Remembering Lantu

On October 2, 2014, Lantu Legesse went home to be with Jesus.

Arriving in January 2010, Lantu was the first child to call Ebenezer Grace, home. As is written below, she had an array of physical challenges (arrived at the age of five with heart and lung problems, visually impaired, severely malnourished, small, and unable to walk). During her four and half years with us she came to know Jesus, and became a living testimony of God’s strength and ability.

One year later in October 2015, Lantu’s Home of Hidden Treasures opened its doors. Named after our sweet Lantu. The heart behind the home was to reach children who, like Lantu, are in need of specialized care. As of March 2016, 14 children now have a place to call home.

If you ever had the privilege of meeting Lantu, you know that these stories won’t fully encapsulate her big personality. We hope that her testimony and life will cause us to remember the wonderful memories of what was, and the wonderful hope the Gospel gives us for what is, and what lies ahead.

We love you Lantu! We are SO thankful that you are whole and seeing Jesus face-to-face.

Lantu's Memorial

The finishing touches were made to Lantu’s casket. Originally, oversized and overlaid with a material depicting roses and the words “miss you”, a group of us decided this wasn’t going to work. We would make it special. After all, this is for Lantu. We trimmed it to size, painted it yellow, and put pictures of her all over the top section. There were pictures of her singing, laughing, swinging, and of course—eating. The bottom section would allow for her brothers and sisters from EGCH to draw pictures and/or write their goodbyes in every color we could possibly find. Finally, just hours before the memorial, the decision was made to put it on display, as opposed to being hidden until burial. This would allow anyone at her memorial to write on it as well. That was the most glorious casket I have ever seen… full of photos, drawn pictures, and goodbyes… adorned with love for a our very special girl.

This was my first Ethiopian funeral. Argaw wanted it to be more of a celebration of a life well-lived. One that—like her life—would bring glory to God (It should be noted, no restrictions were made on mourning, after all Jesus Himself mourned at the loss of a loved one… knowing the whole time that He would resurrect him, but that’s for another time). It was a time of celebration, remembrance, and sharing with one another the grief of letting go of someone so special, and rejoicing that she was now in the presence of the One to whom she had always belonged.

It seemed only appropriate that her memorial begin with her EGCH siblings singing as a choir. Of course, I lost it for a bit during the first song—”Give Thanks”—especially when it came to the part:

“And now let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am rich, because of what the Lord has done for us. Give thanks.”

A wondrous reminder. Of course that session ended with Lantu’s favorite, “Open The Eyes of My Heart Lord”. We prayed. A poem was read. Argaw shared. I had the privilege of sharing. Her dad shared. Various others shared… everyone in their native tongue (in some cases with translation). It was okay that we didn’t understand each other completely, because we understood well enough that we all really loved Lantu. People wrote on the casket. Any last resistance for holding back tears came when her immediate family drove off with her casket to the burial site. Those remaining would comfort each other. And of course, we did what Jesus often recommended in similar situations… “give them something to eat”. So we continued to share stories over some amazing food prepared by some amazing servants over literally a few hours time. Oh, and I forgot to mention, we had the extra “bonus” that the weather for the outdoor ceremony was warm and sunny (the previous day—the day she took her last breath—it rained, and it was the coldest day all season). If you knew Lantu, it was very fitting.

Around a hundred people were in attendance. We were a diverse gathering. A hodge-podge representation of different countries, tribes, social status’, ages, etc. etc. My point being, this was a group that I was proud to be among. Like many have, and will continue to share, Lantu’s life was one that was a series of “ought-not’s”. From purely human perspective… Sheought not to have lived this long. She ought not to have been able to speak, have the ability to think, walk, or see. She ought not to have impacted and influenced so many. She wasn’t physically strong. She wasn’t an intellectual elite (though she had a gifted mind). She wasn’t born into a noble family. She wasn’t wealthy. She wasn’t supposed to be _______. So what brought this diverse group of people together? The “what” is found in the “who”, and the “who” is Jesus. The “how” is simply Him reflected through Lantu’s life.

This was the proverbial nail that I struck again and again in sharing at her memorial. God writes the best stories. And hers was a beautiful story. God chose Lantu. And He chose her life as an instrument to show Himself strong.

“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him….” – 2 Chronicles 16:9a

Consistent throughout Scripture… God doesn’t choose on the basis of how man chooses. Naturally, man chooses anything but the weak. We often fear weakness—or being seen as such. God doesn’t fear weakness. Nor does weakness disqualify one from being used by Him. In His grip, it allows for His strength to be made complete in and through such an individual… like Lantu. That is what I believe is the greatest legacy of her life, the strength of God in Lantu was so evident through Lantu.

During her relatively short life, she left an impression on each of our hearts, giving us so many precious memories, and a testimony of life well-lived for Jesus. She finished her race.

I’ll wrap up in the same manner as I did just weeks ago. Let’s remember and honor her life, but let’s not stop there. Let her testimony encourage/prod/challenge/cause us to allow God to write His story through our lives. I’m so thankFULL for how God works. I’m so thankFULL for Lantu. I’m so thankFULL that He chose Lantu, and allowed our lives to intersect on the way to being together—in His presence—for all eternity.

All the very best in Jesus,

Love, Mom (Rachel)

Lantu… The Book

I remember when we first met Lantu Legesse in 2008. Her dad brought her to our house to see if we could help. Legesse, Lantu’s father, had 4 other children and one on the way at that time. Lantu was different from any of his other kids. She was 3 years old, but was the size of a 9 month old. She didn’t seem to see very well. She talked very little, and only in her mother tongue, Sidama. She couldn’t walk. Being from the village, Legesse didn’t realize her potential. He thought she was just going to be a bump on a log for the rest of her life, not amounting to anything and not bringing anything to the table of their family. We took her to the hospital where we learned that she was severly malnourished, had very mature cateracts in both eyes, and had severe heart problems. We paid for her to have the cateracts removed from her eyes and sent her on her way with her dad never expecting that our relationship would end up being anything more than us providing a charitable act for a poor family in the village. Little did we know…

At the very end of December 2009, we heard a knock on our door. It was Lantu and her father. He begged us to take Lantu into our home and keep her as if she was our own. Although we were excited about the fact that this would mean the start of Ebenezer Grace Children’s Home (EGCH), we were hesitant of taking a child from her family, whom she knew and loved. After praying with a team from Calvary Chapel DC Metro who was there visiting us at the time, we decided that we would take Lantu in order to give her a fuller life than what she had in the poor village she had come from. She cried. I cried. We all cried. Lantu was the very first child to live at Ebenezer Grace Children’s Home. We took her in on January 1, 2010.

We took Lantu to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, soon after we took her in.

The doctors said that this little girl was retarded and was a waste of our time. She would probably die soon and she would never amount to anything. We might as well just give her back to her father and mother. We had different opinions and took her back to live with us.

After a month, Lantu had gained a considerable amount of weight; was doing very well at speaking in Amharic (the native Ethiopian language) and English, as well as her mother tongue; and had started walking using a curtain rod as a walking stick. Ebenezer Grace started growing as well, as we got another child, Beti, at this time. Beti would carry Lantu around like a toddler with her mother, even though she was the same age.

Lantu continued to grow. After two months of living at EGCH, she was walking all by herself and was fluent in three languages! We were amazed, to say the least. Her favorite song was “Open the Eyes of My Heart”, which we thought was very interesting, being that her physical eyes and heart were what made her different, strange, and even faulty. Her body was not whole. Nobody’s body on this side of Heaven is ever perfectly whole, but her’s was even worse off! I don’t believe this little girl even knew that her eyes and heart were bad. She’d lived with these damaged organs all her life, and probably thought everyone else had eyes and a heart like hers.

After living at EGCH for 3 years, Lantu stopped gaining weight. She was also at the age where she could be learning so much, yet because of her impairments, she would not be accepted in a school to help her learn. There was no place in Hawassa for people like Lantu. Our family had moved out of the EGCH home into our own home a couple years prior in order to make room for more children. We decided that we would take Lantu into our home, once again, to see if her health would improve any. Also, we wanted to give her as much education as possible in her condition. She moved in early March 2013. She only gained a kilo or two after 9 months of living with us; however, she was extremely happy to be a part of our family.

She was a part of our family, too. Whenever I would go out and people would ask me how many children I had, I would tell them SIX!

She was one of the Ayeles while she lived with us. I was really hoping that the Lord would allow us to adopt her eventually. She had to move out at the end of October 2013 because it wasn’t legal for us to keep her in our house, because she legally belonged to EGCH. My kids cried. Lantu cried. I cried.

In Spring 2014, we had a second echo done on her heart in order to send the results to an American cardiac doctor to see if surgery would be possible for her. He said that according to the results, more than likely, she would not be able to survive the surgery. I cried.

In Summer, we noticed she was getting weaker. Before, Lantu would be outside with the rest of the kids when they’d come over to our house to play. However, now, she was happy just laying down on the couch, looking up at the reflection of the sun on the ceiling or wall, and either talking to herself or singing or listening to the adults talking at the table.

She didn’t even want to learn to read, which had been a practice of hers on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Katie, one of our volunteers. Lantu used to love doing “school” with Katie. But, she was too tired to do it anymore. She did have enough strength to visit her family in her village for 5 days.

Then it happened…We left Ethiopia for a 4½ month furlough to the States. Although Lantu had been a bit more tired lately, we didn’t think anything would happen to her. But, we got a message from Shaun, another volunteer, that Lantu was admitted to the hospital and that we should call the nurse that works for us to get more information. She had told us that she took Lantu in because her legs were very swollen. While there, they found that one of her heart valves had an infection. They put her on antibiotics and said they were sure she would get better. She got a little better, and then she got worse. She kept getting worse. We were at a loss as to what we were supposed to do. Should we fly back? If we did, we would all have to go because I didn’t have anyone in America who was able to watch 5 of my kids. Should one of us go? If so, which one?

During this time, we were able to have two very precious conversations with Lantu while she was in the hospital. They were very normal conversations. Nothing too out of the ordinary. “Are you bored, Lantu?” “Yeah.” “Do you have a lot of visitors?” “Yeah. Megan and Maggie came today. I miss you guys!” “We miss you so much too, Lantu!” “I hope you guys come back soon!” “Well, we’ll be there for Genna (Ethiopian Christmas), Lantu.” “Ok.” The last conversation was mixed with tiny coughs from her end. Right after talking with her, we found out that her lungs were filling with fluid.

Shaun and Megan regularly updated us through email and our friends and family through Facebook and Ebenezer Grace’swebsite.The latest update had said that she was declining rapidly and that the doctors gave her a 50/50 chance of survival. Some good friends of ours had read the latest updates and had sent us an email stating that they were sorry to hear such news and that if oneof us felt like we should go to be with her, they would be willing to pay for the ticket. That was Saturday, September 27th. Argaw left from Chicago at 9:15 pm for Ethiopia the very next day. He arrived in Ethiopia early morning on Tuesday. He was able to see Lantu. Lantu saw him…and knew who he was. Argaw said he could tell she was trying to smile. “She was smiling on the inside,” he said.

Thursday early morning, Lantu went to be with Jesus. She went to where she would be made whole. Where her eyes would be made perfect. Where her heart would beat normally. Where she could run and play like a normal child. She is in perfect peace now, and we would have it no other way.

During this time of Lantu being hospitalized, I figured the end of her life on earth was coming. I’m a pessimist, to be quite honest. I was actually ok with this. Although I didn’t want her to die, and I did cry over the thought of it, I came to the conclusion that I would rather her die soon than for her to have to suffer. Especially when Argaw went to Ethiopia to be with her, I actually prayed that the end would come soon. I wanted Argaw to be with her when it happened. I wanted him to be able to comfort the mamas and the kids at EGCH. I wanted him to be able to arrange the best funeral anyone has ever seen in order to celebrate one of the most precious people in the world. I prayed for this last night before falling asleep… that God would allow her to go quickly, without pain or struggle, and while Argaw was still there. When I got the call at 10:48 pm my time on Wednesday night, I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would hit like a blast of cold icey air stinging the nose on a frigid winter’s morning. I cried. I’ve done so much crying for this little girl in the past 4½ years we’ve known her that I didn’t think I’d have anymore tears left for her. Boy, was I wrong! The floodgates opened and I wept. I wept because I knew I wouldn’t have been strong enough to see her in her hospital bed suffering like she did. I wept thinking about her most precious entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, where I’m sure she heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” from the King of kings.

I wept because the reality hit me that when I return to Ethiopia, I will never hear Lantu stomping down the hall with her crooked, but funny, gait. I will never hear her ask me again, “Mommy, is there men’s felLOWship tonight?” or “Mommy, can I have some more guacomoLE?” I will never hear her lead the Ebenezer kids in “Cast Your Burdens”.

I will never see my little Lantu again… this side of Heaven. Above all, I’m happy. I know it doesn’t sound like it in this last paragraph. I know. But, I truly am so happy… for her. I’m selfish, though. I want to see and hear Lantu when I go back. But, I won’t get to. And, I’m ok with that. I know that I will see Lantu again. I may not recognize her. But, we will once again and forever be with one another. I have never looked so forward to Heaven than I do right at this very moment. And, just in case you’re wondering, I’m still weeping.

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