Ethiopia service trip reflections: Carter and Day's perspective changed by day of service

This week, Wildcat student-athletes Kate Lanier, Alex Carter, Ale Walker, Morgan Bergren, Sam Day, Kaelon Fox and Cassidy Hale are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Carter and Day write about a day in Korah that completely changed their perspective.

Alex Carter (women's soccer)

On Tuesday we went to the city of Korah, which is an extremely impoverished place. At one point it was solely a leper colony. Lepers are considered untouchables in Ethiopian society. In this day and age, however, cities surrounding Korah have grown enough to where their boundaries have merged and there are no longer only lepers residing there. However, it still remains one of the most impoverished places in Ethiopia.

Tuesday morning we drove into Korah and to an organization that does several different projects that have to do with loving and caring for the people in this city. We arrived with supplies such as toilet paper, oil, soap, noodles, rice, matches and other useful things. We were greeted by the leaders of the organization, along with 30 families that we were getting the opportunity to bless that day. As soon as we walked in, we saw so many big and beautiful smiles and kids who were running up to play with us.

After divvying up all of the supplies, the leader of their organization blessed and then passed them out. I cannot describe the joy on the people faces as they received these gifts. It was as if it was the first gift they had ever received. Even though we did not speak the same language, it was awesome to get to go around and hug some of the women and shake their hands. I did not need to understand them to know what they were feeling. We also got the opportunity to hand out candy, stickers and glow sticks to the kids and blow bubbles with them.

Afterwards, we said our goodbyes, got in the van, and headed to the city dump. This is where many people go to scavenge to try and find food for themselves and their families for the day. It was even more heartbreaking when I found out that many women lived in this dump with their many children and husbands, because they could not afford to pay rent for a house in the city. These people would set up what resembled a shelter, with at least a metal sheet propped up over their heads. But in most of these cases, there were five to 10 people having to live in these tiny spaces.

We went into one lady's "house" and started talking to her and learning about her with the help of our translators. She told us that she had problems with her head and her heart and could not work because of it. Her husband also could not work because he was crippled. All he could do is sit out on the street and ask for money. They had seven children who all lived with them in that small space. If they had food that day, it was either from finding it in the dump or from the money her husband collected that day (from one of the poorest cities in the country, mind you). In my mind they were completely hopeless.

After hearing their story, our guide, Mark, asked her in she was one of the families that were part of this program that we had just served earlier that day. She said no. He told her and the leaders of the organization that she qualified to be in this program and that they would set her up an appointment to be interviewed. When she heard this news she burst into tears and bowed, thanking God and us again and again. Wow. That just ripped my heart right out of my chest. This lady was given an interview to POSSIBLY receive a few supplies a month, and she was filled with such joy and hope (possibly for the first time in her life) that her and her family might be redeemed.

In the U.S., our society says that success is ultimately the most important thing. You can see this drive everywhere you look. We have Instagram, Twitter and Facebook where we post selfies or other pictures that make people understand just how important we think we are. We strive for the best education and the best resume that will set us up for the best job to get us the best car and the best house and a perfect family. Many times we strive more than anything to be known, powerful and liked, and we place value on those people who are, regardless of character. Success is what drives us, and we are willing to push whoever and whatever down to get there.

Here, I look around this city dump (and really around the whole country of Ethiopia) and I see people our society would count as nobodies. They are literally forgotten or ignored all of the time. In fact, the city has come several times to bulldoze the houses of the people in this dump, because they are considered illegal homes. They are seen as pests that are just in the way. It was at this moment where it all came together for me, and I experienced God's love more than I ever have before. Every time I looked at one of these people we were visiting, I could not fight back the tears. I just kept thinking, "God knows you name, child. He knows what you're going through. He sees your struggles and your broken spirit. He values your soul equally with mine (even with all of my falsely perceived self-importance) and every one else's. He designed and created you EXACTLY how he intended, without any mistakes. He has a plan and purpose for your life. Even though this world counts you out, you are important to Him. He wants you to seek him with all of your heart. He loves you." This was so humbling, and it changed the way I thought of these people. It is easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged and view this experience as a big and hopeless sea of problems. I started thinking of them as individuals that God loves.

The truth is, this life on earth is so short when compared with eternity. Even though I was surrounded by heartbreaking circumstances with heartbroken people, I could not help but be overwhelmed with joy, because I knew for a fact that all of the women we had met and served that day loved God and were saved. Tears of joy streamed down my face. I was filled with hope when I realized that these women have what counts. They have the only thing that matters in this life: faith and hope in Jesus, maybe even more so than me. It is easy for me to take God out of the equation in my life, where I grew up getting everything I wanted and needed. It is easy for me to think that I am the reason I am doing so well.

In a strange way, it was rather beautiful to see these women and families in such low circumstances, because they literally put every ounce of their hope in the Lord. When anything good comes their way they fall on their face and praise God. I wish I had faith like theirs. In Revelation it says, "and He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, or any scorching heat. For The Lamb at the center of the thrown will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." I kept saying this over and over in my head, and suddenly was filled with hope for them. I prayed, "God, you truly know what these people are going through. If they could just hold on, if they could just keep hoping in you, even if they make it out by the skin of their teeth, one day soon they will be crowned in heaven and be made whole, healed, and forever satisfied in your presence. It was there that I truly felt the love of God and saw the true beauty in these people.

I have to admit somewhat embarrassingly, that beside my prayers, I was not a great help to my team that day due to the fact that I was such an emotional wreck. But let me tell you, that forever changed the way I see people in poverty, or with any other seemingly hopeless situation in life. I am so grateful for this opportunity I have been given to come to this beautiful country and meet and serve these beautiful people.  I hope to one day go back again and be able to bless and serve these people, in which God has broken my heart for.

Sam Day (swimming and diving)

As I planned and packed for this trip, I had to prepare myself mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. After spending five days in and around Addis Ababa, I have realized no matter what I did to plan for this trip, it wasn't possible for me to be fully prepared for these experiences.

On our final day in Addis Ababa we visited a community in Korah, which is also the place of the city's dump. One of our leaders said that there are between one hundred and one hundred fifty thousand people that make their living and provide for their families by scavenging through the dump. Even after nearly a week of working in Ethiopia, my heart continued to break for these people.

As we pulled into the community and up to the church, the people of the area flocked to our van. Everyone was interested and wanted to know what we were doing there. I hadn't seen poverty like this on the trip. Everyone was so desperate and in need. I struggled with this because if I tried to help anyone, I would have to help everyone and I wasn't able to do so. We went into the church and organized the supplies we had brought. Everyone was so joyful and happy to see us; the attitude of the people inside was the opposite as that of those outside. There was hope in their eyes. We introduced ourselves and passed out the supplies. Everyone was so thankful and appreciative. It was hard for me to wrap my head around why. How could people be so thankful for so little? But this was the reaction of everyone all week. Seeing this has caused me to take a step back and look at how grateful or ungrateful I am for everything I have.

From there we went to a community next to the dump and visited people in their homes. I will never forget the odor of the hillside we were on and will also never understand how people can live with such a smell engulfing the air. We pulled up and in the same way the people gathered near our van at the community center, they did here as well. Most of the homes were behind a makeshift fence that surrounded the community. We were able to meet and pray with a few of the people living here. They were all women and children because they were either widows or their husbands were out begging for money.

One of the women was living with her 1-year-old baby in a shack with barely enough room to sleep. I was utterly stunned when she said all she wanted was something to stop the rain from running through her house. A woman with almost nothing didn't want a new home but merely an improvement on the one she had. We visited another woman who had three children, 13, 9 and 1 years old. Her husband was crippled and out sitting on the street begging for money. She was very happy to see us and asked for our leader to pray for her. We continued through the community and met a few other people. I was blessed with the opportunity to be able to pray with a woman who let a few of my team members and me into her home. She said she has a heart problem and has to pay rent to someone that didn't actually own the land since it is owned by the government. This woman and her son could not understand anything I said but still seemed to know I was praying for them and that what I was saying was about them. It felt so good to be with them and I hope I was able to give them a little more hope than they had.

The children all around Korah were so happy all the time. They just followed us and would want to play and eat any candy we had. I probably threw about 50 kids in the air and lifted more onto my shoulders. These kids were so delighted to play and tried to come with us and I'm sure a few of us would have gladly done so. Even when our van pulled away and drove to a different area, the kids followed and would bring friends. I was encouraged by their attitude even though they had so little.

This week has been a truly eye-opening experience for me. Not only have I been tested physically with nearly two days of travel and working at high elevation, I have also been tested mentally and emotionally. I have had to take a step back and reevaluate a lot about myself. I hope to return home and bring my experiences with me. I need to allow these memories to help me change areas in my life. I'm sure this week is going to help me grow in new ways in the classroom, pool and life as a whole.