When Kris and Scott Roeder visited Ethiopia on a family trip in 2014, four years after they adopted their daughter from the country, they met a poor potter family living exposed to the elements with a critically-ill child. With $700 from friends to use to build the family a new home and take the child to the hospital, the Roeders knew they could do something.
But they also knew they could do more with more people. They felt as though they could make a bigger impact.
As ministry leaders at Vision Church, the couple came back and shared their experiences in Ethiopia with the congregation, sparking the idea for a second trip.
“We know we’re not going to solve hunger or poverty while we’re down there,” said Vision Pastor Toby Newnum. “But at least we can go down and make a connection.”
That idea became a reality two years later when a 12-member team headed off to Ethiopia to help families and spread the church’s faith. Inspired by their experiences, the team came back ready to make the mission trip a biennial event.
Now, their quest to do good continues. The Roeders and six other members of the Tucson church are heading to Ethiopia once again.
When they arrive, they plan to work with a network of organizations first formed through the Roeders’ adoption process a decade earlier.
“The problem is bigger than our family, so the solution has to be bigger than our family,” Kris Roeder said. “So we kind of found these organizations that are doing the good work on the ground there, and we just try to come alongside them and provide funding for them and when we’re there, whatever hands we can do to serve the work that they’re doing there every day.”
One such organization is Blessing the Children International, a ministry with an academy in Ethiopia. Church members will help build desks and kitchen cabinets at the academy, and Kris Roeder, a computer programmer, will teach teachers how to use Microsoft Excel and Word.
Church members will also work with the organization Ordinary Hero to deliver supplies to the community of Korah, where over 100,000 people live around a landfill in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
The team will also work with Ethiopian local Pastor Tilahun Molla, who became a Vision staff member last September and receives a monthly stipend from the church. Molla has built churches and homes in Ethiopia’s Kembata Tembaro, Addis Ababa and Debre Birhan regions. He will guide the mission team through projects focused on local needs such as building a home for a widowed grandmother and building shade structures for an outdoor, open-air market.
Newnum, who went on the last trip, said the mission is about helping whoever’s in front of you at the moment.
“You’ll often see an elderly lady trying to carry a 70-pound bag of rice and oil,” he said. “At least while we’re there, we can heft it up and carry it for her. ”
Vision members who didn’t make the 9,000-mile trek to Ethiopia can still help out. After hearing stories from the church’s first trip, church members sponsored Ethiopian children through Blessing the Children International to send them to school with supplies.
Vision member Stacy Clinkingbeard took part in the first trip, and though she’s not going this time, she still remains connected to Ethiopia through her sponsorship of an Ethiopian child. She visited his house and talked to his mother during the first trip.
“I know that when I make a monthly donation, I know the house, I sat on the bed, I was there,” she said. “It’s really cool to have that personal connection, to know that that’s where the donation is going.”
For four of the trip attendees, the mission offers a chance to deliver supplies to their sponsor children in person.
That’s what Vision member Jennifer Ricksecker most looks forward to as she preapres. Ricksecker writes back and forth with her Ethiopian sponsor child and sends her items. Now, she will finally get to meet her.
Ricksecker isn’t coming to Ethiopia empty-handed. Over the last several months the church collected donations, and trip members are bringing them all. Ricksecker and her daughter, Jamie, who is also going on the trip, crammed all their own items in one suitcase just so they could leave three other suitcases between the two of them to be filled with donated vitamins, shoes, clothes and school supplies.
The trip also gives the church an opportunity to spread its faith. Because of the language difference, the team will all wear shirts with gospel written on them in Ethiopia’s native language, and Molla, Newnum and Vision member Tim Osborn will preach during the trip.
“We’re not a huge church, but we have this really cool connection with several churches down in Ethiopia,” Newnum said. “It’s gratifying for us because they’re so open and so hungry down there to just receive the message of Christ.”
While the trip gives members a chance to make a difference in Ethiopia, it can make a lasting impression on their experiences back home, too.
“To be able to see folks that are so much less privileged than us but so much more joyful brings kind of an appreciation to life when we come back,” Kris Roeder said. “You’ll never turn the water on the same…It’s just a beautiful appreciation that life really is relationships.”
Ava Garcia is a University of Arizona journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.