Writing from Ethiopia, Addis Ababa is a beautiful city that sits at a high elevation with a very pleasant climate. As I am teaching the night class at the Evangelical Theological College (ETC) I am able to take a long walk each morning to get some exercise, often 3-5 miles, up and down hills.
I love walking through the busy streets, past the shoe cleaners, people hustling here and there, going about their business out in the open as is so common in many parts of Africa. It makes me feel alive. For they most part, I am ignored. Every now and then, children will yell "Ferenji" ("foreigner" in Amharic) or occasionally a child will yell "China" showing what type of ex-pat they are used to seeing.
I watch the men and women tearing up the sidewalks all over Addis with pick-axes and shovels in order to bury fiber optic cables. I smile at the women, happy to see them involved in such work,
while at the same time noting that they are doing their work in dresses and sandals.
I move around the large mats and shoes that the Muslim men have laid out on the sidewalk as it is time for their prayers.
As I walk, I think about my students in the Integrity and Finance class. I have heard heart-breaking stories of challenges as it relates to keeping integrity, stories of both success and failure. In a culture of high poverty (most of my students have families, and make around $200/month) and a rule of law that can be easily compromised, it is painful to hear the struggles that these men and women have to face. It is so easy to be ethical when you have what you need. It is much more difficult in a society where you do not. These men and women cling to the belief that their honesty in this life will give them rewards in the next. While we nod and say, "Yes!" the comfort is short-lived when your child is sick or you are losing the little money you have due to a decision to not pay a bribe or if you face incredible pressure from family and friends to compromise your integrity because "everyone does it."
As I walk, I hear the happy conversations of people on the sidewalk, although I don't understand what they are saying. I think of the freedom of commerce that takes place in front of me on the street. But I know that just under the surface, not so long ago, that freedom was not there. And the results of those challenges still show up today as all social media continues to be blocked by the government to stop any uprising of citizens.
I climb the steep hill which gives a great view of the city, in the wealthier part of Addis, with hotels and gates and parks and pools, and I think of the disparity of income from the place where I am staying, where people are sleeping on the sidewalk every twenty feet or so, covered with blankets in the early hours.
And I wonder about this world and my place in it. What am I doing in Ethiopia? What right do I have to think that I have anything to offer here? This nation of such rich history, of such rich culture, of such beauty.
But I keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that the things that I don't know are known by one Greater than me. I am one small person, one face in 7.4 billion, walking the streets in Addis, wondering what my place is...surrounded by others who may wonder the same thing. And yet somehow, by many interesting and challenging circumstances, this is where I am.
On Thursday and Friday, we will do a two-day training for Discipling Marketplace Leaders with 50+ church pastors and leaders pre-registered to attend. Please pray for the Holy Spirit to be present in those sessions.