On Friday morning we departed at around 6:30 a.m. for the five hour drive to Hossana, about 200 kilometers southwest of Addis Ababa. After checking in to our hotel, it took about two hours to drive the next 20 kilometers to the rural village of Buuma (It was reminiscent of the drive, back in the day, between Chicamán and Las Pacayas, Guatemala, where we worked as LCMS missionaries). This area was particularly dry this time of the year, and we noticed all along the way, the great numbers of people hauling water in big yellow jugs. It occurred to me just how close to the edge the people of this area are living, with only a trickle of water running through the streams where they were getting their water. When we finally arrived to our destination, we met up with the ministry team from Lutheran Hour Ministries, Ethiopia, known locally as Berhan Media Ministry (Light Media Ministry).
This area of Ethiopia is predominantly Muslim, though some Christian missionaries in years gone by were able to establish a Christian presence. The Christians in the area are not bashful about confessing their faith, either!
As we approached the site of the event, a choir from the area welcomed us with song and dance, and accompanied us all the way to the area where people were gathering for singing, prayer, hearing the word of God, and later, a showing of the Jesus movie. Eric, Mick and I all given an opportunity to address the crowd, which numbered around 1500! One interesting note: It had not rained in the area for months, but as we were in the presence of the crowd, a soft rain began to fall, the first rain of the springtime—a very auspicious sign indeed!
Since Wednesday evening our team had been conducting an evangelism training seminar for local churches, with some 75 participants, so we were escorted from the main area over to the local church building to address the students who had completed the evangelism training. Again, each of us were given the opportunity for a few words, after which we went outside to award the certificates—it was getting darker and is no electricity in this area.
Then we were escorted to the home of one of the elders of the village for an interesting meal of many traditional foods prepared in the area. It consisted of a masa made from what they call the “false banana.” It is called that because the tree looks like a banana tree, but it doesn’t produce bananas. Instead, they make use of the root for food. We also had a homemade pungent cheese covered with homemade butter, flat bread, wild honey, and a drink made of barley that is roasted, and then boiled. To me it tasked a little like cold coffee. Let me just say that this food is an “acquired taste.”
Before we departed that evening we went to watch a little of the open-air screening of the Jesus movie, based on the gospel of St. Luke, and dubbed into the local language, Hadiyyan. Hadiyyan has about one million speakers in this area, of whom about half speak no other language. Did I mention that when Eric, Mick or I spoke, it first had to be translated from English to Amharic, and then another translator translated from Amharic to Hadiyyan. What great fun! As we were departing for the two hour drive back to Hossana, we notice more and more people coming to the open air area, including some Muslim who from a distance, under the cover of darkness, heard the message of the gospel through the movie in their own language.
As we returned to the hotel, we, of course, blew another tire due to the rough roads. Actually we were driving across a rudimentary, makeshift log bridge when a nail punctured our tire. In a previous post I mentioned having a flat in the “middle of nowhere.” Well, we need to redefine “the middle of nowhere” now, because this time we were basically in the middle of a pasture, on a little dirt trail that hardly ever sees a motorized vehicle, with hyenas out in the nearby woods. On the other hand, we were accompanied by the local police commander and one of his officers, which gave us some measure of assurance, I guess.
The driver was having quite a time figuring out how to jack up the car and change the flat tire, and so, again, Mick had to take over—always good to have a “Nebraska farm boy” around when you need one! Oh, yes, on Sunday morning, on our way back to Buuma, we had another flat—and same story. The driver still had not quite figured out the hang of changing a tire, and so again, Mick had to take over. It was really quite interesting, this time in a small village, as all the local people crowded around to watch the spectacle. Many of the children in these parts have probably never seen a white person before.
Sunday morning was the culmination of the three days of activities sponsored by LHM-Ethiopia. We were supposed to begin around 8:00 a.m., but, after all, this is Africa (TIA), and so we actually started around 11:00. The numbers of people present grew and grew as we began. In the end we estimate that there were at least 2500 -3000 people there. The choirs from several different congregations arrived, each in turn, singing and dancing as the marched in front of the main “stage,” really some tarps spread over structure made of bent branches. It offered us a little shade from the intense sun. Then I was asked to preach a short message (again translated from English to Amharic, then to Hadiyyan), before we awarded certificates of completion to 64 graduates of our Bible Correspondence Courses.
There was more vigorous signing of the “call and response” style, where the lead singer belts out a phrase and the congregants respond with the same phrase, or a response phrase. ILLL President Mick Onnen was given the opportunity to deliver a message, and then our ministry center director, Berhanu Moges spoke. The final speaker was the local police commander, who delivered a gospel message, but also invited the participants to help LHM-Ethiopia carry out similar events in other areas by making an offering. The offering plates were actually umbrellas, held upside down, which were carried about by volunteers. Some of the elders came forward with their offerings and received a special blessing from the police commander. In the end, the police commander also bowed down to receive the blessing from
It was an amazing thing to witness the joy, enthusiasm for the gospel, and great commitment of many of the participants. There is no way to know for sure how many unbelievers were present, but without a doubt there were many. The event basically attracted about everyone within a couple hours walking distance.
After being treated to another meal in the home of the elder, we headed back to Hossana, where we dropped off the police commander, and returned to Addis Ababa, getting to our hotel here at about 10:00 p.m. Behanu led us in a prayer of thanksgiving for a safe journey home.