How Grace Center Foundation is Making Moves in Ethiopia
Located in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, the Grace Center is a holistic approach to helping impoverished families and orphaned and underprivileged children in the community. Directed and founded by missionary husband and wife teams Marcie Erickson and Sefinew Birhan and Andrew and Deanna Knife, Grace Center has many programs ranging from child sponsorship to small business programs to prison outreach. “Among many unique life-saving programs, Grace Center started the first infant day care in all of Ethiopia and the first Temporary Care Program.”
I had the chance to interview Marcie Erickson, co-founder and co-director of Grace Center, to find out more about this wonderful ministry and the work they’re doing in Ethiopia. She shares about how this ministry came about, the growth that she’s seen from the Lord’s favor, and some advice for those of you following in her footsteps. Listen in.
Stephanie Eitzen: How did Grace Center get started? What was the inspiration?
Marcie Erickson: Grace Center began after I adopted my first three children. I now am married and have 8 children, but at that time I was single. People kept coming to me with more children and I didn’t have any place to tell them to go. I was laying in bed one day, taking a nap, when God gave me a vision of a center and how it could be run with proper love and care. I sat up in bed and said a very simple prayer, “Lord, if this is coming from you then you will give me the people to help me run this center.” I then called my Australian missionary friends, Deanne and Andrew Knife, who were living the Addis Ababa, the capital city at the time, and I told them I had this crazy idea to start a center. I didn’t even tell them my prayer…but I didn’t have to. They said they would move and help me start! They remained vital to the project for many years while living in Ethiopia and serving as co-directors.
SE: Tell me more about the goal of Grace Center? Why does it exist?
ME: Grace Center’s purpose is two fold: To care for the immediate needs of the people, and to also show them Christ Jesus. I feel we cannot show them who God really is without showing them how He provides for our needs. We also cannot provide for the needs without teaching them about God. Our efforts would be meaningless. We are a holistic project that seeks to help families become self-sufficient. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, so there is a great need for what we do. We see many people who are malnourished, sick, dying and homeless. We’re blessed to be able to be the hands and feet on the ground, and also see how God is using us to help these people.
SE: Tell me about the programs and services Grace Center provides.
ME: Grace Center is a holistic program. We started the first infant daycare in the entire country of Ethiopia. We also have a business starting program for the women, literacy classes, preschool, kindergarten, school sponsorship, after school tutoring, feeding program, medical services, and special needs program. We even serve children who are growing up in prison because in Ethiopia when the mother goes to prison her children go to prison with her. We have been able to sponsor all of the children in our region who are growing up in prison to school. We have also built a playground for the children in our local prison and visit them every Saturday to minister to them. We also have a temporary care program, known as The Children’s Home, where we care for about 30 children who are orphaned and abandoned. Many times we are able to find the families of these children and find out why they were abandoned. We have successfully be able to reunify over 70 families who were happy to be able to raise their children again. In one case, the family didn’t even know their child was alive. They were told that the child had died and we were able to find them and bring their child back.
SE: How do you incorporate the local people to participate in the work Grace Center is doing?
ME: We have been able to have local volunteers come from the University in our town. They volunteer in areas of social work, office work, childcare, building and maintenance. We also employed about 120 Ethiopian staff members. We host training programs to teach women how to properly take care of children so that they can work as childcare providers. We also speak to local churches about prayerfully considering adoption and foster care. We have been able to do several adoptions with Ethiopian families. Our staff even volunteered a day to help build our facility. And when I first began the building they were contributing money from their own salaries to see the buildings come together. This is an amazing testimony considering many of the women make a salary of $30-$60 a month.
SE: If you could give advice to someone wanting to start a non-profit, or in the early stages of orphan care, what would you say?
ME: This is a good question. I was very blessed that I was able to volunteer in many programs before God called me to start Grace Center. This allowed me to see positives and negatives from many places. It also showed me to come in not with my own ideas, but focus on what God wanted me to do and also focus on what was needed by the people. There are many things that I agree with and disagree with from other programs which has helped to form Grace Center. Gaining experience and knowledge has definitely helped set me up for success.