Monday, May 9, 2016

Out of the garbage heap...

Evangelical Theological College (ETC), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Greetings from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where it is surprisingly cool and wet!   Unfortunately, other parts of Ethiopia are experiencing a drought that is worse than the drought of 1984, with over ten million people affected.  Thankfully, important lessons were learned from that drought and there has been much work done to make sure people are getting food.

My impression of Addis Ababa is that it is unlike other African Capital cities that I have been in.  It seems more peaceful, more orderly, more regulated.  People actually obey traffic laws, queue for lines for taxi buses, don't talk on the phone while driving, and the city is quite clean with trash cans everywhere.  From the little I've seen in the short time I've been here, I'm impressed.  Unfortunately, there are people sleeping on the sidewalks everywhere you go, and the per capita income is one third of Kenya - at $550/year/person.  Ethiopia is the second most populated country in Africa yet one of the poorest.  However people are actively involved in business everywhere you go.  Ethiopian pastors are not bi-vocational for the most part, unlike Kenya and Ghana, but more like Egypt.  While Christians are the largest majority in Ethiopia, about 43% are Orthodox or Coptic Christians and 20% are Evangelical.  About 34% of Ethiopians are Muslims. 

Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) had the opportunity in this past week to present the ministry to pastors and business people at the Evangelical Theological College (ETC).  It was a blessing to meet and have these discussions in a new context and culture.  Many important connections have been made.

ETC has an interesting history.  During the period where Ethiopia was under a communist government (from 1974-1991) the Evangelical Church suffered the most and was essentially shut down.  The underground church grew rapidly, however there was no training of church leaders.  Some Christians approached one of the Christian NGOs who had been allowed to stay to do humanitarian work to ask whether they could train people in Christian leadership and theological education.  The NGO agreed and the first class was started with seventeen students.  Only one of the seventeen graduated.  But the desire for training and education continued, and when the communist government fell, the school asked the government (who owns all land) for a location that they could use.  They were offered the city garbage dump.  Undeterred, they accepted and sought to redeem that land.  As you can see from the pictures, they have done that very well.  On hot days, I'm told, the smell from the dump that still exists behind them can be strong, but they say it's a good reminder of how God redeems all of our lives from the stench of sin.
Beautiful flowers in bloom at ETC

It's no surprise that the business context of Ethiopia is different from the other countries involved with DML.  In many ways, Ethiopia reminds me more of Egypt than Kenya, the neighbor to the south.  Being a landlocked country presents certain challenges, as does high rates of poverty and high government control. It makes for some interesting challenges for businesses.  I learned that business owners who make a sale without a receipt can be jailed for three-six months.  Businesses pay 35% of their profit in tax (the customers pay 15% value added tax).  The government controls a good number of businesses, including all of the telecommunications. 

But the theme of mistrust and suspicion between the Church and the Marketplace is unfortunately consistent with our findings in other countries.  Business people articulated that they too feel only valued by their church for their financial ability to contribute to the ministry, and are not respected or valued for their work, gifts or talents.  They reported, and the pastors agreed, that business people are seen as unspiritual and, if successful, most likely corrupt.

Dr. Frew Tamrat, Director of Master programs at ETC,
addresses pastors and business people.
We challenged the pastors to disciple their members to the purpose for which most have been called, in being fruitful and multiplying the resources God has given to bless the world.  Our call to Christians is to work with a quadruple bottom line in mind, no matter where the workplace:  social, spiritual, economic, and environmental, and for all of us to see ourselves as disciple-makers in our very own sphere of influence.

This message was received very well, and I have been scheduled to teach for the MA program at the Evangelical Theological College next year (the earliest I could be back), and will begin to do the two day training at that time for pastors in Addis Ababa and hopefully in Awassa.

View from my window at the mission guest house in Addis Ababa