MCC leadership learning tour in Ethiopia and Uganda
A Mennonite Central Committee learning tour group (comprised of board and staff members from across Canada and one from the U.S.) visited Ethiopia and Uganda Aug. 26–Sept. 10, 2013. The purpose was to experience MCC’s projects and partnerships and their effectiveness in the holy work of being the church – Jesus’ hands and feet – in places of need. Delegation member Danny Unrau describes some of what the group encountered.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” gushed Sister Sophia, meeting us as we disembarked the bus.
The nun in her sky-blue habit wasn’t taking God’s name in vain; she was effusively thanking the Lord that the “good people” (her words) from MCC had come to bless her, pray with her, and encourage her anew.
“Thank you! Thank you for enabling 30 girls to be students here, and for the science labs that you built and equipped for us some years ago. And, thank you, too, in advance, for what MCC can yet do to help us deliver the next two levels of high school education for our girls, so that they will be able to go to university,” she shouted after us as we boarded the bus renewed in our compassion and faith by this remarkable woman.
“Have there been any unexpected results from the food security program [that MCC has partnered with] in the research and development wing of the Meserete Kristos Church here in Boricha, Ethiopia?” someone asked Frew (fray-oh), the remarkably able, young administrator of the program.
“Besides feeding people, empowering people, educating people, and giving farmers and families new hope,” he smiled, “we have planted 11 churches.”
The shout “Asante sana!” (Thank you very much!) and accompanying rhythmic hand clapping exploded in the tense confines of the stuffy meeting room. Someone had just said a kind word about the reconciliation work being done in the overcrowded family barracks of the Kampala Police Headquarters, and the response was spontaneous.
The visiting MCC delegation, with members of ALARM (a ministry of reconciliation committed to bringing some peace in and around the life of a too-often-feared and sometimes disreputable police force), not only heard the good news of progress made in the barracks, but ALARM also received an invitation to “bring more of your peace” to other police precincts in the country.
Four women, enveloped in layers of traditional Ethiopian dress, sat against the end wall of the room; our group had filled the space around tables, cups of steaming tea in our hands. The rain beating against the tin roof tried to drown out the stories in the room.
The women seemed shy and humble, self-conscious and uncomfortable – until it came time for each of them to tell their personal stories. Then, “lit up” as if plugged into a higher power, each extolled the blessings of the HIV/AIDS ministry of which they had been recipients. One after the other, they poured out the good news of how, with the administration of ARV drugs, they had been able to rise from their beds and work again. They spoke of receiving nutrition counselling and small loans to start their own businesses, send their children to school (even college, in two cases); and, what was more, save – yes, save, “Praise the Lord!” – the equivalent of one dollar per month for future needs.
Misrak Addis Meserete Kristos Church began to fill a half hour before the first note of music sounded. The large crowd made up mostly of persons under 30 sat to pray privately and waited for the service to begin.
When it did, we sang only one congregational song – for 45 minutes. Verse after verse interspersed with a repeated chorus: My purpose on earth is to worship You; if I don’t worship You, O Jesus, I have no place on this earth. We found we didn’t need a variety in songs, for the energy and intensity and emotion rose and fell between periods of lament and joy, tongues and tears, ululating and groans. At times, bodies leapt toward heaven; other times faces bowed to the floor.
This was worship. This was devotion.
We could not understand the words, but what these worshippers were saying, feeling, celebrating, and crying out for was unmistakable. The chief end of all humans – …to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism) – was clearly evident.
—Dan Unrau is a storyteller and a pastor. He lives in Richmond, B.C.