Many of us dream of following our destiny, of making a positive difference in the world.  But few are willing, especially if that willingness constitutes leaving our homes, friends, relatives, our very nation, and moving to a remote village in Ethiopia to save children caught in a secret culture of infanticide.  Levi Benkert said a quick “Yes” to his destiny--although he never saw it coming.  Levi, a Northern California land developer, was living a young business man’s dream when the real estate market collapsed.  Answering his cell for what he assumed was another banker with more bad news, he heard a casual acquaintance, Steve, on the other line, asking him to drop everything and fly to Ethiopia.  A group of photographers, Steve explained, traveling in Ethiopia, had just rescued a young girl named Bale—a child about to be murdered by elders from her remote village.

But there was more to the story.  The photographers had also uncovered a long standing superstition that labeled children “mingi” (unclean or cursed) if they displayed even the slightest physical imperfection.  Children could be deemed mingi for something as simple as their top teeth coming in before the bottom.  Once declared mingi, Steve explained, the children were murdered to protect the village from evil spirits.

Levi struggled to understand what he was hearing.  The youngest of the mingi babies are often left in the jungle to starve or have dirt stuffed in their mouths to cause suffocation, while older children are bound and thrown into the river to drown.  The latter was to be Bale’s fate.  Except, in this case, the photographers had intervened, pleading with the elders on Bale’s behalf.  They promised to remove her far from the village to “free their people from the curse.”  It was not necessary for her to die, they insisted, only be taken away.  Reluctantly, the elders agreed, allowing Bale to be delivered to her rescuers by small boat, traveling safely up the river—the same river where she was to be drowned.

But there were many more mingi children, Steve explained.  To be saved, they’d need to establish a place of refuge—an orphanage.  Levi’s help was needed.  They were desperate. Would he come?  Torn by what he heard, but convinced he had to remain in the U.S. to unwind the last of his failing business, he hesitated.  However, the moment Levi told his wife Jessie, she insisted he drop everything and go.  Go to Ethiopia.  The timing.  The call.  The need.  It had to be destiny.

So, Levi left for what he thought would be a 2 week trip.  But he was wrong.  Once he met Bale, face to face, there was no turning back.  Within 6 weeks, Levi, his wife and three young children, were on a plane relocating to Ethiopia.  Indefinitely.  And in just 8 weeks, the orphanage harbored 8 rescued children.

That was in early 2009.  And soon after?  The orphanage was bursting at the seams with 33 thriving children.  Thirty-three lives spared.  Thirty-three destinies about to be fulfilled.

It’s estimated that, each year, as many as a thousand Ethiopian children are victims of mingi infanticide.  Although Levi is no longer working with the same orphanage, he did adopt one of the mingi children--a newborn who was rescued immediately after her parents stuffed dirt in her mouth.  Her name is Edalawit, which translates from Amharic as "The Lucky One."

Levi's now in the process, with the cooperation of the Ethiopian government, of opening a large orphanage, called Bring Love In, located in Addis Ababa.  His memoir, No Greater Love:  One Man's Radical Journey through the Heart of Ethiopia will be released to stores nationwide in July

by Candy Chand



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