Something from nothing

Ana is currently back in Wolaita Soddo, Ethiopia, for the summer. She is living and interning at Soddo Christian Hospital, which is run through the collaboration of missionaries and Ethiopian doctors. The reflections below are from her third update email!

“We’re trying to show everyone that we have skills, talents, and can lead normal lives. Disability, not inability.” Melese beamed and waved at the big warehouse with his crutch, while a number of workers rolled their wheelchairs to the door and peeked out, looking on curiously at us forenji (foreigner) girls standing outside.

We piled back into the car and drove back to the hospital, Melese in the driver’s seat navigating Soddo’s chaotic traffic brilliantly in spite of having to control the car’s pedals with his left foot. His right leg, debilitated by clubfoot, was crossed underneath. As we drove, the four of us interns marveled in shared understanding that we had just glimpsed God’s restorative work at Emmanuel Disabilities Ministry, which Melese started several years ago to employ handicapped individuals (as well as a number of former street children) in the creation of wheelchairs, crutches, and prosthetics for others affected by disability in Soddo — all from scratch.

Something from nothing. This phrase has echoed in the back of my mind for the last couple of weeks, and the more I think about it the more it seems to fit this summer in Ethiopia. Like WRAPs, Emmanuel Disabilities creates essential products from virtually nothing to serve overlooked individuals and brings empowerment to its workers in the process. Wheelchairs are a whole different ballgame from menstrual pads, but both businesses use materials commonly found here, and through iterative processes of design, trial, and improvement they’ve found a way to make products that change lives — wheelchairs to improve mobility, pads to help keep girls in school. In the process, whole-life transformation is experienced by the workers of both businesses as they enter into the joy of community and meaningful work that brings God’s kingdom come in their corner of Ethiopia.

It’s hard to convey just how incredible it is that these ministries are able to do what they do in the context of Soddo’s still-developing infrastructure, but trust me, the impact of both is astoundingly “something from nothing” given the many obstacles. Of course, “nothing” isn’t meant to overlook the talent, creativity, and gifting in people like Melese or the ladies who work at WRAPs. There surely is an abundance of ingenuity and love that drives both ministries. Even so, I think it’s safe to say that all who work for both businesses would see their entrepreneurial abilities as gifts from God.

In a different way, the theme of “something from nothing” has increasingly colored my time at WRAPs as I’ve seen God make a way for deep relationships with the ladies who work there. When the summer began, I went to WRAPs with the hope of forming relationships and simply learning, but I also knew that the vast language and cultural barriers would be limiting. Several weeks ago I began to feel the weight of these limitations and was profoundly discouraged by the thought that the depth of my relationships at WRAPs would plateau much sooner and at a much more superficial level than I had hoped.

I struggled, and continue to struggle, with the limitations of my ability to understand — much less contribute — in most spaces here, and my insufficiency seems to stare me in the face at every turn. How do I connect when my life experiences have been so different from the woman at the sewing machine next to me, who was forced into marriage at thirteen and a mother by fourteen? How do I know how my words might be received when my understanding of Wolaittan culture is so piecemeal? And what about all the limitations of only being here for two months? The immensity of my incomprehension can feel overwhelming, and at times I’ve wrestled with pessimism that nothing I do or say could possibly matter.

Yet I’m learning that where I look and see nothing — only limitations and inability — God intends to do marvelous things. Over the past two weeks, my relationships with the women at WRAPs have blossomed as my presence in the workshop has become normal, our discussions during Bible study have grown lively, and communication has somehow felt easy. Sharing prayer requests has become a regular part of Bible study, and I’ve been astounded by the honesty with which the women have poured out the deep needs of their lives to one another and to me. A few weeks ago, if you told me that I’d have rich connections at WRAPs centered around prayer, times of laughter, and animated discussions, I would have thought you were joking. But here I sit, writing this to you and overjoyed at it all, because I know that none of it was from me. All I did was show up with my “nothing,” and God moved to bring relationships, beauty, and joy ex nihilo.

It’s counterintuitive, but I’m seeing that true flourishing is found when we inhabit the depths of our inability and invite God in — when we allow ourselves to see God bring something from nothing. Indeed, the spaces where God intends to work most profoundly in and through us are those where we feel inept and least worthy, because these are the spaces where we are most compelled to depend on Him. This is partly why I continue to feel affirmed in my calling to cross-cultural work; on the field, I have felt the keenness of my insufficiency to an extent I rarely have anywhere else, and yet I’ve seen God at work in spite of me, all to the praise of His glory.

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