The Universal Language in Jido, Ethiopia

In the fall of 2011, my husband and I, along with two of our kids, Rachel and Ben, joined a group from Hope Church (Mike and Trent) on a trip of a lifetime to Jido, Ethiopia.  When you’re planted in the fertile soil of loving and serving others, the roots grow deep and you bloom in ways you never imagined.  This is just one of the many stories that watered my heart and changed my life forever.  Meet…the moms of Jido…

Right after the above picture was taken, I wish you could have heard  our interpreter as he  tried to explain  to us  that these  moms wanted another picture taken – only this time they wanted me in the middle of the group of moms on the right side…

and then with the group on the left side…

and the group in the middle

so that every single mom could touch me personally and be touched by me in some way.  This moment and many others confirmed something God was showing me…

Hugs and affection, an understanding look, smiles, tears, laughter were all part of a universal language God had blessed us with and, more specifically for me, the language that all moms understand – that language of one mom’s heart to another mom’s heart. 

Ironically, before going on this missions trip  I had asked God to somehow give me a gift of their language so I could communicate with them but what He gave me was this heart of understanding and love and affection – a language much deeper than I could have ever imagined.  I fell in love with these moms and never felt like we weren’t “communicating”!  These women are beautiful and they radiate a sense of dignity and depth that was priceless to me !

Several of the moms in this picture had 12 children!!!  Many had at least 8, and there was one Mom who seemed almost out of place with only 4… and that number may not have represented the number of pregnancies or deliveries she had – only the number of children she still had living!

One thing I learned for sure  is that with all the moms another universal language  emerged– all moms LOVE to have  a picture taken of their babies !!  Between all of us on the trip, we had a variety of cameras and cell phones to capture these moments in picture and video.  My friend, Trent,  caught on to an amazing way of communicating which we all followed suit – that is, to take the picture and then , as our technology so kindly allows you to do, show them the picture you just took on your cute little screen.

On the day we were able to go to the weekly food distribution that Food for the Hungry ( ) sponsors (which I might add – YOU help sponsor when you sponsor a child there in Jido ) we watched as piles of flour, beans and oil were divided between each family unit –– helping support the entire family – and ultimately the entire village !


I went around meeting the moms and their children taking pictures of them and showing them afterward.  Before I knew it, moms were congregating all around me asking me to take a picture of “their” baby which was snuggled on their back (of course, I knew what they were asking even though I didn’t understand the words).   Much harder of course, was the picture I took  of the mom who carried her little baby girl  burning up with a fever, most likely from malaria!  Yet even with all of that, these women were so overjoyed to see their little baby’s picture! – another “universal language”.

However, my most vivid moment of that universal language of a mom’s heart was when we went to visit our sponsored child, Beshenena.  You have to understand the beauty of these visits – we all go in as a team with the FH (Food for the Hungry) social worker and our own personal FH group guide who helps interpret and navigate the day for us.  As we enter their mud hut, typically  about 10′ x 12′ in size ,the layout  might have one window, a small cook space in the corner, bedding on the floor where probably the family sleeps, decorations of simple pictures or woven objects and sometimes a chicken or two wandering in. They insist that we all sit in their most comfortable places – usually a little stool that reminded me of a cow milking stool – or possibly a long , simply built bench.  The people there treat others with such honor and dignity and it means so much to them that you came across the ocean just to see them.  They are incredibly thankful that you have “remembered” them, a theme they often used while thanking us,  as in one visit where the little boy of the child-headed household said, “Take a picture of me with your eyes so you’ll never forget me.”   In wanting to “connect” with Beshenana’s mom, I told her I had 4 children of my own—as she was a mother of 5.  I also told her the joy of having 4 children along with 2 grandchildren and one on the way.  She said how blessed I was to have lived to see my children’s children – at least that’s what I thought she said – until I realized that what she actually said was how blessed it was that my own children had lived long enough to have and see their own children.  It was then that I understood her greatest prayer for her children – that they live—period !  As my own son, Ben, was sick a couple of days on the trip, I understood the vulnerability and cries of a mother for her children to be healthy and live  but I realized that this is a way of everyday life for these moms.

God reminded me that He is very present in Jido as well as in my hometown here in the United States and that He does see and He does hear the cries of these moms in Jido and He sent what He thought best to encourage this Ethiopian mom – another mom — me to be Jesus with skin on to her.  I’ll never , ever underestimate the power of “God with us” as we go in person to be “with” others and love them skin to skin –  and maybe that’s the best universal language of all !

Part of our family with our sponsored child and his family
Mom of our sponsored child with her baby-in-wrap on her back

Please visit Food for the Hungry ( and consider making a difference in the lives of the “least of these” by sponsoring a child or better yet… go visit them in person.  Also, maybe you’d like to be a part of building a better future for the kids in Jido, Ethiopia…check out what Hope Church ( is doing to build a much needed high school there.   I promise you, you’ll  be the one most blessed !!

Visit to learn how you can help

Joy Waters Martin

My kids tease me sometimes that my definition of a situation going well is often described as, "It was 'life-giving' " -- meaning, it may have had some conflicts or uneasy moments or stress but all in all , something about it breathed life into the situation and the people involved...something of the heart was moved in a good direction. I'm all about LIFE ... life with my husband, life with 4 adult children, their spouses and 8 grandchildren (to date, that is :), life in our home and life in a wild adventure we tend to label "ministry". In reality , all of these categories mesh together to make up the "organic me". Relational , redeeming and restoring are some of my favorite words and they give life to my soul as I walk it all out with Jesus Christ, the Giver of all life. Profile Photo by: Melody Martin

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