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Family’s adopting an Ethiopian orphan led church to a fall mission trip

By Mary Stamp

The decision of North Addison Baptist Church’s youth minister and his wife to adopt an Ethiopian orphan blossomed beyond plans to expand their own family.

Wade Family
Deranna, Alli, McKenzie, Caleg, Leanne and Tom Wade

Tom and Leanne Wade led a November 2010 mission trip and they now will move with their children to Addis Ababa, where he will teach three years at an international school and she will serve as part-time campus nurse.

Ties there broaden the church’s perspective beyond Spokane and the United States and help mission trip participants, church members and their own family step out of their comfort zones.

After graduating in religious education and youth ministry from Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Okla., 21 years ago, Tom worked in a variety of jobs before he met and married Leanne 18 years ago.  Because she worked as a receptionist in Spokane, they moved to Spokane, where he has worked part-time as youth minister and part-time in a print shop.

Tom and Leanne, who have three daughters, wanted to adopt an Ethiopian or Haitian orphan, because there were many orphans in those countries.  The process for Ethiopia was shorter.

When they told Tom’s mother, she was excited.  Her parents spent two years in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia after retiring.  He knew little of their experience, but remembered knickknacks and a basket from Ethiopia in his home.

Three years ago, the Wades spent seven days in Addis Ababa to complete adoption of their son, Caleb.  It was their first trip outside the country, but they knew they would go back.  With other adopting families, they went on guided tours to tourist sites, museums and resorts.

“In the process, we began to feel a passion and a burden for something more,” Tom said.

Leanne suggested the church send a group to work at orphanages.  The pastor supported the idea and asked her to lead a group.

“We felt it would be a good way to expose people in the church to Ethiopia and international work,” Tom said.

With All God’s Children International, a Portland-based group that does international work with orphans, they set a date for 2010 and invited church members.

There was immediate response.  Soon they had a group of 12, including the Wade’s oldest daughters, Deanna, 14, and McKenzie, 13, and other church-related people ranging into their 60s. One member who was unemployed was able to go because the church raised more than $36,000 to cover the costs for the team.

Among the members who signed up were Annie and Garry Matlow, who have been married 26 years.  In 1967, she had gone to Ethiopia after her first husband had orders to go there for military service.  She spent three years in Eritrea, a secessionist section of northern Ethiopia.

“It was part of my life I wanted to share with Garry,” she said.  “My sister decided to go too.”

In the months of preparation, Garry said people often said, “You’re going to Africa?  It will change your life.”  In a report he wrote after 10 days of painting, carpentry and interacting with Ethiopian people, Garry said team members now “look at life through a different set of eyes.”

On the mission trip from Nov. 3 to 14, participants worked in three orphanages, a youth detention center and a hospital.

“We worked 10 to 12 hours a day scrubbing walls, painting walls and painting murals on walls, turning filthy places into beautiful places,” said Annie.

Some shared their skills teaching, and Leanne, who has worked as a medical assistant since earning an associate degree in 2006 from Spokane Community College, brought medical skills.

For a youth rehabilitation center, the women in the church had precut 5,520 squares—about a year’s supply—for girls to use as they learn to sew, making patchwork rag quilts.

Some team members joined in recreation with boys.  Later the team cleaned and painted the boys’ dining hall and patched holes in the concrete floor.

Another day, they led a mini vacation Bible school at the Hannah’s Home orphanage and later at a Bethzatha Children’s Home Association orphanage.

At another Bethzatha orphanage in Awassa, they found children with “no toys to play with or tables to eat on,” said Leanne.

“We saw what it takes to run an orphanage,” said Tom, pointing out that although Ethiopia’s AIDS mortality rate is lower than in Southern Africa, some orphans’ parents died of AIDS. 

Ethiopian children are also in orphanages because drought and famine make families so poor they can’t care for their children or provide medical care,” he explained.  “Many deaths come from a lack of clean water.  The average life expectancy is mid to late 40s.”

Tom said they met a man who runs Bethzatha Orphanage. When they returned home, they found his name on the paperwork for Caleb’s adoption.

“As we left, we knew our family would go back and spend time working there to give our son a chance to see the culture where he was born and see orphanages like the one that cared for him.”

Tom went earlier than the team to interview for a job to teach at Bingham Academy, an international, English-speaking school in Addis Ababa run by Serving in Missions, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. 

The academy’s 350 students are from the international community there—families of missionaries, embassy staff and non-governmental organization personnel.

Tom will teach a Bible class, be a youth minister and the chaplain for faculty and students, helping them adjust to life in a different culture and helping them grow.

The Wades leave Aug. 1 to live there three years.   Tom will be on a leave of absence from his youth ministry at North Addison Baptist Church.

He hopes his family’s willingness to move from comfortable lives in Spokane will be an example to the youth of the church.

He involves the youth group in community service by working at Anna Ogden Hall and doing World Vision’s annual “30-hour Famine” to raise money and educate teens on international needs.  Tom believes youth are insulated from pain people in the rest of the world experience and pain of those who are  homeless, disabled and left out in Spokane.

“Teens need a broader perspective than Spokane and the United States so they develop a passion to help others,” he said.   “Children and youth need to grow up with concern for others and the conviction they can help. 

“If that’s to happen, they need to see it in lives of their leaders,” he said.  “The mission trip opened eyes to needs for serving there and to our need to experience the joy we saw in worship in Ethiopia,” he said.

The adoption, trip and his family’s mission commitment are part of a faith pilgrimage.

“Risk and faith are closely related,” he said.  “Risk deepens faith. Growth in faith relates to the amount of risk we are willing to take,” he said.  “I expect surprises in Addis Ababa.  I don’t know where God is leading us.”

For information, call 220-6159 or email tom.wade@sim.org