This is the second part of a post by my wife, Mary.
The ministers’ conference took place Thursday and Friday, January 8–9. Joel’s addresses were on “the work of the pastor,” “the life of the pastor,” “the leadership of Jesus Christ,” “the ethics of leadership,” and “the test of leadership.” Our friend—the PRTS alumnus—spoke on “the growth of the Ethiopian church—historically,” “the great commission,” and “how to spread the gospel throughout Ethiopia.” Joel’s interpreter was Mihret (meaning “mercy”). The language barrier is partially overcome with the interpretation and some of the men knew some English, but we still feel bad for our limited ability to converse with them. One thing that was very apparent, though, was their affection and warmth. They greet each other with a handshake, either touch shoulders or go cheek-to-cheek and kiss the air or kiss the cheek—right, left, right, and then another handshake. If they are really close and haven’t seen each other for a long time, they hug for a little while. All the while, they are laughing and talking. Even for us, they gave a reserved version of these greetings. It is common to see men walking down the street holding hands or one with his arm around the other—it is a brotherly/friendly thing, absolutely no link to homosexuality. After giving four addresses the first day, Joel was exhausted. A quick supper at an imitation Starbucks, a bit of emailing, and off to bed. At 2:00 a.m. we were rudely awakened by the off-tune droning of the Orthodox priest again. He continued the rest of the night, with only a few 15-minute breaks. Happily, our friend found us a quieter hotel for the following nights.
Pastor Bezabeh picked us up Saturday morning to take us to Debre Zeit. In the nine years he has been at his church, they have purchased land in a poor rural area and built a church, a K-12 school that has 600 students, a Bible school, and a health clinic. Their people walk to church. They receive most of their support from North Ireland. Joel preached on the Canaanitish woman and they responded warmly. They kindly put us up at a nice resort that also hosts missionaries. It was wonderful to relax and eat our meals lakeside. Even though Ethiopia is near the equator, it is a comfortable 75 degrees year around, due to the elevation. Sunday morning dawned cloudy—unusual for Ethiopia in January. Joel preached on “Running the Race” from Hebrews 12. Two young teen boys were very affected by the sermon and expressed a desire to live for Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray for lasting fruits.
Ethiopians are event- and people-oriented whereas Americans are more time-oriented. So as we relaxed over lunch, time ticked away, and the event of open-air preaching 1.5 hours away came closer. Transportation was hastily arranged and we were on our way. We would have been only a little late, but as we got on the ring-road around Addis, the car stalled. Our Ethiopian friend got it started again, but for the next hour, we limped along, stalling 30 to 40 times. Sometimes he got it started by popping the clutch, sometimes by starting it and revving the engine. We think it was overheated, because it didn’t have the problem after the outdoor service. Or maybe Satan didn’t want us to go there. It was scary being stalled on a highway. We prayed a lot. Fortunately they don’t go too fast and are used to going around obstacles; God protected us. As the sun was setting and the air was cooling, Joel preached in the open air to 700 people on “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” They listened well—pray with us that eternity will reveal fruits.
Back to the city. People walk everywhere, thousands of them. Even at night, with dark clothes, they walk in the road. It is a constant braiding of cars, taxis, and people. They just adjust moment by moment and go around each other. A quick beep means, “I’m coming through.” It’s like the people cross roads by faith, lane by lane, as opposed to planning for the whole way across before setting out. They trust the drivers, they trust they will make it to the other side, and I hope they trust God. Mihret met us on the way, and brought us to his house for an Ethiopian supper. His wife Bekelech had prepared a feast. He had earlier told us their courtship story. They had both decided to give their whole life to the Lord and not get married because they were so on fire for Him, but God brought them together in a wonderful way.
Winging our way home Monday, we were thankful for safety, prayerful for blessing, and enriched by our experience with the Ethiopian people. Maybe we should live life a little bit more like they cross the road, still planning ahead like we do, but stepping out in faith, trusting (and loving) others and God, and trusting we will make it safely to the other side.