Misty smoke rose from the soaked straw on the roof as the bright sun attempted to erase all memory of the showers that passed through during the night. The family rose with the sun. There was dry bread or a handful of roasted barley for breakfast. A couple of the kids were sent to fetch water, a couple of others to fetch wood. The rest of the children idled aimlessly in the muddy yard. The bedding was picked up off of the dirt floor and stowed in an empty corner of the small grass house.
Sometime in the afternoon a couple of people were noticed in the distance. This caused no big stir as it is very common for neighbors to stop by unexpectedly at any time. However, as they drew nearer they noticed that one of the visitors was a boy and even from the distance there was something strangely familiar about him. When the visitors finally reached the yard they could see the young boy’s face. They recognized him immediately, though they hadn’t seen him in over two years. The mother shrieked with excitement and then started running, dancing, shouting, and praising God. Hailum, her long-lost son, had returned.
Hailum, who we know as Yohannes, is a con man. In reality all street kids are, they have to be to survive. For two years he’s been living a lie. We’ve “known” Yohannes for a little over a year. He started coming to CHE’s Drop-in Center just before Jess and I left Ethiopia last summer. Everything we thought we knew of his life, his past, and his family was untrue. Even Nega, who is quite adept at sifting out the truth, was fooled. It wasn’t until recently, with school registration looming, that the facade started to fall apart. Identifying documents and records were needed for the registration. His real family were the only ones who could provide these. Yohannes had to start coming clean. The truth came slowly, bit by bit. He would only reveal the essential details. We learned that he had a mother, father, and lots of siblings. They are very poor and live in the countryside. He remembered where. So he and Sodo, one of CHE’s staff, set out for home. When they arrived Sodo finally learned who Yohannes really is.
Maruf met his family on the same day. His story is similar except that his identity wasn’t quite as shrouded in mystery. He is one of the youngest in a large family, which is very poor. They live in a small grass hut in the countryside. They barely even have enough food to survive. Maruf decided to take matters into his own hands. He was starving in the countryside and there was no hope that the situation would change so he headed for the city to find a better life for himself. Instead he found the cold, hard, lonely streets.
At the beginning of the year Maruf was invited to join 7 other boys taking part in CHE’s Drop-in Center program. He is now part of the first group, along with Yohannes and several others, to stay at CHE’s Half- way Home. He recently decided to give his life to Jesus Christ. His family’s religion is Islam, on the streets there is no religion. He fell somewhere in between, calling himself Muslim, but practicing nothing. He would openly mock Abezu, the house mother, and the other boys during the nightly devotions. Then one night he had a dream. The dream scared him. In his dream he was told that he had to make a choice. Would he stay on his current path of nothing, would he follow the religion that he was raised in, or would he choose a new faith and a new hope in Christ. He chose to follow Christ.
Maruf’s family was a bit reserved when he arrived at their door. They thought that he had gotten into some kind of trouble. This of course wasn’t the case. After Bisrat explained that Maruf was actually doing very good, that he was living at CHE’s halfway home, and had come to get documentation and information so that he could register at school their mood turned. They were relieved and happy to see him again. Maruf’s mother is gone and his father has since remarried. They stayed up all that night talking and catching up.
These two happy reunions occurred just two days before I left Ethiopia to return to my own home and family. They were fresh on my mind as I made that long journey back to this side of the globe. It seemed like such a long month. It was the toughest trip I’ve had to make. I was sick more than ever before. I was also more isolated than I’ve ever been. Dawit was changing by the day and I was missing it. My truest companion and best friend, my wife, seemed so distant. I was longing for home and that plane just wouldn’t go fast enough.
As I finally made the final stretch of my journey I looked out over the green fields of the mid-west and then the lush forests of the Appalachians. I had come from such a hard place, a place where there is either flood or drought and famine either way. I couldn’t help but thank God for all that we take for granted. I thank God that my child won’t have to make some of the hard choices like Yohannes and Maruf and I have a renewed commitment to help kids like these.