I accompanied CCW’s newest communicator, Selamab Assefa, to Ethiopia from September 20-October 6, 2010. Selamab was born and raised in Ethiopia, but has lived in the United States for the past five years. He is a recent seminary graduate and a member of my church, and his relationships with churches in Ethiopia will seemingly provide decades of ministry opportunities there. (I like to tease him by calling him our “Ethiopian Sensation.”)
This first trip to Ethiopia was for ministry, but it was also exploratory in nature. The ministry was fruitful, and God gave direction about potential future ministry.
Monday and Tuesday, September 20-21:
Selamab and I departed from Kansas City for a brief stop in Minneapolis, then on to Amsterdam. After Amsterdam, we briefly touched down in Kartoum, Sudan, before arriving in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. Selamab had not been back to Ethiopia for five years. He has many relatives now in the States, but others are still in Addis Ababa. A group of men greeted us at the airport, including Selamab’s brother. It was a sweet reunion for those two!
Wednesday, September 22:
After a good night’s sleep (at least for me—Selamab was wide awake at 4 a.m.), we headed to lunch at Selamab’s brother’s house. I was not only introduced to traditional Ethiopian cuisine, but I also got to witness a traditional coffee ceremony which ends, of course, with drinking the coffee. It was outstanding.
Wednesday evening was our first ministry opportunity at Selamab’s old church, Akaki Kale Hiwot Church. Kale Hiwot Churches (KHC) are the biggest evangelical denomination in Ethiopia. Selamab and I each preached a session this first night. I taught the first of two messages on Lydia’s conversion from Acts 16:11-15. Selamab translated my English into Amharic as I preached. Selamab taught the first of his two messages on First Corinthians 15:1-8. In attendance were not only the church’s elders, but also various leaders of different ministries in the church.
Thursday, September 23:
Selamab had arranged to have me speak in the chapel of his alma mater, the Evangelical Theological School (ETS) in Addis Ababa. Before the service, we spent time with the principal of the school, Frew Tamirat. Selamab gave him a copy of the new edition of Pursuing God.
About 50 students attended this 50 minute chapel service, and I was able to spend about 30 of those minutes teaching through First Corinthians 5 which addresses the subject of church discipline. None of these students are currently in ministry positions, but a large number hope to serve as pastors in the future. I concluded the message by exhorting the students to determine even now, before God makes them pastors, to do the hard and oftentimes unpopular things in ministry like church discipline.
Immediately after the afternoon chapel at ETS, Selamab and I were taken across town for another evening of teaching at Akaki Kale Hiwot Church. I continued teaching about Lydia’s conversion, making the point that only God makes Christians (through the preaching of the gospel), and when He opens a person’s heart to believe in Christ, that person becomes a lifelong believer who obeys Christ and loves other Christians.
Selamab’s session was part two of an exposition of First Corinthians 15:1-8. Since he was preaching in Amharic, I didn’t understand anything, but it was a joy to see him preaching in his first language. When he preaches in English, he is an excellent teacher, but he was significantly more animated in the language he knows best.
Friday, September 24:
If my memory serves me correctly, this was the day that Selamab and I visited the Serving in Mission (SIM) print house. Selamab worked there for over a year, and he still knows several of the workers. This print house is willing to print Pursuing God once Selamab is finished translating it into Amharic.
Our final evening with Akaki Kale Hiwot Church was very interesting. Selamab and I were prepared to each teach another session, but we decided first to ask if the people had any questions for us in light of our previous evenings together. For the next two hours, we fielded questions, primarily about statements both Selamab and I had made about the unbiblical practices of the so-called “sinner’s prayer” and the altar call. It was as if we were back in a typical Baptist church in the United States. We tried to show those in attendance the absence of such practices in church history until about 1800, but more importantly we explained the biblical pattern for evangelism. We emphasized the power of the gospel (which we must preach, and which a lost person must believe), and that when God makes a Christian, He always does it well—the lives of those who hear and believe are changed and they follow Christ.
Saturday, September 25:
We drove about an hour and a half to a KHC church in Debre Zeit to meet with the elders of this church. This is a large church and the reception by the majority of the leaders was not what we would have desired. Nevertheless, the Lord gave us boldness to speak to these men about church discipline.
In the evening, we drove to Ambo to stay the night in preparation for a Sunday ministering to Ambo Baptist Church.
Sunday, September 26:
Selamab’s father started Ambo Baptist Church. We were there on a Sunday when they would be electing elders, so they asked if one of us could preach about elders in the morning service. According to one of the pastors, there were about 500 people in attendance, and I preached Titus 1:5-9. The sermon lasted an hour, but I’m guessing I only talked about 25 of those minutes because there were two translators—one translating into Amharic (Selamab), and then another into Oromo. That was my first experience with two translators, but God gave me patience (to wait for the translation to finish) and the ability to simplify what would normally have been a 50 minute sermon.
In the early part of the evening, Selamab preached to the church from First Corinthians 2. It was his turn to preach with a translator. He spoke in Amharic, and the church’s pastor,
translated his words into Oromo.
By the time we arrived back at the guesthouse that night, Selamab and I were already sensing that many of the needs of the churches in Ethiopia are the same as what is needed in America. Questions like, “What is a Christian?” or “What is the gospel?” or “What is the church?” must be answered. Not only were we seeing the need for a book like Pursuing God to be translated into Amharic, but also Wasted Faith and Dangers of the Invitation System.
Monday, September 27:
A national holiday was celebrated on this day—the festival of Meskel. On the drive back to Addis Ababa the previous evening, we saw many Ethiopians celebrating already, often by building a bonfire.
The highlight of this day (and one of the main joys of the trip) was time spent with Selamab’s brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces (Melese, Tibeb, Misgana, and Ke-Aryam). After supper, which was also attended by a local school administrator (Kiflu) and his wife, we spent time singing together, Selamab’s nieces sang a Scripture song, and then Melese asked me to teach them something from Scripture. I taught from Matthew 6:25-34, which includes some of Jesus’ most famous words: “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ . . . But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (vv. 31, 33). Later on in the trip, Kiflu shared with me that he and his wife were impacted significantly by the teaching that night—“You were speaking to us!”
Tuesday, September 28:
KHC headquarters is located in Addis Ababa, and the man who is in charge of training pastors all over Ethiopia, Esayas Erjabo, is a friend of Selamab’s. We met with him in his office in the morning and he is interested in a future partnership with us.
In the evening, we were back with Selamab’s family. This time, it was Selamab’s turn to teach the Bible after supper, and he taught through Matthew 19.
Wednesday, September 29:
Prior to traveling to Ethiopia, a former missionary to Ethiopia named Anthony Mathenia had contacted me. He now takes trips each year to Ethiopia and he informed me that he would be in Addis Ababa on a few of the same days that we were there. We met with Anthony on this day, along with two Zambian pastors (Victor and Issac) who were with him for several days of training Ethiopian pastors. These men from Zambia are in partnership with Conrad Mbewe who is a pastor in Lusaka and one of the key figures in starting many Reformed Baptist Churches in Zambia. It was a joy to share a meal with these like-minded brothers and hear Anthony’s dreams about the ongoing training of pastors and a potential church plant in the capital city.
In the afternoon, we met with Selamab’s best friend from his days at ETC, Getachew Hagos. He trains pastors out in the countryside and invited us to join him to train church leaders in the future.
Thursday, September 30:
Anthony Mathenia and the pastors from Zambia were training pastors all day. We joined them for their afternoon sessions, primarily hoping to be an encouragement to them. It was a delight to hear Isaac teach through a portion of Hebrews 9, and then to hear Victor passionately proclaim truths from John 6.
In the evening, we visited Getachew Hagos’ family. Upon arrival, the electricity was out. This is a common experience in Addis Ababa, so it didn’t keep this sweet family from serving us a meal and coffee. Getachew and his wife have both suffered for their allegiance to the Christ of the Bible. They both left the Orthodox Ethiopian Church (which seems similar to Roman Catholicism) and their families have completely shunned them. It was such a joy to be with these believers. They have so little materially, but they have Jesus Christ, so they are rich. When Getachew asked me to close out our time in prayer, it was as if the Holy Spirit carried me through the prayer for the glory of God and the encouragement of the believers in that house.
Friday-Saturday, October 1-2:
We traveled north of Addis Ababa about 6 hours, and the last 2.5 hours were unpaved, mostly rough roads. We went to a town up in the mountains called Mehal Meda, and it was quite primitive. Living conditions were pretty rough, but thankfully we didn’t experience any bed bugs.
The drive there was full of beautiful scenery. Mehal Meda is up in the mountains, and it gets cold at night. The hotel room didn’t have heat, and neither did the church building. I had a jacket on the whole time I was there, and sometimes two.
We had three sessions with church leaders—one on Friday, and two on Saturday. The pastor who invited us to Mehal Meda, Feru Taye, is actually not from that town, but he knew some of the church leaders there. Feru was living a comfortable life, but then the Lord led him to start a church in the countryside (where he grew up) and is leading him to plant churches out in the country. He was very appreciative of our ministry in Mehal Meda. In the future, Feru wants to gather the countryside pastors in one place and have us train them. Most of these men have had little or no training.
Selamab and I thoroughly enjoyed our time with Feru. He is quite serious about the Bible and planting Biblical churches. He also has one of the best laughs known to man, the kind that just makes you feel good. On the way back to Addis Ababa at the end of the weekend, Selamab and Feru were trying to help me say certain words in Amharic, and they were laughing at me. Feru speaks a little English, so I decided to turn the tables on them and I said, "Say this fast 5 times in a row: ‘She sells seashells by the seashore.”" They couldn’t, and it was hysterical.
Sunday, October 3:
Unfortunately, Selamab had been sick the previous night, perhaps because he ate some raw meat the previous day. He was well enough to translate for me in the morning service at the local KHC church. I preached about the two thieves on the cross and the amazing words Jesus said to the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:33-43). After lunch and then coffee at a leader’s home, we headed back to the capital. We were thrilled to see monkeys on the way home.
One other interesting note about our trip to Mehal Meda was the numerous evangelism opportunities Selamab had. Over a period of three days, he shared Christ with the waitress at the restaurant of the hotel we stayed in, with two teenagers who were initially interested in "the white man" (that would be me) for 1.5 hours Saturday night, with our driver (who is in an Ethiopian Orthodox Church), and with one of the elders’ daughters of the Mehal Meda KHC church whom we dropped off at college on the way back to Addis Ababa.
Monday, October 4:
In the morning, Feru came by the guesthouse to say goodbye to us before he got on a bus and headed to his home north of the city. In the evening, Selamab and I took his brother’s family out to eat at a very nice restaurant in the city.
Tuesday-Wednesday, October 5-6:
After making final purchases of gifts and packing up, we were off to the airport to head home. We traveled from Addis Ababa to Amsterdam first. As we were departing from Amsterdam, heading down the runway, the plane all of a sudden slowed down. There was a mechanical problem. Although we sat on the plane for another four hours or so and eventually changed planes, we all agreed that it was better to have a breakdown on the runway than over the Atlantic Ocean!
We arrived in Kansas City on Wednesday evening, exhausted but grateful to God for the previous two weeks. Opportunities for ministry in Ethiopia are abundant. We are already talking about Selamab returning sometime in the spring of 2011. I hope to join him for another trip next fall.