I love a good story. Even more so, I love a good true story. You know, the kind that reminds you to dream and to dare – to embrace risk and live outside of the comfortable circle you’re currently in…
Well, I recently came across such a story. : )
Levi Benkert had been a wealthy real estate developer, living the good life in California with his wife and three young kids… that is, until the market tanked in 2008. Stress. For months and months he tried to rebuild what was lost, to salvage something from the wreckage. Stress. Deals fell through, employees couldn’t be paid, and things just weren’t getting better. Stress. When the phone rang, a call from an old pastor friend he hadn’t kept in good contact with through the years, the story began to change…
His friends’ request was simple, yet complicated: would he please drop everything and join a two-week trip to Ethiopia? The team was going to help organize a small rescue orphanage in a rural, southern Ethiopian town. Though Levi had worked overseas in an orphanage setting years and years ago, those days were long gone. He was immersed in the business world now. What a crazy idea!! Drop everything, with so many people around him wanting money and answers regarding his crumbled business, cut off communication and fly half way around the world for two weeks?! No. Absolutely not. He couldn’t… could he? Well, he went. He spent those two weeks in the rural town of Jinka (pictured at right), a two days’ drive from the capital. There he was introduced to a very old, and wretchedly evil practice: mingi. He’d never be the same.
‘Why?’ I wondered out loud. ‘Why would any parents do this?’
The children Levi was visiting were all survivors. They’d each been deemed “cursed” by the local clan they were born into, and were thus sentenced to die immediately. Babies suffocated after their mouths were stuffed with dirt; toddlers were bound and thrown in the river to drown. As many as 1,000 “cursed” Ethiopian children are killed each year because of this superstition (p.22). This is called mingi. ‘Why?’ I wondered out loud. “‘Why would any parents do this?’ ‘Because they live in fear,’ Simi explained” (p.22):
“A child can be declared mingi for three reasons: if the parents are not married, if the parents do not announce to the elders in an elaborate ceremony that they intend to conceive, or if the child’s top teeth come in before the bottom teeth. Once the infants or children are labeled mingi, they are murdered to protect the village from evil spirits. The elders teach that if the killings don’t happen, the whole tribe will be harmed. It will not rain. crops will fail. People will die.” ( p.22)
These kids, now orphans, were rescued – some miraculously – from this fate. Praise be to God! Foreigners befriended the elders of the tribe, and eventually convinced them that the tribe didn’t have to kill the children to prevent bringing curse and calamity on their people: simply removing the “cursed” babies and kids from the tribe was sufficient. So the beginnings of the orphanage was born. The children had been rescued, but they still had no one to care for them. There was much work to be done.
Six weeks after returning from his two-week trip, Levi and his whole family moved to rural Ethiopia to dig in and love those precious orphans. They sold their house and belongings, took a leap of faith, and embraced a whole new way of life:
“After fourteen days in the hotel with no water and with power that seemed to be off more than it was on, we finally moved into a small house near the orphanage. It was a bright red mud house with a tin roof, cement floors, and a pleasant yard full of eucalyptus trees that swayed in the wind.” (p.61)
Their story isn’t a perfect one. Nobody’s is. It was hard, it was different, and it didn’t always turn out the way they thought it would.
“This was the deepest, darkest place we’d ever been together and yet strangely, at the same time it was one of the most beautiful places we’d ever been. We were at that sacred place of human weakness, where we recognized that our abilities were not enough. We had no choice but to trust God.” (p.52)
You can read their story in the book “No Greater Love” by Levi Benkert and Candy Chand (2012, Tyndale House Publishers). It’s a look into the world of international adoption, orphan care, and Ethiopian life and culture… but more so it’s the story of a family who dared to risk, who felt a calling and ran after it. It’s the story of their bumps and bruises, their victories, and most of all an insight into the kind of people they’ve become – people touched by God’s love and used by him to impact the world.
check out the Benkerts ministry (they are still in Ethiopia, yes): http://bringlove.in/
and the official trailor for the book about their story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zwOBs1_ae4