The Adventure of Living in the Kingdom of God

Saturday, September 5, 2015

WRAPS: A Ministry of Dignity for Women

(1) I'm a guy.
(2) I have no sisters.
(3) I have no daughters.
(4) I am thankful for #1-3.

I can honestly say that a ministry to young women using menstrual pads has NEVER crossed my mind prior to two weeks ago. However, WRAPS has changed that and opened my mind up to opportunities of which I never dreamed.

WRAPS (Washable, Reusable, Affordable Pads) is a ministry here in Soddo Ethiopia that works with young women providing them with clean, reusable, and washable menstrual pads in order to "empower Ethiopian school girls to embrace their femininity, learn proper hygiene, and stay in school."  Dr Mark Karnes, an OB/GYN here at Soddo Christian Hospital, and his wife Allison have lived and worked here in Soddo for the past 5-6 years and Allison is the champion of this ministry. 

Taken from WRAPS Facebook page.

When young women here in Ethiopia (and probably many other places around the world) begin their menstrual cycle, they often wind up dropping out of school because of the shame associated with their menstrual bleeding. Depending on when their cycle begins, this means girls drop out of school somewhere around 5th grade and with minimal education, many wind up forgoing dreams of further education, careers, and/or other interests. In order to make money, many unfortunately wind up in prostitution. Though a normal physiological process, many do not understand it and they do not have access to women's care products that the western world enjoys - and takes for granted. They often use very unsanitary methods of controlling their cycles predisposing them to infections and social shame.  

WRAPS seeks to change that by hand-sewing these menstrual pads and providing them to young women while also educating them about the natural menstrual cycle. In doing so, they restore dignity and self-worth to these young women empowering them to become and do whatever God calls them to.

Image taken from WRAPS Facebook page of young women holding their WRAPS.
I encourage you to check out their Facebook page called WRAPS and support however you feel inclined. You can also look at the website for Global Outreach International to learn more about the Karnes, this ministry, and as well as others.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Extreme Orthopedics

The level of orthopedic pathology here is staggering! Soddo Christian Hospital has become a trauma center for the southern regions of Ethiopia in part due to the recent acquisition of a CT scanner but moreso because of a consistent presence of orthopedic surgeons here for the past ten years. The combination of shared streets, poor road conditions, minimal traffic regulation, abundant motorcycles, overstuffed taxis (aka minivans), and congestion is a recipe for a never-ending stream of terrible injuries. The orthopedic wards (hospital rooms) are filled with young people, mostly men, who are (were) the providers for their households who leave their families - wives, children, parents, siblings - exposed to fall even more into poverty. In this region of the world, many people live on less than $2 per day. The reason Dr Anderson and Dr Greene - both American orthopedic surgeons - both serve here is that by preventing permanent disability from these injuries, they are helping prevent poverty for entire families. This is also the reason I am here - to learn how to better treat these injuries for future trips.

WARNING: Disturbing pictures below!!!! 

Below are some of the injuries and interesting pathology I've seen while I've been here.

Dislocated knee for 3.5 months. Underwent surgery and is doing very well.

Young female (20yrs) with the results of Tuberculosis of the lumbar Spine. TB is so common here and has devastating effects on these patient's lives. For those not accustomed to low back xrays, it's not supposed to look like that.
Dr Anderson (right) teaching an Ethiopian orthopedic resident how to treat a broken femur with a rod.

Horrible soft tissue injury to young lady's leg. Our wards have 12-15 patients with legs that look like this from the epidemic of road traffic accidents. She will likely need an amputation.

Young boy with a 3 week old ankle fracture with the bone (medial tibia) sticking outside his skin. Perhaps the greatest challenge of orthopedics in the developing world is how long it takes for some of these injuries to get to the hospital. Untold challenges and opportunities to help people.

"Preventing disability in the lives of patients prevents poverty for entire families!"

Ethiopian Coffee

The coffee bean is so small and yet commands such a presence in our world. From casual drinkers to full-blown coffee snobs, it is perhaps our world's drink of choice for having a conversation or for a personal quiet time alone with a newspaper, book, or journal. 

I didn't drink coffee growing up - probably because Mom and Dad didn't drink it. I always loved the smell but hated the taste of coffee through high school and college. However, in graduate school I figured out that one could obtain a serious jolt of energy and if enough additives were placed with the coffee, it tasted good too! (I like a little bit of coffee with my cream and sugar)  I survived/stayed awake through graduate school, medical school, residency, and fellowship in large part due to coffee. I hate being a wimp and I really wish I was man enough to drink it black - but I'm not! I am a "coffee +' drinker (aka sissy)...until now!

Coffee is a foundational part of Ethiopian life, both economically and culturally.  Living in the the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopians drink coffee at every possible opportunity given to them.  And the Ethiopians drink it with alot of sugar!!!  If the people in the birthplace of coffee drink "coffee +", I feel way better about myself! :)

Freshly roasted coffee beans on our counter! Awesome!
  'Coffee ceremonies' are part of the culture here and are performed by some families multiple times per day! It is a time where people gather - family, friends, co-workers, strangers - while coffee is roasted, ground, brewed and served to all in attendance. Beautiful coffee pots/kettles and coffee cups are used to serve the best coffee you've ever tasted in your life! Such ceremonies are woven into the natural fabric of life for the people here such that life happens around the coffee kettle. Ethiopians don't pop in a set of headphones with a cup of coffee off in a corner. They sit around, talk, and enjoy one another...along with 2,3,4 cups! Sounds like a great idea!  

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony hosted by one of our friends
Why yes I'll have another! #ethiopianbuzz 

Ethiopian macchiato. It looks awesome and tastes even better! And it costs like $0.75!

Bayleigh learning to roast coffee from a pro! She rocked it!

Friday, August 21, 2015

How did the Boys do?

Garrett, Luke, Bryan, and Nolan have been absolutely fantastic (the vast majority of the time)!  Jenn and I have been preparing the boys about this trip to Ethiopia for almost two years. Our broken soundtrack to them has been 'we are moving to Minnesota, we will live there for a year before moving to Tennessee, take a trip to Ethiopia, and then return to Tennessee. They rehearsed this plan, informed many of you of this plan, and have known no other plan than this one for the past eighteen months. They were troopers despite going through three airports (Nashville, Washington Dulles, Addis Ababa) carrying bags, waiting in long lines, eating whatever whenever, and sleeping very little. The fact that the big plane ride over allowed them to watch movies didn't hurt either. [Garrett looked over at me about 7 hours into the 13 hour trans-Atlantic flight and states, "Jumbo planes are the bomb!" He had just finished his second movie and was starting his third. :) ]

Daddy-failure. Bought a dozen Dunkin Donuts at Dulles. Told the boys they could each have two and so they did. Right before getting on a 13 hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
Nolan was a trooper on the plane ride over.

Why? Why bring four little boys (including a baby) across the ocean on a 13 hour flight with 30 bags of luggage (mostly medical supplies) to spend a month on a continent known more for its volatility than its beauty or tourist destinations after just moving cross-country from Minnesota to Tennessee three weeks ago? Why would we put our four precious little boys at risk?

We processed these questions time and time again and came up with many answers...

  • We want our children catch the 'travel bug' too.
  • I wanted to see interesting orthopedic trauma cases and didn't want to be away from Jenn & the boys for a whole month. 
  • Ethiopia has awesome coffee! (More about that later)
  • We want our boys to know how blessed they are and know that those blessings are intended to be used to bless others, not to be selfishly hoarded. 
  • We want the boys to know the world is bigger than Elkhorn! 
  • We don't want the boys to know what the 'third world' is so that they know they live in the 'first world.' We want them to live in one world - God's world - and to love, serve, and seek justice for their friends, regardless of what continent they live on.  
  • Because we're crazy!  
  • We wanted the boys to see other people/children living in poverty and recognize that God does not show favoritism because we are white, wealthy, Americans. 
  • And the list could go on....
 Depending on when you ask, you may get one of these answers or perhaps a different answer. Above all else, I think Jenn and I simply want for our boys what we want for ourselves. We want transformation of our/their hearts, minds, attitudes, dreams, and passions in order to see the 'other' - both near and far - as a person of innate, imago dei intrinsic value despite whatever cultural, religious, economic, or political differences exist. We want them to love fiercely and care courageously for the world God created and for its people. We want them to dream big dreams (not settling for the American dream) and to seek justice for the oppressed and marginalized. We want them to be strong, generous, compassionate, and joy-filled men living out their calling in whatever vocation God calls them into for his glory, not theirs, ours, or anyone else. In short, we want them to see other people, love other people, and serve other people like Jesus. To the degree that this trip (and maybe others) facilitates that goal will be the truest answer to the question. We'll continue to revisit the question and in 20 years, we'll have a better idea as to the answer.

Pic of boys on Sunday

The boys love having a trampoline 50 feet from our front door. Our house is in the background.
Luke & Bryan with hospital compound and Mount Damota in background.
Bayleigh, Nolan, Luke, and Bryan

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Minnesota to Tennessee to Ethiopia - 2015

Greetings from Africa!!!

I write this from Soddo Christian Hospital nestled in the beautiful mountains of southern Ethiopia! In some ways it is exactly what I expected and in others it is far different and more wonderful than I could have imagined. Regardless, this trip is the culmination of almost two years of dreaming, planning, praying, and saving up hoping God would provide for such a trip to take place.


Needless to say, things have been a little busy for the Stephens family over the past several months. For the past year we have lived in St Paul, MN while I completed a one-year spine fellowship that ended at the end of July. We moved into our new home in Springville TN (my hometown) at the end of July - our 8th move in the last ten years of marriage - with hopes that this is our last. (I really hope my next move is to a nursing home or to the home office! :) I really hate moving!) As if saying goodbye to dear friends in Minnesota, moving across the country, and buying our first home was not enough transition, we decided to throw in a trip with four children across the Atlantic Ocean! Did I mention it was to Africa?

Leaving on a Jet Plane from Washington DC. Pic by Bayleigh Laster

Soddo is a town of about 70,000 people located 5-6 hours by car south of Addis Ababa, the country's capital city. It is nestled among beautiful green mountains of southern Ethiopia that offer up a sharp and welcome contrast of flying over the enormous deserts of Egypt/north Africa we flew over en route. Soddo Christian Hospital (SCH) is a 120 bed mission hospital that serves an area of approximately 2 million people.  Only in existence for the past ten years, SCH has developed an wonderful reputation for high quality orthopedic care and as a result are extremely busy - they perform between 10-15 orthopedic cases per day 5 days (sometimes 6) a week.  Part of my motivation for coming was the chance to get to observe some of the orthopedic surgeons I look up to - Duane Anderson & Bob Greene - who have committed their lives to proving excellent orthopedic care to the world's marginalized and often forgotten.

The idea that some lives are considered more valuable than others is the root of all that is wrong in the world.  ~ Paul Farmer
The beauty of this area and the success of the hospital stand in stark contrast to the harsh realities that the people of this region face on a daily basis. Many people in this region live on the equivalent of less than $2 per day. As we drove south from Addis, the countryside was filled with lush fields, beautiful tilled soil with abundant produce, and winding creeks and rivers all intermingled with thousands of mud huts and poverty-stricken towns with very few visible signs of economic growth. Roads are shared by vehicles, tractors, donkey and horse-carts, people-driven carts, motorcycle taxis, and herds of livestock (cattle, goats, donkeys, horses) that all feel equally entitled to the right-of-way. The beautiful creeks were filled with both herds of animals, children playing, women washing clothes, and people gathering drinking water - all within reach of one another. And yet the people exude a warm, hospitable, joyous approach to life that belies their 'predicament' as perceived from the white family that just flew in from the USA driving through their homeland.

Even after being here only a few days, we are certain that though we came to serve and touch lives for the better, in the end we will be the ones blessed and profoundly changed moreso than any of the patients at the hospital. In a way, we're counting on it...