From Garbage Dumps to Graduation: An Amazing Story of God’s Handiwork

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“Ten years ago, I was digging through garbage dumps for food. Today, I’m on my way to
college.”

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“Knowing that God has given me this talent has helped me to glorify Him instead of myself.”
“Ten years ago, I was digging through garbage dumps for food. Today, I’m on my way to college. I stand before you now as a living testimony of God’s amazing handiwork,” shared Ephraim Bird in his Hope Academy graduation address.

Running a 9:26 two-mile and having placed second in state, it would be simple for Ephraim to find his identity in his amazing running ability. Instead, he chooses to find his identity in what God has done in his life. As he puts it, “knowing that God has given me this talent has helped me to glorify Him instead of myself.”

On a deeper level, a remarkable aspect of Ephraim’s story is that his journey of developing a Christ-centered identity didn’t begin on a cross country track in Minnesota — it began in a garbage dump in Ethiopia.

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“Whatever we needed to do, we did to survive”

“Whatever we needed to do, we did to survive,” he explains. As a seven year old orphan and caretaker of his younger brother, it was not uncommon for young Ephraim to go door-to-door seeking scraps, eating out of garbage dumps, and begging for money in order to provide food and necessities. “Sometimes we would steal,” he shares. “Stealing was a big part [of our survival].”

Following the death of the boys’ father and mother within an eight month period, Ephraim and his brother were in a time of turmoil, shuffling between relatives, foster parents, and orphanages in an already poverty-stricken area. During this time, Ephraim describes himself as a “cheater and a liar.” He would often work together with his brother and friends in order to steal or cheat others, even creating their own language so that no one else would understand.

In an area with limited education, Ephraim struggled to learn and was disruptive in class. Although the boys’ orphanage taught the Bible, he says that it had no impact on his life. “The Word was there, but it wasn’t implanted in me yet.”

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“Everything was new for me. I didn’t know any English. The culture, the people, everything was totally different.”

While in fifth grade, Ephraim learned that his younger brother would be adopted by a family in Minnesota. Though at first Ephraim was very sad to be separated from his brother, he was soon informed of an unlikely surprise — the family that adopted his younger brother would like to adopt him as well.

After a three-year transition period, Ephraim finally landed in the United States on December 7, 2008, when he officially became part of the Jeff & Widdy Bird family. Completely fresh to American culture, Ephraim struggled to keep up, initially placed in fifth grade at Hope Academy (while his age was equivalent to eighth). “Everything was new for me. I didn’t know any English. The culture, the people, everything was totally different.”

Regardless of the disadvantages that he faced, Ephraim was determined to succeed. With the help of his supportive parents, friends, and family, Ephraim worked hard to improve his skills. That summer, he jumped two grade levels and was promoted to the eighth grade class the next fall.

During the next year at Hope, Ephraim was greatly impacted by the Christ-centered education he received from godly teachers. “God opened my eyes to see spiritual things at Hope,” he describes. “My teachers’ care for me reflected the goodness of God.”

That same year, Ephraim also gave his life to Christ and chose to be baptized. “I had never really accepted Jesus nor had I professed faith in Him before. It was a new walk. I know that my life has a purpose, has a meaning, and it is meant to glorify God in all that I do.”

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“Hope Academy has equipped me to be a man of God. Lord-willing, I’ll return to Ethiopia to bring hope and opportunity to the orphans of my homeland.”

Ephraim says that teachers at Hope have taught him that men and women of God, like Jesus, are called not to be served, but to serve. He desires to use the talents, skills, and experiences God has blessed him with to make a difference in the lives of children like him. “A big part of my past is how people have poured into my life, and I want to do the same,” he shares. Ephraim would like to return to Ethiopia to bring hope to the orphans in his home country, as well as support local adopting families. His mission, as he proudly exclaims, is even a part of his name. “My name, Ephraim, actually means to be fruitful and multiply… and I take that seriously. Hope Academy has equipped me to be a man of God.”

“Lord-willing, I’ll return to Ethiopia to bring hope and opportunity to the orphans of my homeland. And maybe someday, there will be another little orphan standing here at this podium [on graduation day].”

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Ephraim and his father, Jeff

Photo of Hope Academy Act Six Scholars

Rejoice with us! Incredible news for 5 Act Six recipients

The entire Hope Academy community is celebrating this month because five Hope Academy students were just awarded $800,000 in college scholarships over four years from Bethel University and the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, as part of the Act Six scholars program.

Photo of Hope Academy Act Six Scholars

Yosief Temnewo, Ruth Norman, Matthew Anfinson, Shania Castillo, and Joshua Gillespie

Selected through a rigorous, three-month competition among more than 200 applicants, Yosief Temnewo (2014 Hope graduate), Ruth Norman (future 2015 Hope graduate), Matthew Anfinson (2015), Shania Castillo (2015), and Joshua Gillespie (Hope Academy 8th grade graduate; son of staff member Darrell Gillespie) were among 27 urban students chosen for their distinctive leadership, academic potential, and commitment to making a difference in their communities.

On the day of harvest, everyone rejoices-not just those who wielded the sickle. Everyone who contributed to making a crop is happy when the harvest is brought in.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this communal joy in developing people. He said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Cor. 3:6-7

Last week, Act Six scholars began an intensive seven month training program that involves retreats, campus visits, and weekly meetings to equip them to succeed academically and grow as service-minded leaders and agents of transformation.

As contributors to Hope Academy, you have a part in our joy in their success. Rejoice with us, and join us in praising God who deserves the glory.

As the Scripture says, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything (in comparison), but only God who gives the growth.”

With great gratitude,

Russ Gregg
Head of School

P.S. – Please join our Hope Scholars Breakfast on Thursday, May 28 from 7:30-8:30 a.m. to learn how you can play a critical role in bridging the gap to college for many more Hope students. RSVP to jamieolson@hopeschool.org.

Hope Principal's Frozen Experiments Go Viral!

We are rejoicing over the teachers and staff that the Lord has brought to serve the students and families of Hope Academy.

They are talented and passionate educators who believe that each child who walks though our doors has unique, God-given abilities and intrinsic value.  And they are committed to providing a classical, Christ-centered education of the utmost excellence to the children of the inner city.

Many of these teachers and staff also have a flair for innovation and creativity. That was revealed again this past week when Hope’s upper school principal, Nathan Ziegler, was featured on The Weather ChannelGood Morning America, and KARE 11 for his “below-zero” weather experiments. His “Minnesota Cold” YouTube videos have garnered national attention and millions of views.

Click to see Mr. Ziegler’s Sub-Zero Experiment that has Gone Viral!

And while Mr. Ziegler’s notoriety is fueled by frostbite, our hearts are melting over God’s faithful provision and the joy-filled, year-end generosity of so many.

As we round the New Year, we have received more than 90% of our annual fundraising goal for this year. We are so grateful to the Lord for his provision!

Thank you to each one of you who has given sacrificially to this labor of God’s love!

With deep gratitude,

Russ Gregg
Head of School

(5.6.14) Dr. Ben Carson Speaks at Hope Academy

Dr. Ben Carson’s life story has been an inspiration to our work at Hope Academy since the very beginning. Dr. Carson grew up in a rough neighborhood of Detroit, and his parents divorced at an early age. His mother couldn’t read. With a deep faith in the Lord, though, Dr. Carson persevered in school and beyond, eventually becoming the director of pediatric neurosurgery of Johns Hopkins Hospital at the age of 33. He is credited with being the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head.
Dr. Carson, now retired from medicine, spoke to a packed house at Hope Academy at an all-school assembly from 3:40-4:15pm, Tuesday, May 6. In addition to our entire student body, approximately 150 parents and guests were in attendance.

Hope Academy Class of 2014 (with Photos!)

A special thanks to the hundreds of you who joined us to celebrate the class of 2014 on May 31, 2014. Click here to see photos from the commencement.

Congratulations to Digna Bermejo (Minneapolis Community & Technical College), Carmen Bermejo(Minneapolis Community & Technical College), Lani Crowell (University of Minnesota – Twin Cities), Kalen Davis (North Hennepin Community College), Jamie Delgado-Dominguez (St. Paul Community College), Micah Fisher (North Central University),Christian McFadden (Southeastern University (FL)), Teia Mosley (Minneapolis Community & Technical College), Kara Nickolay (North Hennepin Community College), Abraham Norman (Hillsdale College (MI)), Alexis Owens (Calvin College (MI)), Darrius Ross (Southeastern University (FL)), Allyson Salinas-Ward (University of Northwestern – St. Paul), Yosief Temnewo (Normandale Community College).