Ethiopia trip changes Wingate student’s life

Mar. 14, 2013 @ 04:36 PM

“The day after Christmas, I found myself on a plane for the first time – in between strangers who were not only strangers, but they did not speak my language.”

Wingate junior Hayley Whitley began her mission trip to Ethiopia with a 13-hour flight that ended with Ethiopian customs taking all the material her group brought along, including dolls, soccer balls and other supplies to share with people they would meet. They did get the materials back, “but the catch was that we had to pay the airport to receive them,” Whitley said.

The trip was off to a rocky start, yet Whitley said the next 10 days would change her life and faith in a profound way — so much so that she plans to return next year and possibly for years to come.

Sitting on a couch in her apartment, the softball player reflected on her work overseas.

“There are a lot of homeless people on the streets,” she said. Some walk right up to motorists, asking for money. Some have portable tin shelters just big enough to sleep in. Many locals, along with livestock, use the bathroom in the streets.

Whitley went with a group from her church, Hopewell Baptist. The group had gracious hosts during their stay, but the spicy food didn’t always agree with them. Clean water and showers were hard to come by.

But Whitley noticed something. While the people there had very little, they were eager to hear about Christ. The kids, especially, “were looking for something to grasp onto because they live in an area that’s so

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poverty-stricken. … They needed hope.”

The group worked with orphanages, a center for the blind and a center for women with birth injuries. They played soccer with the kids, using a soccer ball with red, yellow, black, white and green spaces to share the Gospel. Each color has a special meaning – red for Christ’s blood, white for forgiveness or purity – and the group made sure the children knew what they meant before asking Christ to guide their own lives. Organizations that the group partnered with follow up with the children and help take care of them.

“I’ve never felt so close to God before,” Whitley said. “God definitely moved while we were over there.”

On more than one occasion, her group had the exact number of materials needed. And more than 600 people put their faith in Christ.

So what about people who might see work like this as Christians’ attempt to convert everyone? To make everyone else believe the way they do?

“It is our responsibility that everyone hears the good news of salvation that is free for all,” Whitley wrote on her blog. From there, she said, it’s up to the person how to respond.

Living in an impoverished country for 10 days opened Whitley’s eyes to how blessed she is, “being able to wake up every day in a place where I can worship freely. Or being able to wake up every day having good health.” It’s cliché, she said, but “we really do take it for granted.”

Whitley is studying psychology and said after her trip, she is considering counseling children overseas. She is also interested in music and just released her first, four-track album — mixing contemporary Christian and country — through Lamon Records in Nashville.