by Joy Casey on Dec. 1

“I know the plans I have for you …”

I woke up refreshed this morning after an incredibly long day (or was it almost two days?) of travel.  A beautiful, warm day greeted me and my companions as we gathered on the patio of our hotel for breakfast. Traveling with me are my colleagues Jason Barta, Jeff Burns the photographer, and Fessessework, an Ethiopian American friend.

Today was spent at our Joyful Place orphanage in the town of Shashemene.

The babies were fed and bathed when we arrived — all happy and content.  It seemed to me quite an accomplishment to have 16 little ones, ages 2 months to 26 months, calm at the same time, but we stepped into a happy oasis full of the most beautiful babies ever.  It wasn’t long before we each had a sweet baby in our arms or were playing peek-a-boo with the toddlers.

Ephrem, with the help of an extraordinary staff, runs our care center well.  He greeted me with the good news that baby Belise had gone home with her adoptive parents the day before.  A child leaving is always bittersweet for the nannies.  They are thrilled that the child will have a family of their very own, but they have poured so much love and attention into their lives, oftentimes nursing them from near death, that it is hard to part with them.

Sister Eyerusalem (a nurse is called “sister”) oversees all aspects of care for the children and does an outstanding job.

The babies are all healthy with no skin rashes, and when you pick up a baby, they smell fresh and clean–quite a feat in my book when we are talking about 16 babies and all clothes are washed by hand!

The orphanage staff was blown away with all the donations that tumbled out of suitcases and duffel bags.  Our friends in America lavished love on these babies providing many necessary supplies, especially formula.   Sr. Eyerusalem was ecstatic to get the formula.

She pointed out three babies, Chalchisa, Kubsa and Murte, all thriving and healthy now, who came to her in bad, bad shape.  She could count their ribs; their little legs and arms were stick thin and they were lethargic.  She said she would have had to hospitalize them in order to get special supplements for acutely malnourished babies, but because she had some formula from America she thought she would try that first and see how they do.  To her delight and amazement, all three babies quickly responded to the good formula and gained weight and energy. The formula she is able to access in Ethiopia is not nearly as nutritious as what we bring from America, so she is over the moon to have a cupboard full.

Today I had such fun interacting with these baby boys who were so responsive – “talking back” and laughing aloud to my silly way of talking to them.  I also prayed for them and all the little ones, for God to provide the perfect family to fit them.  The promise from Jeremiah came to mind … “I know the plans I have for you.  Plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  A-men!

The rhythm of the orphanage goes on and it was time for bottles and naps.  We, too, went out for lunch to an Ethiopian restaurant and enjoyed shakala tibs, or roasted goat.  It was delicious!

Returning, the aroma of coffee being roasted wafted from the veranda, and we imbibed in the exquisite taste of Ethiopia accompanied by popcorn.

It was tough duty, but somebody has to hold these babies!  What really warmed my heart, though, is the tender cuddling and care these little ones receive from their nannies.  A whimpering baby is scooped up and attended to, rocked, cuddled and showered with kisses.  The babies thrive having their needs met in this way and are happy and responsive.

I chuckled as we were leaving around 5 o’clock, because the mood of the orphanage had deteriorated dramatically from the morning.  The babies were fussing, and I remembered the phenomenon of my children who always seemed to be out of sorts just when it was time to get dinner going … around 4 or 5 o’clock.  In an hour a new shift of nannies will take over and little ones will be fed and readied for bed.  It’s the close of another day of routine that brings stability and comfort to small children.

“Thank you, Lord, for each little life you have rescued and placed in our care.

Thank you for your provision.”