Levi Benkert was a successful Sacramento businessman until 2009 when the economic downturn forced him to close his business. While his life in California was falling apart he was presented an opportunity to go to Ethiopia to rescue orphans. A tribe in the south of Ethiopia regards some children born under certain conditions as ‘mingi‘ or ‘cursed.’ These were children who are conceived without the parents announcing their intentions to the tribal elders or children who’s top teeth come in before their bottom teeth or any number of differences from what is considered ‘normal ‘ in that culture. The tribe lives in fear that if the mingi child remained in their midst they would bring on them ill will from evil spirits. So the traditional practice was to abandon them to die from exposure or starvation. However through the mediation of a local man named Simi and some German photographers (who were there short-term), the tribe agreed to allow Simi to remove the children from the tribal land instead of killing the kids.
Levi embarks on a two week mission where he sees these kids who were rescued, feels acutely the weight of the problem and is moved to do whatever he can to help. Shortly thereafter he returned to Jinka, Ethiopia with his wife and three kids to run an orphanage for the rescued children. They had sold all their belongings and lived off support that a church gave to them. As Levi tells his story, he in honest about where he and his family wrestled with culture shock, personal motives (was here to escape his business failures or to help?), mistakes he made, and the challenge of being both culturally sensitive and courageous in his stance against injustice. This is a Christian story, and so the themes of surrender and trust in God permeate Levi’s life in Ethiopia.
Without giving you all the details of Levi’s story ( read the book for yourself), the situation with the tribes in Southern Ethiopia has changed somewhat with the Ethiopian government taking a more active interest in managing orphans. Levi and his family now run another orphanage in Addis Ababa which places orphan children in homes with widow care takers (a creative way of fulfilling James 1:27).
Despite my enthusiasm about missions, I sometimes am wary of problems in various missionary organizations (i.e. ethnocentricity, paternalism, etc.). I also am suspicious of much of the international adoption agencies because of an array of injustices perpetuated by some organizations. On either score, I found little in Levi Benkert’s memoir to make me wary of his project. He and his wife decided to adopt one of the ‘mingi‘ children, and were involved with setting up adoptions for others but tried to do so in ways that respected Ethiopian culture but didn’t profiteer from the children or the system. They conducted their mission in Jinka and Addis Ababa with a high level of integrity. I was pretty impressed. That being said, I know nothing of their mission except what I have read in this book and have not researched the situation myself. A ‘Note to Reader’ at the end of the book gives the link to their ministry website bringlove.in for those who want to learn more. On a personal note, I find books like this where people take huge risks to do something good inspiring. You probably will too.
I received this blog from Tyndale Publishing House in exchange for this fair and balanced review.