Dear Family and Friends,
The last three weeks have been filled with plenty of “news”…..new friends, new experiences, and new understanding about this ancient country, its culture and roots in Christianity and Islam. Maybe the best way to describe these “new” moments would be to list them and illustrate with pictures which are always worth “a thousand words.”
Debebe, Sarah, Yeneleum, Mickey and Kana (as in Cana from the Bible): This was a sweet family we visited with the Elders who insisted we eat their homemade injera….a cold, spongey, vinegar-laden, gray, pliable “bread” made from teff and used to scoop up food items like lentil beans, chicken, beef, kale or just about anything (all very spicy). NO utensils needed and many like to even feed one another. This was our first “homemade” meal and we have been warned about getting sick if eating in homes. We took the smallest bites possible, smiled and woke up the next morning feeling just fine. Whew!
Zergi, Sintayo, Solomon and Mekelu: A widow with six children, one on a mission whom she cannot email since she has no computer so a friend relays messages. They have about three rooms (probably each about 9×14) all connected by curtains with a tin door (from tin roof left overs). She also has a homeless man staying there as her son was involved in a traffic accident and the man was injured (broken bones mostly). The officer ordered her to feed and take care of him until he is well. It has been three months and she hardly has food for her family but felt that it is “God’s will” that she take care of him until he can walk again. Her youngest son is Mekelu who speaks some English and her daughter, Sintayo is a single mom whose son, Solomon, is 5 years old and snuggled up next to me like one of my grandchildren.
Ester, Homey, Selen, Selenya and Nimona: Another widow in even smaller quarters than Zergi. Very well-behaved teenagers as Homey is 15, Selen and Selenya are 13 year old twins and Nimona is 8 years old. They love the Book of Mormon and have been taking the missionary lessons from the Elders for some time and are planning to be baptized in a couple of weeks.
Tsehay: (pronounced Sa – hi): She was baptized two weeks ago in a metal container in front of their “chapel”, which is a rented home with three floors. She is in her late forties, cares for her mother and never married. She is SUCH a sweetheart and is now bringing her best friend to church with her each week.
Ruth: Ruth is a 14-year-old young woman who wants nothing more than to be baptized and has read almost all of the Standard Works. She was introduced to the church when she was 11 years old as the senior couple serving here lived right near her house. She has stayed friends with all of the senior couples who have served since then. That was about the time her parents were getting divorced. Her father moved up north and her mother is here and a very devout Ethiopian Orthodox so she feels Ruth needs to wait until she is 18 years old to be baptized. We asked if she and her mother could take us to the Orthodox Church so we will be going during June. They attend about 7am on Sundays but Ruth has to leave by 8am to go home and haul water for her family as they don’t have any running water. She is SO smart and speaks perfect English. Her father arranged for her to be in an English immersion school and from K-6th grade they only speak Amharic on Wednesdays so her English is excellent. Even though she has gotten very good grades she will not be able to continue in a good private school since there is no money since the divorce. She will reverse and speak English in class only one day a week. She just showed up at our gate on Saturday a week ago and introduced herself. We had breakfast, she helped Lloyd weed the yard and I told her about Young Women’s. We are giving her a Personal Progress Book and Journal and Home Study Seminary book next time she comes and she is SO excited. Her mother is fine with her reading anything in English as that will mean a much better chance for her to get into college on a scholarship and, of course, a MUCH better paying job. She wants to be an electrical engineer but thinks the government may ask her to study medicine if her exam scores are high enough. She has already scored very high (at least 98% in all subjects) so she may not get her wish to be an engineer. The government assesses needs and assigns good students THEIR career choice for them.
Webit: She is 23 years old and we met her in All-Mart, no relation to Wal-Mart, but a similar store but not similar in size! She works at the cosmetics counter and was helping me when she asked about my missionary badge (which is probably our best missionary tool). She is going to graduate in Computer Science from the university in two months, is the oldest of eight children from a very poor family in the south, and has been putting herself through school for the last four years here in Addis where she lives in a small (another 9×14) room with a bed on the floor, one short stool and a corner kitchen on a covered crate box with a small camping type stove. We have never seen such a humble, immaculate room and she really, really wanted us to come and be in her home. There is just the sweetest spirit about Webit (which means “beauty”…and she is). She lives in a small communal courtyard where there are five or six of these rooms in a row. They shower at public showers and have one lone light bulb in the center of their room. She has met with the Elders twice and we had a follow-up lesson with her as well. It was probably one of the sweetest, most peaceful moments we have had so far just sitting on her bed with our backs to the wall and legs straight out to the floor. At one point, she left her stool and sat on her bed with us (the only other sitting option) and we all felt enveloped with the spirit.
5-23-16 218 (click on this blue date and you might see a video!)
African NBA or NSA: Just trying to stay in shape so he can still play church basketball when he returns home, Elder “LaBron” (aka Lloyd) Harline has connected with the local “National Sudanese Association” ( or NSA as I call them and not to be confused with the NBA). There are at least a dozen Sudanese (almost all over 6’4″ with at least two at 6’7″ and 6’8″) who show up three days a week to play basketball on the outdoor court at our church compound in Megenagna. It’s a bummer when Elder “L” is tied up with office work and can’t play. These guys can jump and even pass to the “old gray-haired one”(happens to be the definition of the name Lloyd minus the “old”) who has made his share of shots. They do play a different game though – half court, 3 on 3, winners out, and only play to 3. They will not play full court! I took a video and hope it will come through on the blog.
Food Finds: We have FAILED to find cheese under $17 a pound, apples under $2 each, butter under $7.50 per pound, Pringles under $4 and chicken bags about the size of Costco chicken bags for under $27. The beef is very tough (as I think of it, we haven’t seen a fat cow yet) and the chicken is imported from places like Brazil so by the time it gets here it’s a pretty “tough old bird!” And, chicken is more expensive than beef. We have to bleach all of our fruits and vegetables (3 Tbs. bleach to a gallon of filtered water for 5 minutes) but the vegetables are tasty, plentiful and inexpensive so maybe we will just become vegetarians and keep losing weight! Always an upside, right?
We had a wonderful trip last week to some famous historical sites in northern Ethiopia. We went with some of the church legal group from the Area Office in South Africa as well as some of the presenters at this African Law and Religion Symposium held annually but for the first time in Ethiopia. The Symposium will be held in Morocco next year. We met people from Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, DRC, and many more countries on the continent. Each country has their own challenges in making sure that there is religious freedom as well as basic human rights accorded their citizens. Here are some highlights as well as new insights from our trip:
The headwaters of the Nile begin at Lake Tana in Ethiopia and it is called the”Blue Nile” since when it was discovered by Europeans over 150 years ago it was clear blue water. Today they would name it the “Brown Nile” due to all the sediment flowing in from construction and farming. It converges with the “White Nile” (headwaters are in Uganda) in Khartoum, Sudan and then runs through Egypt becoming the longest river in the world flowing for over 4, 250 miles.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is at the heart of the culture as well as the religious beliefs here. It claims to be the first Christian church outside of Jerusalem (4th Century) and feels this is a land of the New Jerusalem particularly since they believe the Ark of the Covenant resides in their church in Aksum. It is believed that the son of the Queen of Sheba, Menelik I, was the result of a visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem around 1000 B.C. And, when Menelik I returned to Ethiopia as a young man after a visit with his father, he brought back the Ark of the Covenant housing the 10 Commandments. Their belief is that it has been housed in various churches since then (but is now in Aksum) and has a life time guard who has to be a virgin and dedicates his life to guarding the Ark. He is chosen by the church leadership and only leaves the inner sanctuary to go outside in a small grassy backyard on occasion. EVERY Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a REPLICA of the Ark of the Covenant and the replicas are brought out for display on religious holidays complete with parades and lots of celebration. But the one in Aksum is never seen.
- Lalibela is an area that has dozens of rock-hewn churches with one of the largest being completely underground. There are monks who live their lives ministering to their members inside these carved churches. Unlike the monks, the priests can marry and are, of course, also devoted to their flock. The inner walls are painted with the stories of Christ and his life to teach the people much like the stained glass windows of Europe and elsewhere provided Biblical literacy to those who could not read.
- Gondor is a city of ancient castles where all of the political and military intrigue of any good Shakespearean play filled those ancient walls. There were alternately battles and periods of peace between the Muslims (introduced by Mohammed’s daughter in mid 600’s A.D. who was fleeing persecution in the Middle East and who the Ethiopians initially thought was Christian) and the more established Christian community. They have had wonderful periods of peaceful co-existence but also periods of bloody war and repression both ways. Today it appears that there is a mutual respect and that they get along very well. We are awakened every morning (it varies between 3-6am) by the call to prayer from a local minaret.
- Traveling on the rural roads and seeing the extremely simple life complete with oxen-driven ploughs and donkey laden carts, not to mention PEOPLE laden with huge loads of wood, hay and food on their backs and heads, feels like we are being thrust back in a time capsule experiencing wholly based agricultural communities from 150 years ago. The round thatched roof homes, stick barns and whole families laboring in the fields harkens back to much simpler times. Sadly, it means that many children must work and will not get an education much beyond the seventh grade, as was the case with my grandfather in rural Texas in the early 1900’s.
- Construction: Ethiopia is a country of 100,000,000 million people, second only to Nigeria (160 million). Ninety percent of the people make their meager living on small farms throughout the country. Ethiopia is one of the five poorest countries in the world. Coffee is their biggest export and then flowers. The homes in the city of Addis are made out of concrete and re-bar and are quite nice. The homes in the countryside are made out of 2 to 4 inch round poles for the framing and tin for the roofs, doors, and windows. The stucco that is placed on the outside of the framing is made of mud mixed with straw. The homes are different sizes and the floors are either concrete or dirt. In the very poor areas the framing is the same but the roofs are thatched.
So, the “news” from Ethiopia is that we are meeting lots of”new friends” and falling in love with the people, having lots of “new experiences” every day and gaining insights and “new understanding” about this ancient culture and civilization. We are really grateful to be here and hope we can make a difference while serving our mission here.