CLC scholar returns from Ethiopia in time for fall classes

James Sellers poses with two children he met during a missions trip

After the trials of long travel and lost baggage, James Sellers, a Chancellor’s Leadership Corps scholar, took a mission trip to Ethiopia during the summer.

A native of DeQueen, Arkansas,  Sellers traveled to visit with the children of Hawassa, Ethiopia.

“Words will never be able to express the great love I have for these kids, and I will hold these memories in my heart until the day I leave this earth,” wrote Sellers.

Out of the 19 people who went on the mission trip, two were UALR Chancellor’s Leadership Corps scholars: sophomore James Sellers and freshman Lucee Lugo.

A pre-med chemistry major, Sellers hopes to become a pediatrician one day. Not only is he a CLC scholar on campus, but he also is the founder of the Lawn Chair Club, a senator at large for the Student Government Association, the director of involvement for the Maroon Mob, the scholarship chair for Pi Kappa Alpha, a West Hall resident assistant, and one of the people behind the Trojan mascot mask.

Chancellor’s Leadership Corps is designed to develop and enhance the skills necessary to prepare each participant for assuming leadership positions on campus and beyond. Scholars develop leadership skills by facilitating campus wide celebrations and participating in campus organizations.

The following is the story Sellers wrote and shared after he returned to Arkansas:

Nothing but love 

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There’s a saying that “to the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” These last 10 days I spent serving the Lord in one of the most poverty-stricken nations in the world prove this quote to be true. Through the phenomenal love and affection that the children of Hawassa, Ethiopia, expressed to the tough and cruel world around them, my perspective about life has forever been changed.

For a little over three years now, the First Baptist Church of DeQueen, Arkansas, has been working with an international organization called “Children’s Hopechest”. Their mission, according to their website, is as follows:

“Children’s Hopechest exists to glorify God by releasing the potential of orphaned and vulnerable children and their communities through partnerships that cultivate holistic transformation and sustainability.”

My church in particular has been partnering with Hopechest to support such children in the Ethiopian city of Hawassa. After establishing what is known as a carepoint, the members of the church sponsor the children in need to provide for their health and well-being, but more importantly, their future: both earthly and spiritually. With our money backing up Hopechest, the carepoint helps to raise these children up in a Godly way, making disciples of ALL nations.

IMG_7827I was blessed to get the opportunity to take part on our church’s third mission trip to this particular carepoint in Hawassa. On June 19, after months and months of anticipation, I set off on this journey with 18 others. Almost as if in a movie, however, this mission began with a series of unfortunate events. From DeQueen, we all loaded up on a bus and made our way to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (roughly a four-hour drive) around 11 p.m. that Friday night. Since our flight was scheduled at 6 a.m., time seemed to be on our side. At least, that’s what we thought..

A couple hours down the road, the bus had one of the back tires blow out. It was around 2 in the morning, so we hopped out and went to change the tire. The only problem was that there was NO spare tire. Even worse, all the road services nearby either wouldn’t respond or couldn’t help us out (never trust the words “24 Hour Road Service”). With that flight fast-approaching, we did the only thing we could do: drive. For a little over an hour, the bus managed to hobble down the highway with a blown out tire until it eventually gave out on us. Stranded and still quite-a-ways from Dallas, we watched the clock get closer to 6. God was watching over us, though. 30 minutes from our location, a pastor came with a van and brought us to the airport. Cutting it super close, we managed to make the flight with a slight delay. Our mission team was on its way to Ethiopia.

To make matters worse, over half our luggage was lost in all the chaos, including my own. This missing luggage included nearly all of the totes that we had full of our supplies for this week with the children. We had no nametags, balls, arts/crafts, and so much more that we were hoping to bless the children with. The airport was going to work their hardest to get it to us ASAP. We continued on our journey anyways.

James Sellers poses in front of an Ethiopia signAfter a long series of flights, we reached Ethiopia. The five-hour bus ride to Hawassa gave me plenty of time to capture and reflect on much of what Ethiopia’s culture and lifestyles are like. From the window, all I saw was poverty. I saw huts built from mud. I saw hungry children begging for food. I saw donkeys pulling full carts. I saw unhealthy and weak people carrying full loads. I saw need. I saw sadness. What I didn’t see was HOPE. These people had nothing. This realization broke my heart.

The next day, we drove up to the carepoint for the first time. Upon arrival, these kids greeted us with singing, dancing, and a lot of hugs. For someone who had never seen any of them before unlike the rest of the mission team, I was surprised by how much love and affection they gave this stranger.

A group of people pose during James Sellers' mission trip to EthiopiaSo for the next few days, our mission team just played with the kids and gave them love and attention. We didn’t have our supplies, but God gave us the only thing we ever really needed: each other. Together, we had a blast spending time with them. There was not a person on my mission team that didn’t constantly have at least five children clinging to their sides at all times. The effort the children put forth to get attention was insane. They would fight each other to hold one of our hands. They would try to clean us when we had dirt on our clothes, even despite themselves being dirtier. They would shower us with things they hand made, such as friendship bracelets and grass armbands. When it came to actually playing with them, they were so easy to please. I was notorious for running from them while 20 or so kids chased me around the carepoint. When I would sit down, the boys for some reason would always swarm me, lift me off the ground, and carry me around as if I was someone who just scored the game-winning shot in a close basketball game. I learned a lot of cultural dances and songs that these children were familiar with, as they would circle up and teach us all about them. I could talk for hours on end about all the small stories like these that came from these first few days at the carepoint. We made due without our supplies, and I thank God for that.

James Sellers surrounded by students during a missions trip to EthiopiaAt the end of each day, we would go to a couple of the children’s homes. The first one happened to be my very own sponsor child: Abenezer. When I saw what he lived in, I was shaken. His house, made from hardened mud and some sheets of metal, was maybe about 15 feet by 15 feet. It had one bed. Here’s the catch: six people lived in this tiny house. Even worse, I was told the average yearly salary around this part was the equivalent of $300 (American dollars). The funny thing is, my child had one of the nicer homes in the neighborhood. How could these people live in such horrible conditions? This was only the start of my culture shock.

By Thursday, we had our supplies. When we arrived, I stayed on the bus and hid while everyone went to greet them. Msikir, our spectacular Hopechest representative, got them all pumped up, and they were chanting my name. From behind the bus, I rode out on my unicycle: something they had NEVER seen before. They had no idea what they were looking at, but they all wanted to try it! We busted out all the balls, Frisbees, jump ropes, volleyball/soccer nets, and other toys that we finally had. These children were SO happy to have all this stuff to play with.

Difficult goodbyes

James Sellers is among a group of people posing in EthiopiaThe week flew by. Every day was filled with great times and great memories. We all grew closer and closer to these children each day we stayed. Nonetheless, Saturday came too fast. At the end of the previous days, we would always say “Tomorrow.” They knew we would come back the next day because of that. Saturday, we couldn’t say “Tomorrow.” We had to say “Goodbye.” They knew what this meant. You could see it in their faces before we even said it. Children were crying more than I have ever seen in my life. Nearly all of my mission team was in tears. I was strong and didn’t for quite some time. All week, my sweet little Fevin stayed by my side. She was holding my hand at this very moment. I looked down at her, and found that she was just pouring out tears. I tried to tell her it was alright, but she wouldn’t even look at me. At this point, I got on my knees and turned her face toward me. I kissed her on the forehead and told her I love her. She said it back and kissed me on the cheek, through her crying and sniffling. At this point, I couldn’t fight the crying any more. I lost it. Tears were rolling down my face as I looked around and hugged these children one last time. The hardest part for me was knowing that I’m coming back to America where I have everything and struggles don’t weigh me down, but I’m leaving them in the dirt where they have nothing and don’t even know where their next meal is coming from. I knew and they knew that this could very well be the last time we ever see each other. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in this life, and I will never forget the tears I shed with these kids that built such a loving and strong relationship with me in such a short time.

A young child gives James Sellers a kiss on the cheek during his missions tripThis trip has forever changed my life. Words will never be able to express the great love I have for these kids, and I will hold these memories in my heart until the day I leave this earth. True, I may never see them again in my time here on earth, but I have comfort in one thing: we will all hold hands together when we reach those heavenly gates in the Kingdom of God. Until then, I have nothing but love for the town of Hawassa, Ethiopia.

If you would like to support children such as these blessings, Children’s Hopechest is simply phenomenal. It’s not like you sponsor a child and never hear from them or see them. I witnessed firsthand what the money I pay for goes to and how much it helps them survive. Plus, how many people can say they’ve actually held their sponsor child in their arms? This is a legitimate organization and I’m honored to have gotten this opportunity.

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