The words of an Ethiopian mother that are still echoing in my heart one year later

Dec 09, 2019 | Alyssa Esparaz

Last year, around this time, I had just come home from a trip to Ethiopia and I was trying to sort out what Christmas means in a world of stories like the ones I heard on my trip.

I came home to a plastic Christmas tree on the baggage claim carousel and tinsel hanging in the airport’s long corridors. 

By the time all the bags had gone past me on the baggage claim and I knew mine wasn’t coming, I was too travel-weary to even cry travel-weary tears. I went to the customer service counter, filled out the forms and walked out to arrivals, thankful to see my dad, who had a warm hug and my winter coat for me.

The whole time, the words of a single mama back in Ethiopia were ringing in my head: I’m alive because of Compassion.

A story of strength and survival

We had multiple interviews to do that morning with several beneficiaries of Compassion’s program in Addis Ababa, so we decided to split up. I was welcomed into the home of Tigist and Yeabsira, a dynamic mom and daughter duo.

Photo by Ben Adams.

We sat in their one-room home, and Tigist told me her story. It soon became clear to me that I was sitting in the presence of a miracle.

“I was preparing to leave my daughter orphaned. My child would be a street child,” Tigist said. I reached across the small space between us to squeeze her arm. Trying to say through the language barrier: I’m floored by your strength.

Tigist was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure as a young woman. She would often be so sick that their neighbours had to take care of Yeabsira. With no food to eat, Tigist was unable to stomach her medication, making her grow even more sick.

Eventually, the local Compassion church partner entered this family’s story. Yeabsira was sponsored, Tigist’s medical expenses were covered, and food support was provided to them to enable Tigist to take her medication.

The woman that sat before me that day was far from the sickly woman preparing to leave her daughter orphaned. Today, her body is strong, to match the strength of her spirit. Yeabsira is a joyful child growing up in a loving home, proudly telling me that she is at the top of her class.

I was blown away by their story. As we hugged goodbye, Tigist said that one final sentence to me that is still burned on my heart over a year later: “I’m alive because of Compassion.”

Sorting through Christmas in a world of need

It was hard for me to stomach Christmas last year. I was hurtled from hearing stories like Tigist’s to seeing advertisements for “everything on my Christmas list” within a week. I could barely care about the prospect of losing a suitcase full of my favourite clothes when I arrived home.

I desperately wanted to feel near to Christ. I wanted all the twinkling lights, plastic trees and Christmas music to usher me to the manger.

But all I could think about was how near I felt to the manger in the home of a single mother in Ethiopia. Her tongue forming sounds so close to that of the language of Christ. The dust much more similar to what surrounded the birthplace of Christ than the snow of a white Christmas.

I bought Christmas presents last year. I ate extravagant meals. This practice of living in the tension between worlds is part of the career and the life that I’ve chosen. Continuing to live and laugh and lament in the face of both sickening extravagance and sickening poverty is, to me, a spiritual practice—one I had to practise a lot last Christmas.

But the whole time I was thinking that while Christ meets us everywhere, he felt particularly near in a tiny one-room home in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood in Addis Ababa.

It’s almost as if I got a small glimpse into that first Christmas, when he chose to be with us through a vulnerable mother who was part of an occupied, poverty-stricken people.

I’m alive because of compassion

In response to Tigist’s parting words to me, I said something like, “You’re alive because you are strong, and God is good.”

But I wish I had simply said, “I’m alive because of compassion, too.”

I wish I could’ve somehow had her understand that hearing stories like hers, getting to participate in what God is doing around the world in and through local churches, and having a way to open my hands to give has given me—and my faith—life.

It’s afforded me the opportunity to understand that poverty and extravagance are two sides of the same coin—a scheme to distract us from the real abundant life that Jesus offers us.

And the most beautiful part of that truth is that we can defeat that scheme by bringing those worlds together. When extravagance meets poverty until we all have just enough, we can experience the fullness of life with Jesus—together.

So what?

Here are a few practical ways to practise living with “just enough”:

  • Be mindful of what’s on your Instagram feed. What is your social media feed telling you about your world and what you should strive for? Is it time to simplify your feed?
  • Give, no matter what that looks like for you in this season! Whether spontaneous, one-time or a regular commitment. Whether money, time, space or something else. Make generosity a habit that forms you! 
  • Ruthlessly simplify. Maybe it’s your Christmas gift exchanges, your wardrobe, your coffee order, your cell phone plan, or something else! Check in with your lifestyle and see where God might be calling you to simplify.

In what ways do you practise living with “just enough”?

 

This article is published in partnership with Compassion Canada. You can learn more and interact with them this year at our P2C PLUS Conference in Toronto. 

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About the Author

Alyssa Esparaz

Alyssa Esparaz is a writer and communicator at Compassion Canada, an international development student at the University of Toronto, a youth leader at her local church and a speaker at P2C PLUS 2019.

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