A flight from Dulles, Washington to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, takes about 14 hours. I've learned through frequent travel that if I wait in line until others begin to board that there may be a small likelihood of snatching a better seat from someone who was unable to make their flight. The boarding process in Dulles began and, indeed, I found myself sitting in bulkhead by the window! My favorite!
That is one way to do it.
Another way to secure a better seat is to take your assigned seat, wait until the boarding process is complete, take a look around, and move to a better unoccupied seat. This was the plan of Techalew Negash, who seated himself right beside me. We both had plenty of legroom! (If you've flown before, you know how exciting this was.)
My in-flight agenda?
Put my headphones on, finish a book, try to sleep sitting up, and review the upcoming training World Orphans would be executing over the next few days with 8 churches. Instead, what would ensue over the next several hours was an encounter that I will never forget.
Techalew and I made our introductions early and found ourselves engaged in conversation about our work, the differences in our cultures, but mostly about what we love the most–our families. We had our phones out, showing off our most recent family pictures and talking about what a delight they are to each of us. We mused together over their accomplishments and how grandchildren are the icing on the cake. I shared that I look forward to the stage of life that my new friend is already experiencing. Though we were both traveling with our work, our hearts joyfully connected when it came to talking about our families.
Until . . .
Well, until Techalew began to describe the loss of his precious wife, Fikre, less than two years ago. I was captivated and deeply saddened as he began to describe how the devastation of stage 4 pancreatic cancer vanquished the life of his beloved wife, leaving the family with just weeks to prepare to say goodbye to the one they loved and cherished so deeply.
Techalew shared that he and his family gather to commemorate and honor her life each year, and that June 21st would mark two years since her passing. I couldn't find the words to express my sorrow for him and his family, even two years later. Silence filled our section of bulkhead seating as her remembrance filled the space.
Fikre is fondly remembered as a beloved wife, devoted mother of four, treasured sister, precious daughter, and lady who created harmony within the family. She would usually be caught smiling as she devoted her married life towards raising her four amazing children. Two of her three daughters are married, and she was able to witness the love of six grandchildren.
Somewhere in the midst of our conversation, I had the opportunity to tell Techalew about World Orphans and why I was traveling to Ethiopia. I talked about the orphaned and vulnerable children who were being cared for through the love of the church. We talked about the many children in Ethiopia who are victims of tragic loss, and we discussed the essential care needed to break the cycle of poverty, abandonment, and hopelessness.
As we talked about Fikre’s tender nurture of her own children and the great significance of a mother’s love, I was deeply touched and reminded that, together, we can make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable around the world, one child at a time. We–the global church–have the opportunity to enter into a child’s life and reflect the very love and hope of Christ. Dignity and value are best communicated in the context of family and transmitted through their love. Every child needs to know that they matter and that they belong.
Techalew talked about how he had desired to donate a gift in loving remembrance of his wife. By the end of our flight, I was giving him my business card, and we were exchanging email addresses. He humbly communicated that he wanted to make a financial donation towards the ministry of World Orphans. I, in turn, relayed to him that I would sincerely be remembering him and his dear family in prayer as they continued to walk through such profound grief and loss.
I am home from Ethiopia. Fikre’s commemoration service has come and gone for the dear family of Techalew Negash. A generous donation has been lovingly contributed in Fikre's honor to World Orphans.
In the face of his own grief and pain, Techalew entered into the pain of vulnerable children he doesn’t even know. He reached beyond personal grief to give to the needs of others.
As I continue to pray for a family that I didn't know before that 14-hour flight, I will always remember that tender day where two lives intersected and mutually blessed one another in the best seat of all . . . right where we were supposed to be all along.
Until they all have homes.