EverGreen and its Ethiopian partners.
“We’ve actually been able to build a real relationship beyond sending pictures or sending money or thinking about them or praying for them,” said Amy Engelsman, a church member who was part of the visit. “I’ve been able to hold their hands and hug them and sit in their homes, and listen to [the children’s] parents weep.”
Whitney Scholtens, another church member, has seen the difference Children’s Hope Chest has made in the lives of the children and families she’s met.
“You see them move from survival mode of only thinking about the immediate need of that day, and moving into a place where they have been freed from the burden of that day and are able to think about their future,” Scholtens said.
About 30 EverGreen members have visited Ethiopia through Children’s Hope Chest over the last five years, Cole Meyer said.