Cover Story

Ethiopia's new flowers

"Ethiopia's new flowers" Continued...

Issue: "Ethiopia's new flower," May 31, 2008

They don't have much but they share, particularly during the coffee ceremony, a daily social ritual that includes popcorn and allows full participation by women who roast the coffee in the living room while others sit and converse with them. Ethiopia's largest evangelical denomination, the Kale Haywet Church, has adapted the coffee ceremony to its HIV/AIDS prevention work: Health issues become part of the conversation. When the church outreach workers show that it's safe to drink coffee with an infected person, they are helping to restore that person to community life.

Ethiopian Christians also touch those they help: They are showing love tangibly and conferring dignity on those often rejected by neighbors and families. When children see home workers hugging their parents or sharing coffee with them, it helps relieve the shame they feel about their parents' illness. Lives change: One woman, forced as a child to wed husband No. 1, and then helped to escape by HIV-positive husband No. 2, was bedridden and demented four years ago, until the SIM/MTW program saved her life and gave her new hope.

Compassionate Christian medical workers are also active elsewhere in Addis Ababa. A CURE International surgeon will soon be operating on children with cleft palates or clubfoot, disabilities that local healers (aka witch doctors) say are spiritual curses. Another Christian charity, Selam Children's Village, educates 350 orphans who live in its shady village, plus more than 3,000 poor students from the surrounding community.

The village operates alongside Selam Technical and Vocational College, which trains older orphans and other poor students in auto mechanics, metal and woodworking, building construction, machine technology, and electricity. Students build new facilities for the Children's Village and also manufacture items that they adapt for use in poor areas of Africa: Last year the school made and sold more than $2 million worth of threshers, pumps, windows, concrete blocks, ductwork, steel boats, and solar cookers.

Outside of Addis Ababa, other ministries save and change hundreds of lives. A three-hour drive southwest of the capital runs past donkeys, goats, scrawny cattle, and many buzzards, to an area in the Gurage mountains that is 95 percent Muslim. There sits Project Mercy, which offers Christian and vocational education to 1,500 children and also provides a medical clinic and a variety of economic development and agricultural training projects.

Marta Gabre-Tsadick, a 75-year-old former member of the Ethiopian senate, created Project Mercy in the early 1990s by asking local villagers what they most needed and then setting up the school they requested-but "when the children of the school started accepting Christ, they no longer wanted us," said Gabre-Tsadick. "They threw stones at us. For a year and a half we could not go outside the compound at night."

Gabre-Tsadick and Project Mercy survived, in part because her extended family has deep roots in the area and in part because the school and clinic were meeting deep needs. She applies her experience to the training of her students, telling those who only want to evangelize that they should develop a skill that will make people come to them: "Go to nursing school and become a public health person. Learn medicine, engineering, business management, law."

Now the school, with help from the United States, has 12 donated Dell computers; students built the computer tables. American veterinarians are running a cattle-breeding program; students are making bricks and crafting cabinets, benches, and doors. Agricultural experts are introducing to the area tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, and other nutritious vegetables; students are constructing new Project Mercy buildings.

And all is done with unabashed evangelism. Clinic patients pay 60 cents for a consultation, $1 for lab work, and $3 for X-rays, Gabre-Tsadick says, but nothing for an added benefit: "We ask them, 'Could we pray for you before we start? Jesus is the great physician.' We've had 11,000 patients, and no one has said no." The clinic and school still upset some Muslim leaders, one of whom complained about "brainwashing students with the Bible"-but Gabre-Tsadick recounts that he also admitted, "There's no use getting rid of you. You have sunk your roots so deep."

That Muslim's response may suggest the answer to our initial question: How can U.S. evangelicals be helpful to their brethren in Ethiopia? Find and help Christian individuals and groups who are sinking deep roots. World Bank programs and others that work off grants from massive organizations seem to come and go, but the Fistula Hospital, Selam, and Project Mercy have shown staying power.

A second answer for Ethiopian society might be: Emphasize compassion, not politics. The ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) uses its television and radio monopoly, along with fraud, to win elections, with violence as a backup: Government forces killed close to 200 protesters and imprisoned thousands following the 2005 elections.

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