Temesgen Hands' entire life has become a story of thankfulness after a difficult time passed. His journey to America after losing his parents, being stolen from his grandparents, a year of being passed back and forth between uncles and more than a decade in an orphanage has left him very thankful.

His name means “thanks.”

Temesgen Lakew Chemeso received the name after his mother had a lot of pain in childbirth. 

“Where I was born, women didn’t go to a hospital,” he said. “Women helped each other.”

There is an Amharic phrase in Ethiopia “temesgen gitaye” that is a way of saying “Thank God” after a difficult situation has passed.

His entire life has become a story of thankfulness after a difficult time passed. His journey to America after losing his parents, being stolen from his grandparents, a year of being passed back and forth between uncles and more than a decade in an orphanage has left him very thankful indeed.

“In the orphanage, I had been praying for a family for a long time,” Temesgen said. “I would ask God, “Why not me?’”

He learned people usually wanted to adopt younger children and he had almost given up all hope.

That’s when Dr. Krista Hands, a mathematics professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, came to his orphanage for a third time on a mission trip. On this trip, Dr. Hands and her husband Jeff and their two children Abi and Eli were also working on official paperwork to bring home a teenage girl from his orphanage. 

The paperwork issues were working out one by one, but the catch was that Dr. Hands would have to remain in Ethiopia for 30 days while Jeff took care of the kids at home. 

During the 30-day stay, Dr. Hands began reading through the Book of Esther in the Bible with a group of four older children in the orphanage.

Temesgen was one of those four children. She fell in love with him and felt like God was telling her that he was also supposed to be part of their family.

“After all the angst and frustration with Lelise’s process and the shear terror at how this would cause upheaval in our home, I was expecting Jeff to be the voice of reason he always is and tell me how nuts I was,” Dr. Hands said. “Instead he simply said ‘okay.’”

“I wasn’t on board before,” Jeff said. “I worried about what it would do to our family. It took a lot of prayer for me to get comfortable with the first adoption. But it was different when she called me about Temesgen. It was obviously part of what we were called to do.”

The following day, Dr. Hands asked Temsegen if he would like to come to America and be a part of her family.

“I was so happy, so excited. I didn’t sleep all night,” he said. “I want to show people what God did in my life. He gave me the family I prayed for for so long.”

Temesgen has no memory of his birth parents. They died when he was very young and no one has been able to tell him for certain how they died. He remembers living as a very young boy with his grandparents before an uncle stole him away from them.

His uncle didn’t have good intentions. Temesgen began working long days when most children his age are beginning kindergarten. He bought and sold plastic bags on the street and had to give the money to his uncle who was an alcoholic. He had several other uncles and one of them would usually take him in for a period of time, but he never had a home – just a place to stay.

After a year of these conditions, one of his uncles was able to get him placed as the first boy at an orphanage just outside of Addis Ababa.

He was very thankful to have a home in the orphanage.

“I had a lot of chances other children like me didn’t have,” Temesgen said. “Food, clothes, school. We went 30 kilometers every day to Addis Ababa for school because schools close to us were too expensive.”

Temesgen is now a senior soccer player at McLoud High School. His love of soccer began at that orphanage. 

“Runners and soccer players are very famous in Ethiopia,” he said. “We went to school and came back and played soccer.” He said he never got to see a big game in the stadium in Addis Ababa because that would have been too expensive.

“For important games, people camp at the stadium for one or two days to get tickets and go to the games,” he said. 

He said the orphanage soccer was not organized like it is here in America, but they did form teams among the children with boys and girls on the teams. There may not have been a World Cup, but there was a prize for the winners.

“We saved bottle caps and made them flat and put them together to make a trophy,” he said with a smile, using his hands to show how they made the trophy. “We saved them for a long time. Everyone wanted to win.”

Soccer is still fun for Temesgen.

“I wasn’t as good compared to everyone in Ethiopia, but here I am a starter on our team,” he said. “Our team is getting better.” In fact, the Redskins have won three games to begin the season. 

“We should be pretty good this year,” said coach Rusty Hall. “I expect a good season and hopefully a first time trip to the playoffs for the boys.”

Temesgen scored one of the three goals in their 3-2 win over Cushing this week.

“Tem has fit in great with our team,” Hall said. “The other players have accepted him and treat him as if he has gone to school here his entire life. Tem is a very good player, and fun to have around. He's actually looked at as a leader on our team by the other guys.”

Temesgen has been thankful at many times in his life, but he has never been more thankful than the night Dr. Hands first approached him about coming to live with them.

He had never traveled, except to school. At the orphanage, the children had to stay within the safety of the walls. However, at 16 years old, Temesgen was approaching the age where he would have to leave the orphanage and try to make it on his own. He wasn’t sure if he would pass the Grade Ten test to continue schooling or if he would have to choose a career. When Dr. Hands mentioned coming to America, it was perfect timing.

“I expected life to be perfect here. Movies show America like that,” he said. “But I was still worried. What will America be like? What if they changed their minds? What if something goes wrong.”

Temesgen said life hasn’t been perfect since coming to America, but he is still thankful every day

“I am really, really thankful to God for my parents and family,” he said. “When things aren’t perfect I look back on how God helped me out of a situation much harder than anything I have here and know he will help me again.”

Temesgen is thankful for his school, too.

“I can say a lot of things that are good about McLoud,” he said. “The teachers are very nice and help you very much.” He said in Ethiopia teachers are allowed to “beat kids up” with a wire or a small tube for misbehaving or not doing work. Here, his teachers are more friendly and care about students.

Currently, his love of chemistry is driving his goals to go to OBU and get a degree to teach chemistry and coach soccer. 

Temesgen is also thankful for the opportunity he has had to give back to children in the orphanage from which the Hands adopted him.  Last summer he got to work with Mission 10:10 and play soccer with children and translate Bible stories so they could understand them. 

“My faith grew in the orphanage,” he said. “I like to help there and help the kids who live on the street with clothes and things they need too.”

A couple of the more recent things that Temesgen has to be thankful for include his adoption becoming final and also receiving his American passport as a full citizen of the United States.

“I changed my last name to Hands for my new family,” he said. “And I have a new American passport.”

Temesgen Hands began his life by losing his parents and survived difficult times before living in an orphanage for more than 10 years. His new life with Jeff and Dr. Krista Hands and his siblings Lelise, Abi and Eli is more than enough to make him thankful every day.