Youth group’s holiday trip: Ethiopia


Special to the Review

On the night before Christmas, it’s usually Santa who flies over rooftops and kids who lie in bed dreaming of sugarplums.

This year, 21 local students were the ones flying through the air, en route to Ethiopia and their own mission of goodwill.

The trip “is all about meeting the needs of the people. And in such an extremely impoverished country, there are a lot of needs,” said Lance Klopp, one of the trip’s planners.

Along with 10 adult chaperones, the students – mostly from Bainbridge Island or North Kitsap High Schools – will take part in a two-week mission trip organized by the Bainbridge Island, North Kitsap branch of the international Christian youth organization Young Life.

The group will be involved in a number of separate service projects during their stay in Ethiopia.

In Addis Ababa, the capital city, they’ve rented a hotel where one part of the group will help run a three-day camp for some 200 Ethiopian high school students involved in local Young Life chapters.

“Summer camps have been a big deal for our students, so we thought it would be cool to set up an Ethiopian Young Life camp,” Klopp said.

Though the camp, which will feature religious speakers, will be the “most evangelical” aspect of the trip, its main purpose is to foster friendship.

“Ultimately it’s just a chance for these high school kids to love other kids in Ethiopia and show them that they care,” Klopp said. “The hugs are going to show so much more than anything they could expect to say or explain.”

“It’s going to be great to be able to establish a connection worldwide like this,” agreed Emma Chadband, a BHS senior. “It’s going to be such a different place. Most of all I expect to have my faith renewed and to do service – do something positive.”

While some students work at the camp in Addis Ababa, others will be outside the capital in Yetebon, visiting classrooms run by Project Mercy, a local non-profit that provides healthcare, education, and other social services.

They will also deliver supplies they have collected.

The group also plans to work with orphanages in the area, including one run primarily by a woman who cares for 120 children in just a few rooms.

“Right now they have basically nothing,” Klopp said. The Young Life students have collected blankets and other supplies, and plan to build a stove for the orphanage.

The orphanage is also a potential site for another project the group hopes to complete in as many places as possible – setting up mechanisms for capturing the methane gas produced by animal waste to be used as fuel.

“It’s going to be a great experience that not a lot of people in our world get a chance to do,” said Kendall Kaminski, an eighth-grade Woodward student. “I’m going to be helping needy kids and I’ll realize what I have and they don’t.”

The idea for the mission trip came up after Klopp and his wife visited Ethiopia to adopt two children a year ago. He contacted Young Life staff in Addis Ababa during the stay, and was soon “dreaming about what a trip with high school students could be like.”

All four of his children, both adopted and biological, are joining the students on this trip. For the two from Ethiopia, now six and nine, it will be their first trip back, a chance to “reconnect with some of their relatives,” Klopp said.

Nor are his children the only ones with personal connections to the area. Four members of the Carlson family – a North Kitsap family of 10 children, six of whom were adopted from Ethiopia – will also make the trip.

“I’m really excited,” said Jessica Carlson, an eleventh-grade NKHS student. “Since so many of my siblings were adopted from Ethiopia, I’ve always wanted to go there and see what it was like for them.”

“I’m especially excited to meet the mother of one of my little brothers,” she added. “She has AIDS and she’s not doing very well. We’ve spoken on the phone, but I can’t wait to meet her in person and let her know that we really care about her.”

Two of Jessica’s Ethiopian siblings are also participating. It will be Sarah Carlson’s first time back to the country of her birth in seven years.

“She has some friends there that she’s excited to meet again, to see how they’ve changed,” Jessica said. “It’s scary for them, but it’s a lot of fun, too.”

And for Ashenafi Carlson, adopted just last February and now a senior at North Kitsap High, this trip will also be a visit home.

“I’m excited about everything over there because I’ve known it before. I have friends there, and I want to discuss God with them,” he said.

Funds raised

To make their mission trip possible, the students and chaperones had to raise about $80,000.

Of that amount, $55,000 was spent on airfare, with the rest devoted to supplies and expenses for the various projects.

Asked to come up with at least the $2,000 that would cover their airfare, the students worked odd jobs and wrote letters to friends and relatives.

“I got $50 donations from almost everyone I sent a letter to,” Kaminski said.

The group also worked together to design and sell Christmas cards and hold a garage sale and auction to help raise funds, and four local churches contributed.

To prepare for the trip, the group has been meeting every two weeks for three months – listening to guest speakers, trying injera at an Ethiopian restaurant in Seattle, and learning about Ethiopian culture from their fellow participants.

“It’s been really nice because they help us plan things,” said Chadband, who held a bake sale to help finance her trip.

“They’ve taught us about social faux pas not to make,” such as explaining that a Hawaiian-themed party wouldn’t make sense in the cultural context.

Originally, the plan was to depart on Dec. 26, but an airline mistake led the tickets to be rebooked for Christmas Eve.

“I didn’t know how all the kids were going to react, but I was so pleased to see their attitudes—they all said how awesome it would be to spend Christmas in Ethiopia with a whole different focus than ever before,” said Klopp.

“At first I was really upset that I’d be missing Christmas with my family,” said Chadband. “But Christmas is a Christian holiday and we’re going on a Christian mission trip. It just makes sense that we should be doing service for God rather than sitting at home opening gifts.”

Jessica Carlson agreed. “This is quite a big sacrifice, really,” she said. “I love Christmas. But I think that it’s really cool that we’ll be there during our Christmas because we’re going to be giving up something that’s valuable to us, which makes it mean even more.”

The group will also celebrate Christmas with new friends on Jan. 6, the day before the holiday is celebrated in Ethiopia, which operates under its own calendar system.

“We’re going there to help,” Carlson said, “but I know we’re all going to learn a lot.”

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