After almost three weeks of training involving the Mission Training Center in Provo, Utah and the Area Office in Johannesburg, South Africa we have arrived in Ethiopia and have been here for one week.
Training in Johannesburg
We are adjusting not only to new office programs but to a new way of life. Here in the capital, Addis Ababa, we drive through streets that are sometimes as congested as rush hour traffic in Los Angeles minus the boundaries of lines, replete with U-turns, roundabouts, and no traffic signals while dodging the occasional donkey led cart, goat, cow, and pedestrian as all can cross whenever and wherever they like. Add in about a million pot holes and a few thousand taxis and it is Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride! We have a little stick shift car and Lloyd (aka Elder Harline) is handling it well like an Nascar driver! He thinks he’s A.J. Foyt or Richard Petty. I ride shot gun on the look out for any encroachment of people, animals, trucks or cars and mostly pray we will make it to our destination in one piece.
The first three days we were here the couple we are replacing, Elder and Sister Johnson from South Jordan, Utah, took us on a three day, five hour road trip (one way 180 miles) through the rural countryside to a town called Awassa to visit a branch of the church there. Once out of the city there was a dramatic contrast in the number of cars on the road…..as in almost none. There are trucks for transport, little three wheeled “taxis” that are the size of a rickshaw but with a motor, and an occasional car. People just walk everywhere. In the villages and in between the towns people are always walking beside the road. Very few people can afford a car and on this long country trip we saw maybe one or two bicycles and just a couple of motorcycles. And even though there are way more cars in Addis Ababa, still people are walking in droves along the sidewalks. They line up in lines about 100 yards long just waiting for a taxi van and then they cram about 25 people into a 15 passenger van and take off.
Our road trip was pastoral and picturesque at times and the people are very friendly. They flash huge smiles if you try to say even one word in their native language of Amharic. The only real word we know so far is ameseginalehu which means thank you. The Ethiopians are beautiful people inside and out and they have a very low crime rate, high compliance with authorities and enough red tape to keep the bureaucracy tied up for hours. It took seven hours and four office stops to get our driver’s license making OUR DMV now seem like a short errand.
One of the highlights of the trip to Awassa was not only meeting the people at the Awassa Branch (who had, incidentally, not had electricity or water in their building for about ten days), but also the people in a town near there called Wendo Genet which means Garden of Eden and truly it was lush and lovely. We stopped at the small building where they met as a group up until a couple of weeks ago when they were merged into the Awassa Branch. There were guards there who make about $50 a month guarding the building. All of the buildings have guards so that helps the employment issues.
Then we wandered down through the village with dozens of little children running up to meet us full of excitement over having their picture taken and then seeing themselves.
They especially liked seeing a video replayed from our ipads. Muses (Moses) took us to his house to meet his family and other neighbors and we had fun singing with the children and “talking” with them as they rattled off their village dialect. There we met kids named Abel, Ephriam, Job, Jacob, Ruth, Miriam, Ester and Mekeda (name for the Queen of Sheba) and many others with biblical names. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the dominant Christian religion here with the next major religion being Muslim (Sufi Muslims who are very peaceful and co-exist well with the Christians).
Muses with wife, child & father. Neighborhood kids in Wendo Genet
This is still largely an agrarian society but there is a great deal of building going on in the city (complete with wooden sticks for scaffolding) but the rural areas are still dotted by the traditional round thatched roof huts. Coffee is said to have originated here and there is an elaborate “coffee ceremony” that occurs two to three times a day where the women make coffee over charcoals and men and women drink and socialize for an hour or two. Now that people are working in all of this construction the time is cut short for some but it still remains a huge part of the culture and way of life here so that is a bit of a hurdle as people hear about the church and the Word of Wisdom. It is one of many reasons why the pioneer members of the church here are so remarkable. They leave a lot behind as they join the church and so far it has been amazing to see the depth of their understanding, commitment and testimonies. So many have almost nothing materially but tremendous faith and deep gratitude for the gospel as first generation members.
Elders Mafirashongo & Mugwagwa in Awassa
We share an office with three terrific heads up young men who really make things happen on the operational side for the church here. They are Habtu, who gets all the visas and dozens of documents necessary for almost anything to happen here, Andualem, who makes sure all the utilities and other bills get paid, and Getu, who oversees the physical facility needs for all of the church buildings. They all went on missions to other countries here in Africa. They, like so many young people in their 20’s and 30’s, no longer have parents living and have taken on the responsibilities of their siblings and own families. They are very smart, work hard and are computer savvy. They all also have a great sense of humor so it makes it fun to be around them.
Even though we had one full day without electricity on our day off and daily loss of internet for minutes or sometimes hours, we love the people here and are adjusting to a more simplified life where what really matters seems much more obvious. We will keep you updated in shorter posts as we go along but wanted to give an overall view of our first month in the mission field.
P.S. Just learning how to move photos around so will have better lay out next time, we hope!