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Traveling in Ethiopia, by Renee Butler 2016 (30 Minute Video)

Apr 4, 2016   //   by Jen   //   Blog  //  No Comments

You are in for a real treat!  Renee Butler shared on a Sunday morning about her personal experience traveling with our Embrace Compassion Team to Arjo Ethiopia in January 2016.  This video shares her heart of compassion, her admiration for the work being done and an word of encouragement to others to get involved and watch for opportunities around them.

Renee has been a wonderful volunteer and giving of herself to the work of Embrace Compassion in Ethiopia and in the US.  For her, this trip was not a one time “gig” but a continuation of a long term commitment.  Embrace Compassion could not do what it does without the many people who share of their time, talents and treasures!

Thank you Renee for sharing!

Disclaimer:  There are a couple of details that are not completely accurate (in regards to getting the baby surgery, $500 and not $5000) and if you have questions you may message us.  In general, catch the heart of the message and enjoy her wonderful stories!

What’s in your Backpack?

Aug 3, 2015   //   by Jen   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Fall is just around the corner and I’m looking forward to the new season while relishing August, one of my very times of the year in Oregon. I love the warmth of the sunshine, the cool late evenings to visit and our carefree schedule that encourages spontaneity. I can’t help but want to push away the impending start of school, soccer schedules and homework for my kids. There is also a little bit of nervousness that rises up inside me as I know this year I will help prepare 134 children for fall, many of whom are also getting ready for school. For our children in Ethiopia, it’s not always a given to go to school and we get to stand and advocate for them and say “Yes, we will help your family allow you to go to school because your education is worth it!”

In only 6 weeks, with four beautiful women, I will take a 30 plus hour flight, a 2 day drive in our 20 year old Landcruiser and a one hour hike down a mountain to get to my other family across the world. We will be packed with hundreds of pounds of supplies that we can’t purchase in country, specific for already chosen children. We will prepare as best we can so our daily journeys are filled with blessing and tangible hope. Every morning in my little bedroom of the family’s mud hut in Ethiopia we gather together for an intimate team meeting. Our American visitors and our Ethiopian family leadership take time to pray and ask God to give us wisdom beyond what we have on our own. We ask God to go with us on our journey and hike for the day, to show us how to pack our backpacks of supplies both physically and mentally. We ask God to allow our hearts to be tender and strong, to be wise and humble, to patient and courageous. And then we are off on our pathway.

Packing our personal backpacks each day both physically and figuratively and being ready for our children we are helping to prepare for school, is only made possible because of beautiful people who share generous gifts, both sending of our team members, sending valuable clothing and in kind gifts, volunteers who pack treasured duffel bags for travel and our Bright Spot American friends who say yes to one child at a time. I am always in awe when we arrive and the miracle it takes just to get us ready to get us to that point.

So, as you can imagine, the next 4 weeks of packing are especially critical. There is no time to be lost and we need help packing, sorting, labeling, list making, weighing and double checking. Each child, one by one will have their backpack made perfect for them. We are assembling our team that is going to help send us with amazing gifts. Maybe you aren’t up for traveling to Africa but would you consider helping us in August in Tualatin? This month? We need you!

Propagating Love

Jul 13, 2015   //   by Jen   //   Blog  //  No Comments

While my back yard is the average neighborhood variety, I have high respect for good soil, manure and the mystery of plant growth.  My little gardening efforts have taught me much about life over the years.  This summer I have greatly enjoyed a small dwarf variety patio container raspberry bush.  It is bright green, compact and cheery.  It generously produces for me the most beautiful plump flavorful berries.  Raspberries are Kaytlynn’s favorite so it gives me great delight in sharing them with her especially.  I was a bit daring and placed my special plant directly into the soil this year in my front yard, as I have been replacing slowly some of our older landscaping with edible treats.  To my delight, small little starts have shot up around the mother bush and I have been able to take root cuttings to propagate more containers.  I have planted strategic plants for future harvest in my back yard containers, shared several with friends and have mixed them in my flowering pots.  I love watching growth, some of which I have directly encouraged by where I placed the original plant and have watched for the little starts to replant, but mostly by nature taking it’s course.

I took advantage of a similar opportunity yesterday that I have been wanting to get my hands on now for some time.  I wish I knew it’s name, but it is a bulb that dies completely each winter and comes back with the most favorable to hummingbird red flowers.  I noticed that the plants were bunching up together and unable to thrive.  The skinny long stems topped with flowers were falling down around my mini water fountain and the humming birds were not able to feast because they were on the ground.  So, it was time, and we cut off all of the stems, dug up the bulbs, and behold, they had multiplied so much under the soil, they were completely crowding each other out.  Carefully, I sifted through the dirt, broke apart all of the bulbs and then put them in a bucket to be planted later.  I was amazed by the 10 years of growth that happened under the soil that could only be seen when they were dug up and taken out of the ground.

The nature of my heart can’t help but relate my plants propagating themselves to the efforts of friends who live life naturally filled with love.  On occasion, it is helpful to be strategic about our kindness and our efforts, to watch for special opportunities to be loving, just like watching where to plant raspberries for the best opportunity for new starts to branch out.  Sometimes it’s more about the soil, or in everyday life, the people we hang out with that foster the best in each other to bring out more love.  I also believe that sometimes we just grow where we are planted even when we can’t see the new bulbs that are multiplying under the ground.  I often think this is true with kids.  When we share love and tenderness and kindness with children, admiring their flowers, their beauty, eventually they spread and multiply on their own.  Sometimes we contribute with our strategies to help them and sometimes nature takes its course.  I believe the magic of nature is God’s way of giving us a little glimpse of himself, in our surroundings, in us and in loved shared by others around us.

I hope to always be a seed planter, a propagator of new life laced with love and an influencer for kindness even if my efforts are not realized until I am long gone from this place I call home.

Anticipation and Excitement in my Soul

Jun 28, 2015   //   by Jen   //   Blog  //  No Comments

I am so very excited.  Deeply excited.  I am thankful for a renewed spirit that allows me to be refreshed and ready for our next stay in the village.  Upon returning to the US in March, after a 3 month stay in rural Ethiopia, I was ready physically for conveniences that I love, like baths, fancy grocery stores, the fresh smell of lavender scented cleaning supplies and my squishy soft bed.  I was ready for the daily embraces of my two children and my husband.  I could hardly wait for the smiles and easy to understand words of my girl friends, my little backyard garden and simple artwork in my home that was familiar to me.

At first the physical pleasures of returning and the successes of the journey muted my deep missing of my village family and of the injustices I left behind.  Often it is the simple things that pop up and trigger compassion and memories that eventually compel me to return to work and advocate for my people.  I think of our 134 Bright Spot beauties that are smart and strong and that we have the privilege of encouraging in school and in kindness to each other.  I think of our medicine supply cabinet that is well stocked and gives much hope in the face of physical ailments.  I remember our 5 water wells that were only possible because of my brothers of choice that worked tirelessly to make sure they were completed and are now giving 1000 people per week each clean water for the very first time.

In my refreshed state, the urgency in my spirit rarely lets my heart rest in what is next, in what God wants to do through us in partnership with our family in the village.  I think of the bible based stories that are written about love and kindness and the good shepherd that need to be translated and illustrated and ultimately printed in the language of our people.  I think of the micro-businesses that have been started and more encouragement that needs to be given in the form of micro-finance grants.  I think of the bibles we will be privileged to share, for the hygiene supplies, school clothes, writing notebooks, vitamins and and I rejoice inside.  I think of the powerful hope that will be brought with the solar lights and the empowerment that comes from a beautiful handmade skirt given to a school girl.

My anticipation and excitement for our Fall 2015 trip is bursting out of me for the four women who have said “Yes!” to travel with me.  I am overjoyed to share with them the love that our village family that spills all over us freely.  I am thrilled that their willingness to step out of their comfort zone and to leave what is familiar to them behind, will allow them to be greatly overwhelmed with a gift and experience and growth that can be hard to find.  I am so thankful to have strong partnering hands and hearts to stand with me in the difficulties and the beauty.

What’s more, is I am excited to take gifts, beautiful gifts that have been given one by one for children and families that matter.  When we hand carry into the village love notes artistically detailed and created with words of hope by small children in a American vacation bible school setting, the awe of Gods love carried out in an action speaks incredibly.  Some of the children and families have walked from long distances, hours away, to ask for a bible and we get to purchase in country bibles for these people because one man listened to an ask for this need.  From handmade skirts by a grandmother, to a pizza sale at a small private school ran by elementary students that funded new shoes and medicine for hurting feet, to moms making cool stuff and selling it in a bank parking lot… every single person gets to share in the community of making a difference.  Each of us in our simplicity and dependence on each other including our Ethiopian partners, gets to share in the joy and success of sharing hope.  When we work together, when we give out of our overflow, when we recognize and embrace others who come from different circumstances than we do… beauty and love can break forth.

And this is why I am so excited…and I can hardly wait to return in to Ethiopia in September.  The longing in my heart for our family, the joy for my friends that get to come along and for those who will be sending their gifts on with us… the beauty is bold, it is inclusive and it is Love in Action.  Everyone Can Make a Difference.



You are my hero & my inspiration… Dr. Timothy

May 27, 2014   //   by Jen   //   Blog  //  No Comments

It’s amazing to me how in a moment, emotions and feelings can flood back to you in an instant… today as I sat in that overly comfortable reclining dentist chair with the smooth plastic surfaces, bright lights and clean surroundings, I totally went back.

I really have no I idea how old I was when I got it.  I mean I really understood deeply and appreciated the generosity and kindness showered on me.  I would sit in a very similar over sized chair with shining lights, fancy dangling medical tools, a small bright white tray that had carefully been laid out just for me and when I left a little goodie bag with a new toothbrush.  Today I was in awe how I have been having my teeth cleaned for 35 years or so.  That this is just what I do, twice a year whether I need it or not, I have a special person who is well trained that checks each of my teeth, scrapes them, polishes them, sometimes x-rays then and then a well trained dental doctor looks them over again and lets me know if I need any sort of treatment plan for the next few months.  Such a privilege.  Dental care.  How incredible.

And while I was just soaking up the awe of how awesome it is to get care… I remembered the first dentist and only dentist I ever had, all the way through college and until I finally moved away.  His Generosity.  His Kindness.  I got it even back then.  I remember Dr. Dolby (he let me call him Tim of course because we were friends) asking me what was happening at school, how my co-students were doing and how I was feeling about life.  He tenderly and humbly cared about my health and about who I was as a person.  He always took care to smell fresh of mints and clean soap when he wheeled around on that chair to look into my face with his full attention.  His conversations to me as a mere child gave me confidence that I mattered, that I was important and that I was somebody.

When I became a teen and needed expensive braces and retainers and teeth pulled, Tim worked hard to make sure my mouth had the very best.  I remember in high school, we re-evaluated my teeth and there was one tooth that just wasn’t quite perfect and he did not even hesitate to put braces back on me so that I would love my smile.  It was important to me and it was important to him.

As I sat in that in the overwhelming awe today of my current care and how wonderful it is to have someone care for my teeth and the teeth of my own children, my heart went to my friend, my dentist, my childhood hero, Tim.  What I haven’t mentioned is that all of that care, he blessed me and our family with, without any charge.  He saw my father and mother giving generously in the community and gave us something we couldn’t get without help.  Tim was my childhood miracle.

When we allow ourselves to give extraordinary gifts of ourselves to others…often times those gifts give back in the most unexpected ways.  I wonder if Tim would have ever imagined that  the little girl that he was so kind and tender toward and made sure she had the “perfect for her” teeth, would pass on the miracle over and over again.  I looked at the young dentist today who was reviewing my mouth and asked him straight up…”Have you ever considered giving away your amazing gift of helping us others with dental care, to others around the world?”  He looked at me rather surprised and said… “Well, as a matter of fact…” and the story and the journey and the “Paying it Forward” continues.

Love on the children around you, you never know how your input into a child can shape their future.

Thank you Dr. Tim for being my hero and my inspiration to give of myself and my resources to bless the little children in Ethiopia.  Your respect, love and tenderness toward me as a child is the greatest gift you could have given me.  Thank you…or as we say in the village, Galatoomi. 

The power of disappointment… when God uses it for Great things.

May 2, 2014   //   by Jen   //   Blog  //  No Comments

My bedroom window is open with warm fresh spring air, the sounds of morning birds and a small bubbly water fountain blanketing my senses.  Although the sounds are completely different it reminded me of laying on my bed in mamas house and how God would comfort my heart each day.

With the recent excitement around the funding of our hearing program and our hearing specialist Judd committing to traveling with me, it would be easy to mute the disappointment I felt just 2 months ago.  The weight and desire to help our brother hear crushed in on me when my options were exasperated. I had tried so hard with all my strength and it wasn’t good enough. Not good enough to help him hear.

What overwhelmed me with gratitude and awe this morning while I laid here still was that discouragement was the motivator for bringing the story home. What God has done in the last couple of days through friends like you to prepare us for this upcoming September trip is 1000 times greater than what I was attempting on that day 2 months ago. All of my angst, disappointment and heartache was not for loss.

God can use our disappointments and discouragement for greatness… Way better than good. So I hear him nudging my heart with a new perspective and challenge on my crushing experiences, watch for those opportunities in your heartache to motivate you to reach high to heaven and let God’s blessing pour out over all He has for me and others.  Once again he’s saying… Go get it, in my timing!

He was lost and now is found…

May 2, 2014   //   by Jen   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Ahhh…the stories, the characters and our attempt at triumph over defeat.  It was only last fall when Alex and I began the search for a brother that had been missing…  he had left the village as a teenager without anyone knowing.  Mama was heartbroken for years.  What had happened to him?  Was he alive or dead?

On the long journey between Addis where the airport is and the village of Arjo in the countryside, we stopped at many small cities and asked if they had seen him.  A long shot.  Alex loved his brother and it was important we didn’t give up easily.  We prayed a lot and our hearts were heavy with the hope of reuniting mama with her son, brother with brother.  Miraculously, one time when we stopped and described him, someone thought they knew who we were talking and after some driving around and rabbit trails, we found him.  God helped us find the lost brother in a city we had never stopped in before.  Complete Joy.  We were on our way out of the country so we left just a few things with him, snapped some pictures for mama and took with us the hope of returning to see him for a visit.

We did just that.  In January we picked up “J” on our way home and shared with him a sweet reunion with his family and the village.  He stayed with us for the 40 days, helping us, connecting with everyone and teaching me so much about being an over comer, about forgiveness and love.

What’s unusual about J is that he is mostly deaf.  He can not hear any normal conversation.  Despite being extremely smart and capable, he was never given the opportunity to go to school.  He was never seen by a doctor to check the health of his hears or what possibilities there might be to “fix them”.  Even worse, even though some close family members loved him, others often treated J like he didn’t have any mental capability and was less than everyone else.

Despite his deep wounds and heartache, J loved anyway.  He gave the best smiles and he often reminded me, in his own sign language that he had created in the village, that even when it hurts, you have to give it to God.  It was surprisingly easy to “talk” with him and I often understood him well.  Really?  Living in a community where you are under appreciated at best, never given an opportunity to live to his fullest potential and still he smiles and makes us laugh!

J loves to “talk” on the video so I have a couple to share of him telling us stories…he would so be happy knowing you all want to “know” him.  In just the 40 day visit this time, I was able to teach him  hand sign for the alphabet, we practiced writing all of the letters (they use the same letters we do) and what was most incredible about this was that all of the other children watched him learn and for the first time were exposed to the idea that he and others who can not hear are smart…can learn and can add value.  I wrote with him and later watched him write his name for the first time.  FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME.  It makes me sob even now as I write this…excuse me for a moment.  Deep breath.

I want to help J.  I want to know if his ears are healthy, if there is anything reasonable that could be done and/or if he would benefit from a hearing device.  I’m working on these possibilities for him.  What’s more is that I want these opportunities for others, especially other young children in our village.  I want the families to know that these children can still learn.  There is even a school in Nekempte just a couple hours away for little kids.  I want our medical college student to begin learning now ways to intervene with ear issues.  I am preparing in faith for this reality.

This is what I need for our hearing opportunities in the future.
1)  Ostoscope (to check in ears)
2)  Audiometer (to evaluate hearing and can operate on our solar)
3)  Small tools/supplies for cleaning
4) More training/suggestions on what to do with bleeding or sick ears
5) We are working on a solar or rechargeable hearing aids

Often time these ideas and dreams are birthed from what is needed in the village.  We have gone deep with a few families and about 36 kids and counting.  I am so thankful that each time there is a need, God provides and shows up.  If you have some connections that might help us with these needs for J or for the village, please message me.  Most of all, let J bless you with the gift of encouraging you to give your pain to God and learning to laugh and love in spite of the story you were given.  Make your own path and leave the pain behind.


Thoughts and experiences of being in my American home….

Mar 29, 2014   //   by Jen   //   Blog  //  No Comments

1. The rolls of toilet paper are gigantic.

2. Laundry is so easy and fast in a washing machine.

3. Sweet text messages from my friends and hubby make me cry, I love knowing I’m so close.

4. Waking up at 4AM and being super efficient is only because I am time confused, not because I have become a morning person.

5. Food just tastes weird.

6. Everything is so clean and my house is so pretty.

7. Nighttime is noiseless. I love it and I terribly miss the chatter of the animals at the same time.

8. Arguing in the neighborhood about the noise of leaf blowers seems like an incredibly extravagant problem.

9. Brushing my teeth with running water is amazing and a gift not to be taken for granted.

10. Watching Harrison play his last home game and his coach, whom I’ve never met, told me that the team has prayed for me every practice and every game, makes my heart melt. I almost missed the entire season but I was not far from their minds.


Mar 29, 2014   //   by Jen   //   Blog  //  No Comments

As long as there is “us” in this world, there will be brokenness. We people are in the process of mending or breaking, most of the time. Tearing down junk in our lives can be as good as it is painful. Climbing mountains brings pain too and the rest after mends our muscles. It takes breaking to need mending and it’s best when we let Jesus do both.

There are perks to the process like strength and endurance. This life and journey we are on, the climb we make is not our own or for our own glory and attention. It is His.

When I’m climbing mama’s mountain out her back door, I feel my lungs tighten, my quads burn and I focus on each step in front of me. The path is not marked or easy but leftover from animals and friends before me. I find when I zigzag my approach it takes less strain on my system but it uses more time. When I go straight up with tiny tiny steps, I am completely winded instantly but the elevation climbs quickly and gets me to my destination faster. On days when I feel rested and not over taxed from smoke in my lungs or a creeping in cough, I challenge myself to go straight up but usually that follows with lots of discussions with myself as to my sanity within 10 minutes or so of the climb!

The mountain challenge is not an option for me. It’s the only way to the city from mama’s house. Sometimes the mountains in our lives are not really a choice either. We walk slowly, zigzag and sometimes crawl when we are desperate. The truth is once we get to the top and feel the recovery or the mending, the play by play doesn’t much matter any more.

Deep breaths of his grace, small steps in his strength, fixing our eyes on the top, the goal…. and putting our hand in His. He never leaves us. He will even carry our backpack and water bottle if we let Him.

Thank you Jesus for sheltering us and walking the mountain with us, only to be ready to mend us when we get to the top. You are so good.

Growing Our Spiritual Ears

Mar 18, 2014   //   by Lisa Thoele   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Written By Jennifer Bridges on March 17, 2014

I recognize the nervous shuffle in my chest. It’s hard to sit still and ignore His presence. He doesn’t even have to say anything at all. I know He’s there and I know exactly why He’s prompting me. Playing ignorant doesn’t fool Him and I certainly am not pretending with myself.

I whine. “But Jesus, I’m too tired. I just got back. There’s nothing left in me. I just want to relax and blend in while I watch Harrison’s game.” He is quiet like a gentlemen and waits for me. I wonder if the mom who has never met me will think I’m too bold or offensive.

I shift in my seat like I have ants in my pants. I get hot all over and weak in my stomach like I’m a little girl going on stage for the school play. You would think this was easy by now. Listening to Him, following His lead and trusting with the outcome.

“Please Jesus, let her talk to me first,” I beg. Why can’t my faith be stronger than this? I’m being ridiculous.

Not surprisingly she stops from taking pictures and she turns and smiles right at me and makes sweet small talk about her son and Harrison on the team. She mentions she included him in an outing while I was gone…

I blurt it out. “Is that your son?” Pointing to another younger boy that was obviously with her. I let go of my usual graces and get to the point. “Have you learned a lot about hearing loss and treatment with your son needing aids to hear?” Finally I had asked. I had broken my own ice. I know that I have a few short months to learn everything I can about ears. Ears with hearing loss and pain.

I always know what’s next and when I finally give in, He reminds me everywhere I look. There is no time to put it off, to make excuses, yet He is so patient for me.

In just a few short minutes I went from wimpy to reminded that He is with me in this. He is taking the time to grow me and my spiritual ears as well as prepare me to bring healing and understanding to physical ears.

He is so good. He is so gentle. Praying for the sweet children he wants to touch in the village and I’m praying for you that your ears might be opened and that you might also be willing to be uncomfortable and follow His lead on your pathway where ever he is leading you.

Nothing shocking came from our conversation. Just a quiet reminder that our time is precious, to listen and to act on his prompting and that I needed to be watching and listening for answers. There is a purpose in all of it. Listen up! The next chapter is already begun!

Thank you Jesus for being so patient and for loving them (those with ear troubles in the village) so much your willing to mold me in the process!

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Recent Updates

Want to meet a couple of our heroes??? These people are part of the awesome surgical team at our Nekemte Public Referral Hospital that serves day in and day out. A hospital never closes and is always ready to help the most medically fragile.

The American EC team collects new and gently used scrubs to share with our hospital. If you aren’t a medical professional you can still help us find scrubs at a great price on the FB market place or discount retailers. #everyonecanmakeadifference

#supershoppersforthewin #handmedownshardatwork

Photo: courtesy of Dr Haileyesus Tesfaye in the hospital OR and new scrubs delivered by our EC volunteer team in December.

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Amazing young people. Our beautiful next generation loving well, sharing hope and making a difference. 💕

Photo: Galatoomi Melkamuu

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On behalf of all of the wonderful volunteers and our children and families in Ethiopia, thank you for a beautiful year! Our end of the benefit raised more than $10,000 to continue help make what we do possible. Family preservation, special projects and encouraging those in country doing an awesome job are our specialty. Thank you or Galatooma for standing in the gap with us. Everyone Can Make a Difference!

A special shout out to our business event sponsor: Consumer Cellular!

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