Thursday, June 25, 2009

"I Don't Feel Like I Gave Up a Lot"

Lidia Schaefer was born in a large village in northern Ethiopia and moved to the United States in the mid-1970’s when civil war broke out at home. She settled into American life, became a manicurist, and labored with the challenges of raising her two children while working 12-hour days, six days a week.

But a return trip to her native village in the 1990’s troubled her. She saw children walking three hours each way to attend classes held under a tree because there was no school building. In 1998 she learned that one of the girls she had met – Medhine – had been attacked and killed by a hyena after falling behind during the long trek home from school.

Schaefer decided she had to do something. She began setting aside a third of her salary and all of her tips while lobbying the Ethiopian government to donate land for a school. She enlisted help from clients and co-workers, who held raffles and made contributions. But after four years without reaching nearly the sum needed, Schaefer decided it was time to do something drastic. She gave up her symbols of the American dream, selling her house and car. It was a sacrifice that still stuns her colleagues and friends. “I couldn’t believe it,” remembers her salon manager. “I don’t feel like I gave up a lot,” Schaefer responds. “I want the children to learn, to get something out of their life.”

She ultimately raised more than $250,000 for the school, which was completed in 2006. Today, nearly 1,500 students are educated there; the campus boasts eight buildings with 16 classrooms, a science lab and a library. Schaefer is still setting aside much of her own money and raising funds ( “They need computers so they can talk to the whole world,” she says. When she went back home for the school dedication, she was honored with an elaborate procession through the village. “I was so happy, I can’t even describe it.” Initially she wanted to name the school after the little girl killed by the hyena, but the government insisted on naming it after her so that “more people will be like you.” Ethiopian communities around the United States, hearing about Schaefer’s efforts, launched plans and raised money to build twelve more schools in that region, which are due to be completed next month.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear stories like this I often feel simultaneously inspired by the sheer goodness and sacrifice of some people and its multiplying effects on others, and deflated by my own comparative selfishness. Schaefer’s efforts bring to mind what the apostle Paul says about the Macedonians and his collection for the struggling Judean churches, “… their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” (II Corinthians 9:2-3, NIV)

With about one-millionth of the sacrifice of Lidia Schaefer, I am dedicating the profits from the sale at West Houston of my first book to the Mission Lazarus medical fund as a way to help continue the initial free-will contribution West Houston members made in 2006. These funds provide for little Nancy Osorto’s growth hormone shots and the myriad of medical treatments needed by children in this area of Honduras. I invite you to participate as the Lord leads you. After all, hyenas come in many forms.


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