Today was a pretty intense day. We went to Layla House after breakfast to look around a bit, give Manyazewal a chance to see some friends (and, I think, to show off a bit… new back-pack, new shoes, new parents), and, oh yeah, to meet Manyazewal and Mihret’s mother. She had traveled overnight from Harar (East of Addis Ababa) to meet us and say goodbye (again) to the children. I think we were almost more nervous about meeting her than about meeting the kids. It was with great trepidation that we made our way into the social worker’s office.
She greeted us as one greets friends in Ethiopia (kiss right cheek, kiss left, kiss right, kiss left, “Seulam”). She looked tired. She had been very sick over the last few months. The antiretroviral drugs, while extending her life, were also taking a great toll on her body. But that toll, I think, was not as great as giving up her children. The pain in her face when Mihret did not recognize her conflicted with the joy in seeing her children and the peace at knowing they would be taken care of. She was so very gracious with us, but it was obvious it still hurt her when Mihret called Julie and I ‘mama’ and ‘abba.’ As hard as we thought the meeting might be, for her it was so much harder.
We talked for a while about how she was doing. We talked about her choice to give her children up for adoption. We talked through the social worker, who translated for us. (All this while Mihret wanted the camera, and the water bottle, and the door knob, and…) She pulled out a wonderful gift: a photo album with pictures of her family, and of the kids. She asked about Oregon, and we gave her the book we’d brought for her showing all the faces of the state. She gave us a sack of peanuts (a specialty in Harar) and we gave her a box of chocolate, a specialty of Harry and David. It was all very hard but very nice but very formal.
And then we started talking about faith, and suddenly everything went deeper. We asked what church they had attended in Harar, and she said “Emmanuel.” She said she was Protestant (much rarer in Ethiopia, where most people are either Ethiopian Orthodox or Muslim) and said how much Manyazewal had loved church. We said we were Protestant too, and that I was a pastor, so Manyazewal would be spending lots of time at church. She got a surprised look, “A pastor?” It was only then, when we realized we had a family connection, that I truly felt she was looking at us, opening herself to us, and when I felt able to shed the discomfort of feeling like I was taking her children away from her. As we prayed together and cried together and shared together in the promises of the family of God… the promise that we are bound together, even now, by the Holy Spirit’s power; the promise that we will meet again, and sit at table together in the Kingdom of Heaven; the promise that not HIV/AIDS, nor intercontinental flights, nor barriers of language, nor even death itself could keep us from one another as we share in the love of Christ… as we shared the truth of our common identity, we all found a peace that we had not expected when we entered that room. “God has done this,” she said to us. “My fears for my children are gone now. Thank you.”
I cannot imagine how impoverished our lives would have been if we had decided against meeting her. I cannot imagine how much pain would still be in all of us if we had not sat and prayed together, claiming our common heritage and embracing as brothers and sisters in Christ. It was not easy, and I am sure there will be more tears shed on all sides. But this I know: by the grace of God, this story has a happy ending for ALL concerned.
At the gate we embraced again. She blessed us in Amharic; we blessed her in English. She went to find a taxi for the long overnight drive back to Harar. We turned to be swept up in the energy and chaos of a mass of kids who all seemed to want to have their picture taken (at the same time)… kids who, most likely, have very similar stories to ours. Our worlds, for the moment, diverged. But all roads lead to home, and someday, when our journey is complete, we will laugh and celebrate together as we join in the greatest family reunion of all. I’m looking forward to it.