During May, 2011, Selamab Assefa and I took off for CCW’s second ministry trip to Ethiopia (click here for more about Steve’s and Selamab’s trip last fall). We were there for 2 ½ weeks, travelling and speaking at churches.
After 20+ hours of travel, we walked out into Ethiopia’s capitol city, Addis Ababa—just in time to sleep a few hours and make a 3 ½ hour drive across dusty roads and beautiful African landscape to the town of Ambo. We were scheduled to speak at a church that Selamab’s father helped plant years earlier. We arrived in time to pray with Pastor Dereje and to walk into a swaying, clapping, singing mass of people. The small building was packed with over 500 believers, spilling out into makeshift rooms outside. I spoke in the morning on Philippians 2-3 as Selamab translated me into Amharic and the pastor translated him into Oromo. Selamab spoke in the afternoon, also with translation, on Romans 6. These meetings seemed to go well and we trust that God was using his words to shape the hearts of his people. That’s the goal, isn’t it? We are just intermediaries—the coupling that connects the Bible and believers.
As soon as we finished in Ambo, we headed back to Addis Ababa where we were privileged to spend more time with Selamab’s family. His brother, and his brother’s wife and two daughters, live in Addis. I was amazed by their sustained and heartfelt hospitality. Throughout the trip we spent many restful hours at their house, talking or eating. On Monday the 16th
, we all went to the airport to greet Selamab’s sister and brother-in-law who were returning for the first time after 10 years away in Dallas where they now live. It was a happy meeting.
Our second ministry opportunity came on Tuesday night. When Salamab was living in Addis Ababa, he was a part of Akaki Kali Hiwot Church (KHC). This church invited him to speak that night to several of the elders and many of the congregation. His text was Romans 5 and, though I couldn’t understand all that he was saying, I could tell by congregation’s reception of us that his message was being taken to heart.
The next day, we traveled about an hour south of the city to Tulu Bolo. Akaki KHC in Addis is responsible for several church plants in outlying towns. We went with one of the elders to spend the day training 20-30 leaders from these churches. I taught four times from Philippians 2-4 (This is what I was teaching in most of the places, expanding and contracting it depending on the situation). We are amazed to see God work. By the end of the day, I thought I could see the Bible reaching inside their hearts and forcing them to examine their lives and the lives of their churches. If nothing else, I hoped they would see the power of the Bible. “You have the Bible,” I told them. “Study it. Teach it to your people. And teach them to study it.” I’m grateful for these hard-working men. They need encouragement. I almost cried as I concluded by thanking them for their fellowship in the gospel.
Thursday morning we met with our main contact for Northern Ethiopia, Feru, hopped into a Land Cruiser and drove and drove, higher and higher, deeper and deeper into the Northern Ethiopian mountains. The roads turned to mud, the homes turned to mud, the air grew cold. Mud huts; farmers plowing their fields with oxen; heavily wrapped women and children tending their livestock on the mountainside. It was truly rural Africa. I had never been this close.
Mehal-Meda is a remarkable location. You drive up for what seems like an eternity until you are on eye-level with some of the lower clouds. Then, at the top, you reach a wide plateau. It feels like you are on the mainland again except for the cold air, the whipping wind, and the fact that you can look to the horizon and see clouds directly at your level and the dropoff into broad valleys—a strange sensation.
We liked Feru. He’s got a free smile and he laughs from his soul . . . a lot. He told us his story on the drive up. An amazing conversion from the darkness of demon-possession. He also told us of the persecution that the people of the North face from the Orthodox church and from Muslims; ostracization, threats, even murders. This still goes on, though it was worse in recent years. Feru himself had his life threatened because of his Protestanism.
That Friday morning we visited the evangelical churches in the town. There are five of them, representing five denominations. We gave CCW materials to many of the pastors and prayed for them and their churches. One of the striking things about these churches is their commitment to working together despite denominational differences. They told me that the persecution drove them together. People from the congregations of the five churches gathered in the evening to hear Selamab preach. He chose Romans 6 as his text and talked about the believer’s relationship to sin.
Saturday was also a ministry day for us. Selamab taught a couple of sessions to the pastors about Bible study methodology. He focused on teaching them simply to observe the text as they work toward interpreting and applying it. It was very useful material. The congregations gathered again in the evening and I taught them, again from Philippians. I wanted to help them see the story of Christ—his emptying of himself, his death, and his resurrection—and to see that they must participate in that story through humble service to each other. I finished teaching this on Sunday morning and Selamab continued his teaching from Romans 6 on Sunday afternoon.
It is toilsome land in the North. Not many ministers go there. The air is cold, the ground is hard, and the spiritual going, like the roads, is sticky and stony. Pray for the work there. I think we both were confirmed in our feeling that the North is where CCW ought to be focusing its efforts. It seems to be the area of greatest need and opportunity. We were encouraged that the pastors in Mehal-Meda officially welcomed us in a sense by saying, after some deliberation, that they would open their doors and learn from us even if we came four times a year. Feru and Selamab were already discussing plans for the fall when Steve will go again.
We took a day to rest and visit family and friends once we got back to Addis. We also tried to follow up on plans for publishing Selamab’s translation of Pursuing God with SIM. We are hoping to have it available within the next several months.
From Wednesday to Friday, we engaged in a small conference at Akaki KHC. We had six sessions, so we split them in half. I taught twice on Wednesday night and once on Thursday night and Selamab taught once on Thursday and twice on Friday. Several in this group were very eager listeners. We saw many nodding heads. One nearly blind old man was overflowing with obvious excitement. Expressing his amazement at the teaching, he asked Selamab, “What kind of people are you bringing to us?”
Friday was also the day we ate lunch with the two pastors of CityLife International Church. One of them, Paulos, is Selamab’s sister-in-law’s brother. He recently came from Australia to plant this church. It is now about a year old. We talked about church models and methods and the ways in which God has been working in our congregations.
During the second half of the trip, Selamab and I began reading large portions of Scripture together in the evenings. This became a highlight of our days, though at times we were too tired to think very clearly. I can remember laughing so uncontrollably because of my tiredness one night that I could not finish reading! Selamab had to take over.
CityLife International Church is young, small, and multi-lingual. I spoke for an English service on Saturday night. Selamab spoke for an Amharic service on Sunday morning. And I spoke again for an Oromo service on Sunday morning. Paulos asked us to talk about evangelism, so Selamab talked about the content of the evangelistic message from 1 Corinthians 15 and I tried to place the task of evangelism within the context of the history of redemption from Romans as a whole.
This concluded our official ministry in Ethiopia. For the next couple of days, we made many visits and meetings with other believers and Selamab’s family members. This was very helpful for us as we thought about the things that need to be addressed through teaching in future trips. I flew out of Addis on Tuesday night and Selamab, after spending a few days greeting family in the countryside, flew home on Saturday.
Selamab and I were both surprised at the amount of teaching opportunities that came our way. I think we counted a total of 22. We were also grateful for the warm reception of the believers, many of whom invited us into their homes or scheduled meetings with us at restaurants or coffee shops. There is much more good, hard work to be done there. Please pray for that work and pray for discernment for CCW as it considers the best ways to strengthen the churches.