Church members visit Ethiopia, share food, love

A local pastor named Tesfaye shares information about his sponsor, pictured in the framed photo, and about how sponsorship changed his life. Tesfaye works to provide sponsorships for families in the village of Korah so they can eat and send their children to school.

Sabrina Freeland and her son, Brock, 12, traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last month to work alongside volunteers with Ordinary Hero Foundation and Out of the Ashes, both of which partner with Ethiopian ministries to service the needs of orphanages.

The Out of the Ashes nonprofit works with 400-plus local students by providing uniforms and school supplies, while Ordinary Hero finds families to sponsor children by providing food each month so parents can learn a job skill and children may attend school.  

Sabrina, whose husband, the Rev. Brent Freeland, pastors Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Lenoir City, led a team of six members from Knoxville, North Carolina and California.

“One organization can’t do everything that it takes to scratch the surface of meeting the need in Africa,” Sabrina said. “It takes all of them working together.”

For the past two years, Sabrina has taken extra shirts from Vacation Bible School to Ethiopia. While visiting the countryside, Sabrina saw a teenager wearing one of the shirts she brought last year. Sabrina pulled on the girl’s shirt while telling the translator that the shirt was from her church in America.

Sabrina and her team learned the girl needed a sponsor, and one of Sabrina’s team members, Jimmy Hall, who had previously asked what to do with his sponsorship money, decided to sponsor her.

Sabrina and her team visited children at an orphanage called Hope for the Hopeless, which includes a drop-in center for street children, a residential facility and a long-term foster care home. As Sabrina and her team visited each of the three locations, they distributed gently used shoes and sweatshirts, while dropping off gifts from sponsors in the United States.

“I also enjoyed going to the three orphanages with Hope for the Hopeless (H4H),” Brock Freeland said in an email correspondence. “... At the orphanages, Bethel, Saluta and Kasanchas, we got to meet the kids and hang out with them by playing soccer and talking. I had a great time playing ‘football’ with some of the kids ... and also improved my skills as well.”

The team also went to the town of Yirgalem, where volunteers visited the Talita Rise Up Orphanage that a local mother, Atkilt, and her son, Abenezer, established to rescue children found in ditches and trash bags.

“Mothers become hopeless thinking they can’t care for their children, and they abandon them,” Sabrina said.

With the government no longer allowing adoptions in southern Ethiopia, foster families have adopted a few of the children, while Ordinary Hero continues working alongside the Talita Rise Up Orphanage to provide support, Sabrina said.

Sabrina and her team took cloth diapers, baby clothes, bibs, toys and baby supplies to the orphanage as part of their ministry outreach.

“Nannies were crying because they were so happy to receive these supplies,” Sabrina said.

Children can sometimes stay in wet clothes all day since Ethiopian families are unable to purchase diapers, Sabrina said.

Sabrina and her team also visited children looking for sponsors and took pictures of them to share with friends and family back in the States.

The Freelands spent time with a local man named Temeche, a 20-year-old 10th-grader, who the family is sponsoring. Temeche lives in Korah, which originally began as a leper colony.

“We’re very proud of him for staying in school and getting his education,” Sabrina said of Temeche.

Korah is a poverty-stricken area where children dig through the trash dump to get food and find things to sell as a means of making income for their families, Sabrina said. Sponsoring children for $50-$100 per month allows children to have the opportunity to attend school so the burden of providing food and income for their family is no longer on them, she said.

“Education is the way to end that cycle of poverty,” Sabrina said. “Fifty to one hundred dollars often changes not just one child, but a whole family.”

When children at the orphanage receive packages from sponsor families, they look for cards and photos first, Sabrina said, with pictures of their sponsor families going on the walls at the orphanage to represent the only family they know.

“The joy on their faces just radiates,” Sabrina said. “Caregivers teach them that they are not forgotten. They have joy knowing that God is providing for them.”

Sabrina said this was her third time visiting Ethiopia, but it was her first time leading a team. The Freelands sent out fundraising letters and posted on Facebook with friends and family donating needed funds.

“One of my favorite things we did there was probably meeting our sponsor boy, Temeche,” Brock said. “... He went with us to almost everywhere we went, including the orphanages and neighboring cities. We went to a city about six hours away named Hawassa, and he experienced at least three things he had never done before. We played miniature golf, took a motorboat ride and stayed in a hotel. I really enjoyed watching the look on his face as he did each of those things.”