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Changed Lens

Russell man finds perspective working among Ethiopia’s poor

July 14, 2008
By LAUREN VOKISH lvokish@timesobserver.com

"Who could you be if your lens was changed for a moment; would you still be the same?"

Christian rock band, Kutless, shares the same view as local college graduate Jordan Beck about the world today.

Kutless's song, Perspective, questions listeners to ask themselves if they would just look at something in a different light, would it change them for the better?

Article Photos

Jordan Beck stands with pen pal Yidnekachew Ejigu, left and another young man from the Project Mercy missionary compound in Ethiopia.

Beck, a Russell native and international missionary, knows that it truly does.

Having just returned home from his second, first solo, five-week trip to Ethiopia with Project Mercy, a Christian mission group located near Addis, the capital of Ethiopia, Beck said that he has been able to change his "cultural lens to interpret things through."

"This was my third international experience, first being Haiti, and when I came back from that trip I was angry with how Americans could be so materialistic, but what we consider poor here is totally different then what poor is. A poor and rich Ethiopian man would fall short in American standards."

Beck explained that a rich man in America might have three houses, whereas in Ethiopia a rich man's wealth is in his tin roof.

"You cannot equate one to one with the culture being so vastly different," said Beck. "As long as their basic needs are being met, they have a roof over their head, and they have a steady job - they are rich. If you can get over the idea of 'we have so much; they have so little;' then you can really experience a country that is truly beautiful."

The trip has allowed Beck to step out of his comfort zone and have a better understanding for people that are different from Americans, as well as learn about himself and who he is as a person.

"Just being there, I relied more on God than myself," said Beck. "Their relationship with God is different there. He is their daily provider; they are thankful for what they have. God is in control everyday in their lives; where here in America we can sometimes loose sight of that."

Beck got time to reflect and get away from daily distractions, but he made sure he was proactive about his time as well helping the children.

"The kids were amazing. I was surprised that they remembered me from a year and a half ago. When I got there they wanted me to put on a show for them with all the songs and skits."

He also said that the children of Ethiopia can entertain themselves with just about anything; they do not need fancy electronic toys to keep them going.

"These kids will take a rock, a tire or an old sock and turn it into a game that they can play for hours," laughed Beck and pointed to himself. "They also will take a tall white boy and turn him into a jungle gym!"

Another aspect of Ethiopian culture that he will hold dear is the hospitality of the people.

"Their hospitality is unrivaled," said Beck. "I learned early on that a word of caution there is when you want to visit a family, don't tell them ahead of time, because more often than not; they will sell all their possessions in order to feed and accommodate you."

Ethiopian custom is to honor guests, and Beck learned the hard way when he visited a poor family.

"The woman invited myself and several others into her home, but I had to politely decline staying for dinner, which is rude in their culture, because I knew she would have sold everything she had just so that I could eat with her and her family," said Beck. "I would rather offend them than have them starve."

Beck said this also relates to his Ethiopian penpal, Yidnekachew Ejigu, a ninth grader at Project Mercy.

"They are raised in a culture where begging is ok; so I try not to give them any gifts," said Beck. "Yidnekachew will write letters to me asking me to send him presents, but I hesitate to do that except for photos, because I do not want to invest in him financially, but in his personal and spiritual development instead."

Though the bonds that he made are strong; they didn't come easy.

"I could carry a conversation with a fifth- or sixth-grader pretty well because they start learning English at a young age. You couldn't hold philosophical conversations with them, but you could at least ask them where they got the mangos and they could tell you "over there"," said Beck. "The older men and woman though did still hold on to their native language (Amharic) and it's sometimes difficult to talk with them; there is a lot of head nodding."

Beck encountered the communication barrier while working with Project Mercy's hospital there developing a computer program for the pharmaceutical department.

"They needed a program to manage their drug transactions because the system they were working with was just on paper and no one knew where the medicine was going," said Beck. "The medicine was going undocumented, and the pharmacy needed this program to work more efficiently."

Beck, who graduated with a degree in computer technology, worked for three and a half weeks developing the program.

"I went to college, and you would think that it would be easy to get it done without any problems. But when you lack the basic communication skills in another country, it becomes difficult," he said. "What should have taken me ten minutes would take me a half an hour because they would have to put it in vocabulary that both of us would understand. It definitely took more patience than I anticipated."

Beck's patience, communication skills and knowledge of technology have paid off.

He has recently accepted a job as an associate consultant at Revere Group a system analysis and design company in Chicago.

But, he will not be leaving the people of Ethiopia and missions behind.

"One thing that I have taken away from this trip is that I fell in love with the people of Ethiopia. I hope to one day return to the country again," said Beck. "But I know that I am called to the United States for now. I have contacted a few groups that work with homeless people and also those who help men in need to get out of male prostitution. I will start there, and who knows, perhaps one day I may go international again, but I will cross that bridge when I get there."

 
 

 

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