7 Things About the Bridges Life in Chencha

I’ve been noticing a lot of folks on Facebook receiving numbers. They take that number and list out that amount of things about themselves that maybe not many people know. I haven’t participated on Facebook, but it got me thinking about things that I might share, what tidbits might people find interesting. Then I got to thinking about where we live and how we live. Though it seems normal to us, I realize that we make our own version of normal and that for most people the way we live in Chencha might seem a little different. So, I asked Dawit to pick a number between one and ten. He chose the number 7. Here are 7 things you may not know about the life of the Bridges family in rural Ethiopia.

Our charcoal stove.

1.  Almost every morning Jonathan gets up and makes a fire with the charcoal that we buy at market. Jon has this process down to a science and can have nice hot coals for making breakfast and heating water for coffee in a relatively short amount of time. I am not as good at the fire building but I have managed to survive at times when Jon has been away.

One of our lizard tenants who lived in the hole by our door.

2. We have approximately 10 lizards that live in and around our home. We are so familiar with these lizards that we can recognize some of them. Dawit has named many of them and calls them by name. Stumpy and Rascal are a couple of our favorites.

I too drop dabo kollo on when I eat it but I have to say the two biggest reasons dabo kollo is everywhere are these two. Dawit is about to "pitch" some kollo into his mouth and as the arrow shows Baby Girl doesn't even know anything missed her mouth.

3. What time is snack time? Any time! Our house follows the American snacking tradition. What does Dawit ask 5 minutes after every meal, “Can I have a snack?” This often causes Jonathan (the non-snacker) distress as he pushes peeled carrots on us. Fortunately, Ethiopia has given us one of the most wonderful snacks in the world, Kollo (co-low). It is a part of life in Ethiopia. Kollo is a generic term for small roasted grains such as barley or roasted peas. There is also dabo kollo which is similar to the crunchy roasted barley but is actually bread. On any given day if you come to our house and look closely enough on the floor you will find dabo kollo. No matter how much you sweep, it is ubiquitous. Actually, right now there is a fare amount of dabo kollo decorating the back seat of the car. Baby girl is like a little scavenger as she combs the floors of our home in search of the crunchy little gems.

injera machine

4. Our injera machine is magical. I can use it to bake almost anything, except injera. For those who may not know, injera is the fermented pancake like bread that is a staple of most Ethiopians’ diets. Most people still use a flat clay disk over a fire to make their injera but we have an electric injera machine. It is basically a round clayware electric skillet with a thin aluminum lid. I have mastered making biscuits, rolls, cinnamon rolls, banana bread, pancakes and even pizza on our injera machine. The one thing that doesn’t seem to turn out well from our injera machine is what it is intended to be used for, injera. Even our house worker who usually makes our injera has trouble making good injera on it.

two sand filters

5. Next time you turn on your tap for water consider how wonderfully easy it is. We are blessed to have clean water to use and drink, but it is a process. Jon has dug two wells. One is around 50 yards from our back door and the other is right behind our kitchen (this is the new one with the electric pump). We haul water from both wells and then do an initial filtering in sand filters. We can use that water to clean and cook with. Only recently has Jon added the second sand filter. Our drinking water is filtered again through a ceramic filter.

viewing spot

6. Our daily life is apparently a hit reality show. Our compound is surrounded by a woven bamboo fence. Though at initial glance you cannot see through it, the fence’s woven properties leave small holes that allow the neighborhood children, and adults, to look through. This means that at any unsuspecting time you will hear shouts of “foringe,” or “Jon-a-ton,” from a disembodied voice. Again, we can’t really see through the fence unless we walk up to it and peek through one of the holes. So, as we are working or playing in the yard those on the other side who do choose to peek usually feel moved to shout something. One might assume that a simple greeting or a light conversation would give satisfaction and send the shouter on their way. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. We speak to them in three languages, their tribal tongue, their national language, and in English. However, all we usually receive in returned is more shouting of “foringe” or “Jon-a-ton”, until we just can’t take it anymore and just have to go inside and hide until they are bored enough to leave.

sheenta bait

7. Fair warning – if you visit our house you may want to visit a potty first! This list wouldn’t be complete without mention of our sheenta bait (AKA pit latrine/outhouse). Literally translated this means pee house. As far as sheenta baits go, we have a nice one, maybe the nicest one in Chencha. It is well covered and has a door that latches, but you can’t get past the fact that it’s a big, stinky hole in the ground. Most of the American visitors that we’ve had are a little squeamish about using the sheenta bait at first. Some have even required training sessions, including a live demo. Once you get used to it, it’s not too bad.


Arat Wer (4 Months)

I actually had to count it out the other day. That’s how long it has been since we moved down to Chencha. I had to count because we feel like we have been there much longer.  We have settled into a more regular routine and things that seemed challenging or different when we first arrived are now common and part of what we call normal.

We’re also seeing things progress with the project. It seems like each day there are changes to the land that get the project closer to its goal.

We feel so richly blessed to be surrounded by such beauty and such wonderful people. Now that we are feeling more settled and Jon’s knee is healing we are looking forward to finding more discipleship opportunities and missions beyond the farm.


Our new kitchen. With the addition of the kitchen we were able to give Dawit his own room and clear out our living room.


Our new living room. We have been without living room furniture for two years. It is so nice to have a place for visitors to sit and for us to relax in the evenings.


Apple blossoms. This apple tree is just outside our kitchen door. We are hopeful to have some apples in 2014.


The rows of dark spots in the field are new holes for apple and pear seedlings. Some late rains have delayed the planting, but in the coming weeks we will plant an seedling in each hole.


The chickens have grown and are ready to be shifted again to an area with nest boxes.


New chicken feeders built by Jonathan and Aregahegn. Jonathan is excited to be active again now that his knee is feeling better.


The old pump jack was difficult to use for folks shorter than Jonathan. So, Jonathan fixed a new handle that makes pumping much easier. We will be using the well a lot now that the rainy season has ended.


There always needs to be time to play! Dawit was excited to have his daddy and our friend (and guard at the farm), Tesfaye, to play frisbee with him. Baby Girl watched from a safe distance.

The Good Things

If you have followed our blog for a while then you have heard of us speak of the feasts and famines of living and working in Ethiopia.  I know that it probably isn’t like this for everyone, but a lot of our friends have shared similar cycles.  There are times, the feasts, when we stay busy and see progress quickly and all seems to be moving at a good pace and in the right direction. Then, in the famines you experience a lull in progress and honestly during those times you can feel rather bored and like there is nothing to do. Jon and I have been in a bit of a famine over the last several months. We are seeing some progress on the farm with the chicks and also with new apple and pear tree plantings but from a personal stand point we seem stuck in a stall pattern. Jon was slowed significantly by his knee issue and is just now getting to be relatively active again. I taught English tutoring sessions for two weeks to our beneficiaries and was super excited but then between the rainy season and other logistical issues we haven’t met again. Also, I got sick just as Jon’s knee was doing better and was in bed for almost a full week with a fever. Needless to say I’ve been a bit bummed and feeling like we aren’t doing anything productive. I do have to remember we are still settling into Chencha life after bouncing around for many months and the transition can take time. I also know that culturally things don’t tend to move quickly here. All these things swimming in my head got me thinking to focus on my blessings. So, I decided to make a list. I decided to list out 3 things I love about Ethiopia.

  1. The People. I will admit that there are days that in the same breath I can be totally in love with and totally annoyed with the people of Ethiopia (the later mainly because of cultural differences). In dealing with Jon’s knee problem and my sickness I have been reminded of the compassion and community we are surrounded by in Chencha. Daily, people would come to check
    Teaching an English lesson to some beneficiaries

    Teaching an English lesson to some beneficiaries

    on Jon’s knee and ask how he was doing and offer the traditional,              “Iso” (eye-zo), which means be strong. People would also remind us that God will heal Jon’s knee. During my recent sickness I was awoken one morning to our house worker turning on my bedroom light and walking in with a man. As the fog cleared from my head I realized that her husband had walked the hour and a half with her to our house to offer a bit of encouragement and share an “Isosh” (which is the equivalent of Iso but for  a girl). In a small rural community like Chencha there may be a touch of busy-body with the close tabs they keep on their neighbors but there is also a cup of compassion that overflows and knits the community together.  Even with the luxuries we lack, I’m glad to be a part of that community.

  2. The Beauty. There is so much beauty all around us that that at times it is overwhelming. The people, the land and the sky all greet us each day with new beauty that reminds us what an incredible Creator we serve. We live in the rural highlands which means there are green mountains all around us. We see incredible skyscapes and on a clear night we can see every star in the sky. The land rolls and is blanketed by grasses, trees and flowers that offer a wide range of colors and textures. The people here both inside and out are beautiful and add to the colors and livelihood of the area.

    View from the hill

    View from the hill

  3. The Pace. I complain about the famine times but if I really stop and think on it I love the pace of life here. My western up bringing tells me to be busy all the time, push for progress. And when I don’t see it I use words like famine. However, it is okay to sit in the grass and talk to a friend. It is okay to take some extra time to visit a neighbor, even if that means that work will be waiting for you when you return. I love that it isn’t unusual for someone to not be at work in the afternoon because they have something to do at church. Everyday lunch is 12-2. You can see more of the beauty around you and spend more time with theflower people who matter if you aren’t sprinting through each day. Life here is definitely paced more at a walk or amble as opposed to a sprint.

So maybe feast and famine isn’t the best way to describe what it is we are experiencing. We have to remember we are here for whatever purpose the Lord has for us. There may be times we see rapid change and there may be times when all is quiet. Psalm 27:14 offers great wisdom for the times we feel things aren’t moving…

 Wait for the Lord;
  be strong, and let your heart take courage;
  wait for the Lord!


Doing some dishes with a helper

Doing some dishes with a helper

Balancing Act

It has been an interesting couple of months as we have been (finally) transitioning to life in Chencha. We’ve been learning to do without many conveniences while enjoying the pace and clean air that comes with life in rural Ethiopia.

An unexpected part of our new rural life has been an issue with Jon’s knee. When we first arrived in June, Jon had to have fluid drained off his right knee and received a cortisone shot. Problem solved! Jon jumped right into the work he enjoys. He began cutting and hauling lumber, hauling water for daily use, digging garden sites and general work around the house and yard. Three weeks into such work and his knee began to swell again. We made our way back to the Christian hospital a couple hours away. Jon had arthroscopic surgery. The only thing the doctor found was a small section of cartilage at the base of his knee cap that looked a bit frayed. The doctor smoothed the section out but also informed Jon that such a small abnormality shouldn’t cause the degree of swelling he was experiencing.

Since the surgery Jon has been attempting to take it easy. He continues to keep his knee elevated the majority of the day. Recently, he couldn’t stand being still any longer and spent a good part of the day weeding a small garden. He also stood and rocked Carter a bit that night when she was having trouble sleeping. His knee started to swell again. So, now he and I are seriously monitoring his amount and kind of activity. The swelling did go back down the following day.

With Jon having to be rather immobile I have had to take on a few new roles. Praise the Lord the rains have picked up (I seriously never thought I’d say that. With the rain comes a lot of mud!). With our rain collection I only have to haul buckets of water from the side of the house to containers inside the house. I’ve been filling the charcoal bucket a bit more and taking more of the “gray” water tubs outside to be dumped or filtered in the sand filter.

These newer more physical jobs for me recently got me thinking about the balancing act that goes on with any relationship, but especially marriage. In order to make our home work and insure that all those who are in our home are taken care of, we share our labors.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

The past two months, adjusting to our new rustic lifestyle and Jon’s recovery, have reminded me how well our Lord has balanced us together and in doing so allowed us to remain strong together and in Him.

Legal, Healed, and Headed Home

I imagine we looked like a bizzaro version of the Clampetts leaving Addis Thursday with our belonging piled high in the back of our car.  Almost all of our stuff was packed into bags, some plastic baskets and tubs and a trunk. I picked up my temporary residency identification card Wednesday which meant the whole family was back in the good graces of Ethiopian immigration. With all that taken care of we were ready to head to Chencha, finally.

We stopped in Soddo, about two hours from Chencha, to let the kids rest and so Jonathan could take advantage of the health care at the Christian Hospital. For the past week Jonathan has been battling a swollen knee from unknown causes. He was unable to walk without crutches and also unable to drive.  So, for the first time I drove the six hours down to Soddo. Battling huge pot holes, wandering animals and oblivious pedestrians we made it to Soddo around dinner time on Thursday. Jonathan headed over to the hospital after the kids went to bed and had his knee x-rayed.  

Last night we shared a pot luck dinner with the families who live here on the hospital compound. Most of them are American Doctors who work here. Several of those happened to be Orthopedists, one of which is quite renowned, certainly the best in Ethiopia. Around the dinner table they checked Jonathan’s x-rays and poked and prodded on his knee as they puzzled over what the problem could be. Finally they told him to go to the hospital in the morning and they would take another look at it.

This morning Jonathan found one of the doctors, who drained the fluid and gave him a cortisone shot. Immediately, for the first time in almost a week, he could walk again without the aid of crutches. He’s not ready to go kicking soccer balls just yet, but at least he received some much needed relief. The cause is still unknown.

Now that we are all healed and rested we will finish our trip to our house in Chencha. We are long overdue to be settled. We are also ready to make some improvements to our house. Jonathan is planning to build on an outdoor kitchen and a patio. He also will build his workshop (I think he may be most excited about this).

All the Best Parts

Admittedly, we did not anticipate that we would be able to arrive back in Ethiopia, renew Jon’s work permit, renew our residencies and all would be smooth sailing. We’ve been working in Ethiopia long enough to know that is rarely the reality. So, there has been some frustration as we wait with our hands effectively tied.

However, for today I’m focusing on all the best parts of living in Ethiopia.

I’m cooking a lot more, so there are lots of yummy things to eat.

Fresh bread, oatmeal cookies and homemade tortillas

Fresh bread, oatmeal cookies and homemade tortillas

We love the compound where we are staying and Dawit is getting lots of play time.

time to play

Dawit tried to feed the compound tortoise a green bean, playing in the sandbox and superheroes on the trampoline

There is nothing like having time together as a family.

Daddy daughter nap time, monkeys on my back, and reading time

Daddy daughter nap time, monkeys on my back and reading time

A Quiet Tuesday

I love a quiet day. Even better is a quiet day at home. Admittedly, if I have too many quiet days at home I get a little stir crazy but a few now and again are a wonderful thing.  Yesterday, we moved out to the Christian Missionary Fellowship compound just outside of Addis. We’ll be staying here, hopefully, just long enough to finish the renewal of Jonathan’s work permit and our residencies. It is a beautiful compound with many western comforts so the main reason we want to leave is because we are ready to be settled in Chencha. It is a nice sunny day and Dawit is able to run, jump (there is a trampoline at the compound) and play with the other kids here so he is thoroughly enjoying himself. Jon is not in Addis so he is happy. Baby Girl has us and plenty of my milk so she is happy.  All this makes me happy. The peacefulness of this setting and the contentment of my family gives me time to stop and do something I should do so, so much more than I do—count my blessings. I count my family as my biggest blessing. We are all healthy and capable.  We have been blessed financially, especially when looking at our current setting and the world as a whole. We have been blessed with safe clean places to stay during our time away from our home in Chencha. We have an abundance of food and clothing. We have friends who share our passions. We have a car to use to get around the city and to drive to Chencha. And, of course my greatest blessing we celebrated a couple of days ago. I serve a risen savior who paid the price for my sins. Taking time to actually write out just a few of the ways the Lord has blessed me has given me great peace today.

A view from the compound

A view from the compound

Dawit playing on the trampoline (he is in the Spiderman costume).

Dawit playing on the trampoline (he is in the Spiderman costume).


Melessen (we returned)

We’ve made it back to Ethiopia. Actually, we’ve been back just over a week. Although, in some ways it seems much shorter, in a lot of ways the familiarity makes it seem like we never really left. We’ve been able to plug right back in and even though we aren’t in our own space yet we are quite comfortable and enjoying getting back in touch with everyone. Jonathan has started the process to get his work permit renewed. Please pray that it will be as cut and dry as it seems it should be. After we get Jonathan’s work permit renewed we can renew our residencies and get residency for Baby Carter. After all that work is finished we will be able to head down to our little house in Chencha. It will be so nice to finally be able to settle into one place, even if that place lacks most of our western conveniences. We’re all looking forward to setting up house and getting our little garden started.

Carter has been making friends and charming everyone.

Carter has been making friends and charming everyone.

Dawit got to have some fun with his washable markers. He is Ironman with a mustache.

Dawit got to have some fun with his washable markers. He is Ironman with a mustache.

Carter's "old fashioned' sleeping arrangement. It works perfectly.

Carter’s “old fashioned’ sleeping arrangement. It works perfectly.

Who wants injera?

Who wants injera?

A Little Math Lesson

I’ve been back in the states for a few weeks now. I’ve been able to catch up on all those things that we miss while we’re in Ethiopia. In other words, I’ve eaten lots of good ol’ southern home cooking. In Ethiopia we’d call it our “cultural food”. Grits and gravy are hard to come by in Ethiopia.

Showing off my catch.Besides food I got a special, unexpected treat earlier this week. Fishing is probably the thing that I miss most while in Ethiopia. God blessed me with beautiful weather and a friend with a boat last Monday. We did a lot more fishing than we did catching, but that didn’t bother me a bit. I was just happy to be on the water with good friends.

I could go on and on, but there’s something more pressing on my mind. Recently we’ve had several people interested in donating to us and our ministry, but unsure about what they should give. “What is a normal amount that people give?”, “How much do you need?”, or “What amount would make a difference?” are the common questions that we receive. We often stumble as we try to answer, because there is no easy answer and these aren’t really the right questions. There really is no way for Jess and me to answer these questions. So in an attempt to answer the intent behind these questions I am going to give you the Jonathan Bridges philosophy on giving. This applies to any charitable giving whether it’s for missionaries, churches, or other ministries.

He looked up and saw the rich dropping their offerings into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow dropping in two tiny coins. “I tell you the truth,” He said. “This poor widow has put in more than all of them. Luke 21:1-3

First we have to rethink some basic assumptions. It is important to remember that God’s ways are not our ways and this includes the way we do math. When we give to God’s work one plus one does not necessarily equal two.

I’ll give you an example from our own supporters. We have one supporter who gives $15 per month. There is another supporter who gives $300 per month. According to standard accounting practices we’d say that there is a big difference in these gifts. However, according to God’s math these amounts are equal. I know these supporters well enough to know that each gives prayerfully, according to what they have, from a cheerful heart, “as he has decided in his heart – not reluctantly or out of necessity”.

Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

So you see, it is impossible for us to answer these questions for an individual giver. In doing so we may be making a grave mistake. If we suggest too little we may rob a giver of a full blessing. If we suggest too much we may place an unnecessary burden on a giver.

God is the one who must answer these questions. For the gift to be effective it must be decided between the giver and God. The first step is to prayerfully review your budget with God. If you are truly seeking to glorify Him and increase His kingdom He will bless the intent of your heart by giving the right answer. Don’t focus so much on the actual dollar amount, but the answer that God gives. I must warn you, though. The answer will probably cause a little discomfort. God will likely require some sacrifice, stretch your faith a little, and ask you to give up some things for Him.

Jess and I have seen personally over the past few years that when this formula is followed the amount given is exactly the right amount. God knows what we need more than we do and He has promised to supply our needs while we faithfully and dependently serve Him. He has faithfully supplied our every need and I have absolute faith that He will continue. The fact that many people have been burdened with a desire to support us is a clue that our needs may be increasing in the near future. This makes sense with a new baby coming in just 2 weeks and some expanding ministry opportunities in Ethiopia that Jess and I have been discussing lately (We’ll be revealing these as they firm up more).

If God has placed a burden in your heart to support our work, or any other ministry for that matter, don’t just impulsively start writing checks. First check with the one who sets our pay scale – God. In doing so He will bless your gift and ensure that we have all we need.

His Work

photo by Dan Fuller

I sat the other day watching clouds drift above lofty mountain peaks. Great shadows created an ever changing picture show against the wooded slopes and the cultivated valleys. Chencha right now is a patch work of green. Each farmer tends his own small plot according to his own habits and presumptions. The result is masterpiece of green. I saw a plot of the almost iridescent green of barley seedlings not yet six inches high. Beside it the dark verdant green of knee high wheat sways in the breeze. A little further on is a subtle green covered in a dusky golden haze as heads of barley begin to mature.

One field in particular happened to catch my eye as I soaked in the scenery and sunshine. I was a bit annoyed that my attention had been pulled from the grand view to the small ordinary scene. It must have been movement that caught my attention. On the far side of one particular field I saw a man walking somewhat deliberately. I could tell immediately that he was a farmer. He was of small stature, but with a rugged look and obvious strength in his shoulders. I noticed, after every ten steps or so, that he would give a quick, almost imperceptible glance over his shoulder. There hidden by the knee high grain a small dark object bobbed along behind him.

Finally, as the farmer turned the corner on the side of the field facing me I saw the items he sought. Several stout logs lay along the side of the field where a tree had recently been felled. As he came to beside the logs, the bobbing object came into view. It was a small boy of maybe four or five years old (it’s hard to say since children here tend to run a bit small compared to ours). Upon rounding the turn he hurried to where the farmer, who I now considered to be the boy’s father, stood. There were a few words and some gesturing between the two, and even though I was out of ear shot and they spoke a language I don’t know, I knew the context of this short conversation, having had nephews and my own son utter the excited phrase, “Can I help, can I help?”

Before the father could so much as bend a knee the boy, in the speed and enthusiasm of youth, was down clutching the cumbersome load and straining with all his might to lift it. The log didn’t so much as quiver. Then, as I perceived a slight smile and a chuckle from him, the father hoisted the log, boy still attached, onto his strong shoulder, turned and headed back the way he came. The boy clung to the log, facing his father, dangling in the air and giggling as he swayed to the rhythm of his father’s pace.

Let’s never think ourselves so important to believe that God, our Father, actually “needs” us to help Him with His work.

Does He desire for us to obediently follow Him wherever His work may be? Yes.
Does it warm His heart when we eagerly ask to take part in His work? Surely.
Does it bring Him great joy to find us trying with all our might to accomplish a task with Him, despite obviously being far too feeble?
I believe so.

However, as I reflect on this work that I am doing “with” my Father I find that it is my Father who is carrying the load and me with it. I find, that rather than helping him accomplish his work, I am as much a part of his work as anything else.

“Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” John 15:4-5

“We should never lose sight of the higher aspect of our work – that of obedience to God, of bringing glory to His Name, of gladdening the heart of our God and Father by living and serving as His beloved children.”                             J. Hudson Taylor