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Help women and children in Ethiopia: LifeFunder

(LifeSiteNews) — Ethiopia was the only country in the world that did not have a phone number to call when one has an emergency – until recently.

My guest today on this episode of The John-Henry Westen Show is Marcie Erickson, a Catholic mother of 12 who helped establish the Grace Center Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping prevent child abandonment in Ethiopia.  

Erickson explains that when she finished high school in Florida, she asked God whether she should go to college or become a religious sister. The response she received was instead to become a missionary, even though she never met a Catholic lay missionary. After applying to different missionary organizations, she was rejected by most. One organization did accept her. When Erickson asked for Africa, they sent her to Ethiopia. While in Ethiopia, she taught English at a Catholic school.

“I had about 300 students,” she recalls. “I had absolutely no teaching experience, but it was an adventure every day. I had students from ages three up to middle-aged adults.” She also mentions that she had to teach the other teachers English also, since after eighth grade all subjects had to be taught in English. Meanwhile, Erickson taught in the midst of a five-year famine, seeing starving babies every day; many died while others were abandoned. Upon seeing the difficulties of the people there, Erickson thought God would not call her back to the country, even if He was calling her to be a missionary for life.

After spending a year in Ethiopia, Erickson went to college for a time, then did missionary work in other African countries. Five years into doing missionary work, she sought to return to Ethiopia to see how her former students were doing. When she returned, she found some of her former students had since died. However, seeing that God wanted her in Ethiopia, she contacted an organization that knew her in Addis Ababa, and the organization recommended she speak with the local bishop.

The bishop responded to Erickson’s email almost immediately, she tells me. She wrote to him about how she wanted to foster as many Ethiopian babies as she could. The bishop put her into contact with a priest she knew in the city of Bahir Dar. While going there, she asked God to send her someone who could treat malaria as a sign that He wanted her there, preferably an American or Canadian.

When she was wandering through a rural area in Bahir Dar, Erickson met a Floridian couple, the husband specializing in growing a plant used to treat malaria. In answer to another prayer, she met an Ethiopian native who spent two decades in the United States doing social work. He would eventually introduce Erickson to her husband.

“I just tell people like there’s no greater life than just saying yes to God as much as we can day by day,” she says, looking back on how God spoke to her.

The first three children Erickson took in were born six weeks apart from each other. After a trip to Addis Ababa, more people asked her to take in their children. Upon having to turn people away, Erickson feels God gave her a vision of a place whereby there would be one caregiver for every two infants. She even saw the finer details, such as what the floorplan would be and where the trees were.

She jumped out of bed at the vision and asked God to send her the people to run the organization if the vision was from Him. Thereafter she called a group of friends of hers in Addis Ababa and told her about a “crazy idea” she had, to which they responded that they were moving to help her start it – five minutes after receiving the vision. While they started with five foster children, Erickson tells me they serve over 50,000 people annually.

From the beginning, Grace Center looks at people as individuals because God sees people as individuals. Grace Center, she continues, would help with any need after she had seen organizations turn people away because they did not help in specific areas. While many are taught that they cannot help everyone, Erickson likes to say that the Center can, as God is “bigger than this one thing that we see.”

“That’s how it started, with just saying yes, and continually praying for people and working with people,” she says.

The Center also realized that many of the mothers abandoning their children had similar problems, usually that they could not feed themselves and their children and could not return to work with them. Thus, Grace Center established a daycare, the first infant daycare in Ethiopia. Speaking about the mothers of children at the daycare, Erickson says “they’ve been able to have a new life.”

“We will help them find jobs,” she continues. “We’ll help them with housing, we’ll help them, and we do it in a way that doesn’t create dependency, but helps to lift them up and help them see, ‘I can do this, and this God that you told me about is real.’”

Later in the episode, Erickson recounts how she established Ethiopia’s first emergency call line, likened to 9-1-1.

She remembers once passing a sign in Florida that said “Don’t abandon your baby,” with a phone number at the bottom, and wondering why Grace Center didn’t do something like that in Ethiopia. God, she says, reminded her that until recently, no one in the country had phones. She also recalls feeling that God told her that instead of signs, she should send texts.

Telling her plan to the local authorities, they were elated at the idea, functionally funded the project themselves, and didn’t charge for the texts. After about two years of planning, Grace Center sent texts to 5,000,000 phones, inviting recipients to call or text the number if they needed help with a small baby. If they didn’t have the money to respond, they were to ask for a call or text back.

Grace Center received 500 phone calls within days, and Erickson estimates that the organization has saved thousands of lives since starting the initiative. Her prayer was that the next text would be about abortion, though she is not sure if the government would have agreed to pay for that text the way it did the last. Abortion is unfortunately common in the country, thanks to Western influence.

“It was interesting that we sent this message saying don’t abandon your baby, but what happened was we ended up getting all these phone calls from pregnant women as well,” she recounts. “God had already done the next part of the message, in this pregnant woman is saying, ‘Well, my baby’s not born yet, but I need help.’”

Many of the women, she continues, called thinking Grace Center would help with abortions, since foreigners normally provide abortions. All who have called the Center, however, have decided to choose life.

When I ask Erickson how she balances her work with her family, she says, “I continually say, ‘God’s mercies are new every day.’” Erickson also asks for prayer because the area where Grace Center is is currently suffering from war. She and her family had to recolate to the United States over a year ago.

“The amazing thing is that our staff are quite brave and they know that they’re doing God’s work,” she adds. “And so we’ve been able to continue running Grace Center despite the war.”

Towards the end of the show, Erickson explores some of the other things Grace Center does, touching upon its school, children’s home, a feeding program, and its help for women in prisons. She notes that women imprisoned in Ethiopia are imprisoned with their children, in part because there is a fear that the children will be vengefully killed for the mother’s alleged crime. She also says Grace Center helped to build a well that provides enough water to serve the entire city of Bahir Dar and gives Grace Center the ability to reach more people.

Meanwhile, Grace Center was invited to establish a facility in a city called Debre Markos, four hours away from Bahir Dar, and the organization has begun construction. Grace Center is also looking to expand to other parts of the world, believing that God wants His people to be well and to live out His call for them. Erickson adds that our job is to help them get to the point where they can live that call out.

LifeSite is currently running a LifeFunder for Grace Center, which can be found here.

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Help women and children in Ethiopia: LifeFunder

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John-Henry is the co-founder, CEO and editor-in-chief of He and his wife Dianne have eight children and they live in the Ottawa Valley in Ontario, Canada.

He has spoken at conferences and retreats, and appeared on radio and television throughout the world. John-Henry founded the Rome Life Forum, an annual strategy meeting for life, faith and family leaders worldwide. He is a board member of the John Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family. He is a consultant to Canada’s largest pro-life organization Campaign Life Coalition, and serves on the executive of the Ontario branch of the organization. He has run three times for political office in the province of Ontario representing the Family Coalition Party.

John-Henry earned an MA from the University of Toronto in School and Child Clinical Psychology and an Honours BA from York University in Psychology.