Monday, April 22, 2019

Sickness, Africa, and the Reeds

This past week, on Wednesday evening, I started feeling sick.

I had to leave for a flight to Bahar Dar at 5 am the next morning and hoped it would just pass.  At 2 am I woke up feeling worse but not bad enough to cancel the trip.  I couldn't sleep and wondered what I should do.  I prayed and asked God to help make the decision clear.

He answered.  Loudly.  And quickly.  Within an hour, I had a rising fever, vomiting, and the runs.

No question about the trip now.  I made the decision to cancel.

Six miserable hours later, I thanked God for His answer and reminded Him that I had canceled the trip so He could let up on the symptoms.  He did.  A bit.

Turned out to be malaria that I likely picked up in Kenya.  While I lived in Kenya, I didn't contract malaria even one time because of the high elevation (mosquitos and malaria don't mix in high elevations - the same is true in Addis Ababa where malaria is quite rare).  But it seems that malaria is adapting and it is becoming more common in higher elevations as well.  And I didn't take anti-malarials while on this trip at all.  My son has chided me and told me that I'm grounded from going to Africa for a year.  Point taken.

BUT here is why I'm writing this blog.  When I get sick in Africa, it seems to trigger immediate and anxious reactions for some family and friends.  There is for a good reason - because of the death of Bob.  His death was quick, without warning, and to this day, without explanation.  When that happens, one loses confidence in the system to diagnose and treat, as well as in illnesses that can appear minor (as Bob's did) but can take a loved one's life within hours.

And so when I get sick, I know that it triggers fear, especially for Michael, Hannah, and Noah.

And I feel bad about that.  Michael put messages on Facebook asking for prayers, and the number of comments he received was pretty remarkable.  We felt loved, supported, and covered in prayer.  And I have a feeling its because people know that there is probably fear and anxiety for all of us under the surface...again, for good reason.

How I wish we had a cause for Bob's death.  How I wish we could understand it.  Not just for his sake but for my other loved one's sake, as I continue to put them through the fear of me getting sick while I work in various parts of Africa.  Even on this trip home, as I pondered my own illness, I came up with a couple more theories about Bob's death and researched them (fruitlessly).  It's a question that my mind wants to be answered but to no avail.

Until then, we are reminded of Heidelberg Catechism Q&A#1, which is particularly poingant on this Easter weekend:

That I am not my own, 

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death, 

to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 

He has fully paid for all my sins

with his precious blood, 

and has set me free

from all the power of the devil. 

He also preserves me in such a way 

that without the will of my heavenly Father

not a hair can fall from my head; 

indeed, all things must work together

for my salvation. 

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit

he also assures me

of eternal life 

and makes me heartily willing and ready

from now on to live for him.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Church Today...

Writing on Sunday, April 14 from Hawassa, Ethiopia, about a five-hour drive from Addis Ababa, situated on a beautiful lake.  Our DML Coordinator for Ethiopia, Yoseph, was to preach at one of our partner churches but he decided to stop at a park on our way to church.

And then a funny thing happened...

We stopped at a park to look at the lake and suddenly were surrounded by monkeys and storks.  Before I knew it, the black and white monkey in the photo jumped on my head in order to get better access to the food in my hand.  Having owned a monkey when we lived in Liberia, I wasn't completely taken aback.  But he was heavy.

And then a memorable thing happened...

Yoseph and Sitotaw then proposed that we go for breakfast on the side of the road - with fresh fish that was just caught that morning, fried on the side of the road and eaten with your hands.  It was delicious.  And it reminded us of what the disciples ate with Jesus after his resurrection - fish and bread.  And Paul Soper, who joined us in Ethiopia this past week, reminded us that when Jesus told the disciples to cast their net on the other side of the boat, and they caught 153 fish, it was symbolic of fishing for Gentiles instead of for Jews - 153 fish is a very specific number and it is believed to be the number of different kinds of fish that they were aware of at that time.

And then an inspirational thing happened...

When we finally got to church, we found that the service was going to include a wedding.  It was beautiful, fun and special to see.  But the highlight was listening to Yoseph preach.  He is a gifted preacher.  He is funny and entertaining, yet profound and inspirational.  We didn't understand everything he said as he preached in Amharic, but it didn't need translation to see that the crowd of 2000 people was hanging on his every word, laughing, engaged, shouting Amen, and being fed with the Word of God.  It was so good to see and hear.

It was a very full and very good day.

On Wednesday, we drive back to Addis and Paul leaves that night.  On Thursday, I will fly to Bhar Dar, northern Ethiopia, for meetings with our partners there.  I will then fly home on Friday night.

It will have been six weeks since I left, seven weeks since I saw my husband Michael as he was on a trip before I left.

I only will be home for three weeks before heading out again to Uganda, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Ghana.

I hope you found joy in your day today as well!

Sitotaw, Renita, Paul, Yoseph:  Photobombed by storks.

Surrounded by storks - they really are not the most attractive birds...

Cute little guy was at least polite enough to climb on the car, rather than on me.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Beauty in Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa is a beautiful city of close to four million people, sitting at about 8000 feet above sea level.  It is a city of beautiful people, lovely views, great food, and cultural richness.  Ethiopian people seem to love Ethiopia (maybe that sounds obvious but there are many people who don't like their own country).  We have heard a number of Ethiopians tell us that if they were given a chance to live anywhere in the world, they would choose Ethiopia.  That tells you something about this place.

Last year witnessed some amazing changes in Ethiopia, with a new prime minister who is allowing for freedom of speech, has brokered peace with Eritrea, and has given the whole country hope for the future.  Additionally, a new female president was brought in last year, and women represent more than 50% of the government.

But no-one would say that Ethiopia is perfect.  No country is.  Although Ethiopia is set to have one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, this reality is in part true because they are starting from such a low level.  On the Human Development Index, Ethiopia ranks 173 out of 189 countries.  The per capita income is $783 (compared to the US which is approximately $31,000).

Only 4% of the population in Addis Ababa are Protestant, while 82% are Orthodox Christian.  To say the Orthodox faith varies greatly from the Protestant view of how we are to live and worship would be an understatement.

Predictions are that Addis Ababa will be a city of more than six million in the near future.

Addis Ababa is a city with more than 100,000 homeless people, and at least 18,000 of those are children under the age of eighteen.  People can be seen sleeping on the sidewalk everywhere, every day.

One of the many reasons for this high rate of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing for those moving to urban areas from rural ones.  Additionally, safe housing with basic needs such as running water and electricity are also in short supply.  According to one study, 75% of the total population in Addis is living in overcrowded or dilapidated structures.

But another key reason is the lack of jobs and the high unemployment rate.  As we often say in DML, we need to train job makers, not just job seekers.

One of DML's partners in Ethiopia is an organization called Kibir (, which means "glory" in Amharic, who is doing just that - creating job makers.  Kibir is working in a number of different areas, and they took us to visit one special partner this past week.  A businessman, in his mid-thirties, who owns a construction and a catering company, felt the call of the homeless on his life.  He decided to start a ministry that would daily feed breakfast to the homeless youth and lunch for homeless adults.  While we were visiting, about 20 pre-teen and teen boys were there for breakfast.  About 80 adults show up for lunch daily.  Showers are provided, as is a laundry area where they can wash their clothes.  The gospel message is shared at every meal through a full-time pastor who has now worked in this ministry for six years.  The work is very challenging especially with the youth, Pastor Jeremiah shared, as it can take years to develop a relationship to the point where they will change their living situation.

Kibir is now working with this ministry to provide business training skills to the participants in this program.  Pastor Jeremiah pointed out that many of the homeless adults have a business or are even employed full-time but are still unable to afford housing.  Kibir hopes to help them increase their earnings by teaching the DML business training to them.  Misikir Aliku is the National Coordinator for Kibir and speaks with great excitement about the connection from working with churches, to training business members, to their potential impact in the community.

From the 27 people trained in their first training with this ministry for the homeless, 15 people came together, pooled their individual loans of 3000 birr (about $100 USD) and started a car wash.  The government even gave them land.  This car washing company is running well, with mentoring and consultation provided by Kibir.

Some of the Principle Objectives of Kibir:
  1. To see disciples of Jesus loving our neighbors and showing God’s goodness through our behavior as His people within the marketplace/workplace.
  2. To see many more business people in Ethiopia prepared and sent by the Ethiopian church to tell people of Christ and share his love, recognizing their God-given skills and experience in business. 
  3.  To do all this in a manner which will serve the local church and honor Christ. This is business with integrity and excellence. In particular, we would want to express the work as the single body of Christ, while recognizing our diversity of backgrounds and emphases. 
This is just one story of many that I heard from Kibir as it relates to the impact they are having.  Kibir is one of the beautiful parts of Addis.  In March, they trained 23 new trainers for the DML program.  We are blessed to be partnered with them!  Please pray for them and for their ministry as it grows!