As we are writing this there is a huge thunderstorm pelting the tin roof of our home and creating its own delightful symphony while the earth is being replenished. Rain video (turn up the sound) We actually love the rain and storms except for the residual mud and occasional traffic gridlock which seems to be the usual accompaniment to these otherwise glorious symphonies. The rainy season “technically” begins in June and lasts through September and, if it is like last year, it will rain EVERY single day and thundershower at least three times a week. We were told it sometimes begins sporadically in May but it appears as though it has moved its debut up a month as we have had several heavy rains in April this year. Hopefully, it will not only bring May flowers but will also serve to rejuvenate our efforts here in the mission.
April has been a busy month which began with a trip to Hawassa the first weekend when the rest of our LDS friends back home were watching the semi-annual General Conference of our church. We do not have live streaming in Ethiopia so we wait until the second weekend for General Conference and download it on a flash drive or DVD to show in the branches. It was an uplifting Conference, as usual, and it is one more patience test for us to wait to see it later. We also had a wonderful visit from a great NGO called HopeArising who has come to Ethiopia for over 15 years now. They bring dentists and doctors to a southern town, Dera, and spend a week treating the people who come from tens of miles around for the expert and free health care. Their director, Chantal Carr, generously provided T-shirts, wristbands and CTR rings for our upcoming Youth Conference slated for April 22nd. It’s people like Chantal and HopeArising who really do bring a large measure of hope and medical relief in the lives of so many here who are struggling to survive in the pervasive poverty. We are so thankful for all of them who give of their time and expertise to bless others half a world away.
We were really happy that our new friends and investigators, Miki and Asmi, were able to come to view the Sunday Morning General Conference session. They are newlyweds of about a year and a half. Miki’s father was French and passed away about ten years ago. His mother is Ethiopian so he moved back from France after finishing his schooling there and also serving in the military. He came home to look after his mother as he is an only child and while here met and married Asmi. We met Asmi at the corner grocery store by our house and they are neighbors within about a mile of where we live. We have really enjoyed getting to know them and sharing the gospel with them. They LOVED Conference and asked for all the DVD’s of conference which we gladly gave them.
On April 10th, another young man in our District received his long-awaited mission call. Dawit, from Debre Zeit, was called to serve in the Johannesburg South Africa Mission. Dawit video It has been a very long time since any Ethiopian has been called to South Africa as relations between the two countries are not the best. He leaves July 6th and we hope there will not be any problems with his visa, unlike our sweet Iserael (her own unique spelling) who has been turned down twice by the British Embassy in attempting to get a visa for England. She received her call last October and was scheduled to leave March 15th. Since she was not able to get the visa she was scheduled to leave April 12th to Uganda where she could begin her missionary training as a “visa waiter” who will be called to another mission. However, she was NOT able to get on the plane in Addis Ababa since she was trying to get a “visa on arrival” in Uganda. This is actually done rather routinely but because her passport clearly showed that she had not traveled anywhere else they would not let her get the “visa on arrival.” In fairness, some of this involves the very strict rules they have when a young woman is traveling alone and has no other visa stamp indicating that she has left the country and returned to Ethiopia. Much of this is unfortunately due to human trafficking and the suspicions that are aroused. But, now she has a “stamped visa” from the Ugandan embassy and will be leaving May 2nd. Such a LONG wait to go on her mission but she is stoic and patient like so many Ethiopians who have to wait a long time for lots of things!
We also celebrated Easter on April 16th but Easter in Ethiopia, like Christmas, is celebrated much differently here especially if you are a member of the Ethiopian Christian Orthodox Church. It begins a full 55 days before Easter Sunday with a fast that the devout Orthodox adhere to by abstaining from any meat or dairy products during that entire time. They also fast and abstain from ALL food from 3am to 3pm each day. After 3pm, the devout eat only those foods without the meat or dairy. Our dear Orthodox friends, single mom Nigist and her darling daughters, Ruth (15) and Yeabsra (10) helped us to understand the Easter celebration. It is filled with symbolism and begins the week before Easter on Palm Sunday. After church services that day, it is common to see people wearing a palm frond head band Palm fronds video (click on) symbolizing the beginning of the last week of the Savior’s life and commemorating his triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding a donkey along pathways strewn with palm fronds. The week is also filled with other symbolism. For example, no devout Orthodox gives a kiss that week since Jesus was betrayed with a kiss. By the end of the week on Good Friday, the day that Jesus was actually hung on the cross, the devout will go to their church either early in the morning or early in the afternoon and stay for five and a half hours. Nigist, Ruth and Yeabsra went from 1pm to 6:30pm. During that time the priest recounts from the Bible the last day of the Savior’s life and they all bow and are symbolically recipients of the stripes he endured. This, of course, only involves some soft grass like reeds and causes no harm but the priest will assign how many stripes each person will get. Apparently, this “assignment” was instigated so that people would not request to receive hundreds of “stripes” while there for the 5½ hours. This is recounted in the New Testament which is read in Ge’ez which, like Latin in the KJV version Bible, was the original language of the Ethiopian Bible. In Matthew 27:30 it reads, “And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.”
On Sunday morning, His resurrection is celebrated as the fast is completed and meat and dairy can now become part of the celebration. Because they have been fasting for so long they cleanse their system first with a Telba seed mixture which sounds similar to a flax seed so that their systems can handle the meat. Just as at Christmas, a sheep, goat or cow is slaughtered and usually a whole neighborhood or extended family will go in on the purchase of the sheep or cow as it is too costly otherwise. The poor have chicken since chicken is quite expensive here and saved for special occasions. So, there were plenty of cattle, sheep and goats being herded by the shepherds right down the main highway medians during the week before Easter. We heard a chicken clucking all morning in the yard of a neighbor and then suddenly he was silent!
The day before Easter, Ruth, Yeabsra and another young man from our Megenagna Branch, Elroe (pronounced Elroy) came over to finish cutting the grass on our lawn. They were delighted with the extra money this gave them but none of us realized that this “grass cutting” would end up being accomplished with regular desk scissors and a small sickle borrowed from a neighbor. Our “garden sheers” would not cut the stubborn grass and our hand push mower was powerless, in more ways than one, to plough through the thick grass. They were great little workers and were delighted to experience their very first American Easter egg hunt afterwards. We had to dye the brown eggs for about 30 minutes just to get the color to set in and then they had a great time trying to locate all the hidden nooks and crannies Lloyd and I found around the yard.
The other main event in April was our Youth Conference. The theme was the worldwide Mutual Theme, “Ask God” (James 1:5) which was the scripture that impelled Joseph Smith to go into a grove of trees by his home in upstate New York and “ask God” which church was right to join. From that young boy’s prayer came the beginnings of the restored gospel and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a message we are sharing with the wonderful people of Ethiopia. It was a great conference that included youth from 14-30 and remarkably this all works out just fine. They are all glad to come and the age difference doesn’t seem to matter. We had workshops on self-reliance, preparing for missions and family history. Then we had lunch, games, and a testimony meeting. It was a new experience for many of them to do a three-legged gunny sack race. They had done the “hop with both legs in a gunny sack” relay but never the three-legged. Of course, one of the main attractions was the T-shirt that Chantal so generously provided and she even had the printer in the U.S. translate the theme into Amharic along with the English! The attached photos probably speak for all of us that day. It was a really great day!
Another great day was the send-off for two sisters who have been accepted at BYU-Idaho. They have been raised by a single mom, Atsede, who has just moved into her government housing after a seven year wait. We wrote of her on our blog a few months ago. Her daughters, Fiker and Kalkidan, are both returned missionaries who went to England and Ghana respectively and speak perfect English. Atsede gifted Lloyd with a handsome traditional vest and gave me a lovely scarf as well. She feeds the missionaries weekly and is such a generous hard working woman. We had a fun farewell celebration at Yod Abysinnia, a traditional restaurant complete with a terrific floor show exhibition of traditional dances. One of the dances was especially entertaining in that it was sort of a hybrid of American Bandstand type moves accented with an Ethiopian flair. Fun to watch!
Fiker, Kalkidan, and grandma
The month ended with a May Day walk up a volcano called Mt. Zuqualla, which is located 30 km south of Debre Zeit and is only 9,800 feet high. Lloyd went with all of the missionaries and President and Sister Collings. They started the hike at 7,800 feet so it was only a 2,000 elevation gain to the summit. I knew that I wouldn’t make it up without paying a huge price from all of my old accident injuries so I stayed home and prepared lunch for Zone Conference. There is a monastery and a village at the top and a lake inside the crater so they had a pretty awesome experience!
We hope that all of you had a wonderful Easter. We are deeply grateful for our Savior’s sacrifice that makes it possible for us to return home to Heavenly Father. He is risen so that we can also rise again.
Lloyd and Nancy