Ethiopian Adventure (with a Cairo excursion)
Wednesday, 6/18/2008: Larry Page and I met at 5:00 a.m. at the Springfield Airport and enjoyed a perfect flight to Atlanta and then on to JFK where we met Tony Williamson. Neither of them slept much on the 10 ½ hour flight over to Cairo. We hit the ground running (Thursday 6/19)—straight to Safaa Fahmi’s house where we talked for a good hour about the possibility of a library partnership between his ministry and ICR. We left for a bazaar for a couple of hours and then shared a large meal with a group from Lakeside Christian Church.
Friday, 6/20: We arrived back at Safaa’s house at 7:45 a.m. and went directly to the Giza pyramids. They are extraordinary. One wonders about a man who built a labyrinth of 2.5 million stones for forty years so he could create an eternal monument. After lunch we have three hours in the Cairo Museum, one of the finest archaeological museums of the world—very near paradise. The evening meal was a dinner boat cruise on the Nile, complete with a belly dancer and a twirling ‘dervish’. We returned to the training center at 1:00 a.m., asleep at 2:00, up at 5:30 a.m. I need the Lord to do with my sleep what he did with the loaf and fish.
Saturday, 6/21: I sang this morning and wept at the words "Give me Jesus”. [Lord, please heal Tony’s shoulder and return Brian to his early passion for the Lord.] We drove to Alexandria and met Nada Thabet in the Village of Hope, a place where she ministers to people with disabilities, including her son Maged, born March 2, 1980. She was one of a thousand women recognized by the Nobel Peace prize for significant works around the world. Her presence prompted me to write: "What will be my vision, my cause, my cross? What will draw me into such passion that I will sell my possessions, arise in the middle of the night to pray, and cause me to weep?” From the village we drove to the library (modern) of Alexandria…I was in heaven. Our flight leaves for Addis via Jeddah, at 11:45 p.m. We are the only three Anglos on the plane in the midst of a pilgrimage to Mecca. We are out of place and feeling it. There is a sea of black and white burkhas glaring at our intrusion. They are celebrating a one-in-a-life-time journey and we are not particularly welcome.
Sunday 6/22: After several hours in Jeddah (without our passports), we finally were given boarding passes and first-class accommodations on the plane. That made the 2 ½ hour flight a dream. Our contacts were waiting for us in the Airport, but Tony’s luggage was not. We have showered, had a fantastic macchiato and now at 11:00 a.m. are sitting in an English language church (Tony followed the youth out of church and participated in their class…he is amazing).
Monday 6/23: After lunch yesterday it became apparent that Larry and I were heading south. Throughout the night we had fevers and chills, nausea, and ache all over. I feared malaria, but in the morning it appeared food poisoning was the more likely culprit (Larry thinks it was bad falafel in Alexandria [surprising, but I’ve never used this previous sentence before]). The strange thing was that my tongue was black! Larry (after telling me it was viral…just to mess with me) discerned that it was from chewing Pepto-Bismol tablets which oxidized on my tongue when I didn’t have the energy to walk down the hall to brush my teeth. After sleeping all morning and a four hour drive to Hosannah I feel much better. Kurt and Cathy Michler (our American hosts) have taken good care of us.
Tuesday 6/24: After three more hours of travel we arrived at Sodo, a city of mostly dirt roads, cement store fronts, and a collage of beautiful but destitute people, sitting nearly 4K’ in the mountains. It is in the upper 60’s-lower 70’s. Little rain. Over 275 people showed up at the conference. Dr. Rick Calenberg led off and I followed with a session on a "Reading Strategy for the Gospels”. It was just super. These are the front-line evangelists, many in Islamic areas. Ethiopia is a Christian Island in a Muslim sea. These men are critical for the extension of the name of Jesus in this part of the world. 9:30 p.m. knock at the door woke me up with an announcement that a team member of Rick lost his 25 year old daughter suddenly and will have to return to the states in the morning.
Wednesday 6/25: Full-day of conference. Richard Caleberg presented twice, Larry Page once, and I twice. It is solid lecture from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a two-hour lunch and a tea break in the a.m. and p.m. The speakers are expected to dress in coat and tie and sit up front in the places of honor. By the time we get to the restaurant, order and wait, eat and get back to the hotel it is 9:00 p.m. and I go straight to sleep. I think I may still be catching up but feel quite good.
Thursday 6/26: The second full day of the conference I was greeted by two-dozen buzzards right outside the window in the courtyard below. I read a great deal through the day in Scripture. That was refreshing, but I probably should have paid better attention to the other speakers. Tony spoke last and did a fine job. Power was out all day so we could not check email and this make me sad for it is at the 7 day mark that I begin most to miss Barbara.
Friday 6/27: Today we closed the conference and distributed 279 book sets of 40 books each. There were a few sessions in the morning before we distributed the books. Since the truck was delayed, I was given the chance to teach an extra session. We were given a back-stage tour of a church that holds services for 4K believers every Sunday. "Awesome” is an appropriate word for what is happening here. About 3:30 p.m. we left Larry and headed south to Arba Minch. We dropped 3K feet in elevation and raised 20 degrees in temperature. This is more like the Africa people imagine. The drive was a menagerie of goats, huts, cows, banana trees and people walking everywhere. Tony waved at every Ethiopian and caused a substantial stir with his red hair and broad smile. Our hotel is wonderful. A reasonably comfortable bed, hot water, and a mosquito net. Right outside the room is a colorful courtyard where we will share the next 21 meals and aside from the foliage and wild birds there are three pet DikDik who beg like puppies. My soul is at rest.
Saturday, 6/28: It is a true Sabbath. good meals, several hours to read and after lunch we took a boat ride on the lake looking for hippos and crocodiles. We were not disappointed. We saw several families of each, upward of 50 individuals. Our driver backed up to the shore where a 17-19’ crock was sunning. He chased him into the water … straight at us! This was thrilling. We’ve found an internet café here and cherish every email from our families.
Sunday, 6/29: I arise at 6:00 to get Tony out of bed so we can go join a soccer match. I played on the team that won three straight games (by scoring once, which had nothing to do with my personal athletic prowess for sure). Hence I got to run for 45 minutes at 3,000’ altitude. Later that morning my vision went blurry on the right side for about 30 minutes. I think it was heat exhaustion and dehydration. It came back just in time for me to preach. Tony and I decided to both preach on the Gerasene Demoniac. After the message, an elder pointed out that the music leader had read from that very chapter where Peter asked "Don’t you care if we drown.” The congregation received this as a message from the Lord. The church is made from Cedar posts with long branches across the ceiling, with metal framing attached. The floor is dirt, covered with a very thick bamboo mat which also comprises the walls. Young women dress in white with head coverings. The children sit up front on the floor and listen with rapt attention. Right after I preach the power goes out and we wait for the generator to fire up so the choir can do a final number with ample amplification. Meanwhile a rooster announces his presence just outside the church. This is sacred.
Monday, June 30: We took a day trip up the mountain to see the original SIM (Service in Missions) work in the Chincha mountains. It was so cool we almost needed jackets. This work not only plants churches, it also plants fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs for medicine, food, and income. It is a wonderful holistic model of ministry. On the way back down the mountain we stopped to buy hand woven cloth shawls for our wives. We bought four of them for $10. Somehow, however, we paid twice (we were tricked). It was a bit uncomfortable as we watched the native evangelists try to sort this out. In the evenings after dinner Tony and I have been sharing a single piece of chocolate for a dessert. I had rationed them to last through Friday, but found five of them missing. It appears that the room service helped themselves, but we really don’t know. We then went to the internet office and they stayed open for us about 30 minutes but when we went to pay we were charged four times the normal rate and were told it was overtime pay. I had had enough! I was angry that three times in one day I had been pilfered. The total amount was less than $13 but I thought, "This is not right.” My righteous indignation was rebuked by the Holy Spirit as I began to meditate on what I might do if I lived in perpetual grinding poverty. In some way, surely Jesus’ words are applicable: "Do not judge or you will be judged.” Unless I’m willing to deal with the systemic evils of this place I should neither judge nor complain about the "responsive” evils which manifest themselves in individual or isolated peccadilloes.
Tuesday, July 1: It was a wonderful morning of reading and rest. We had a powerful prayer time in my room prompted by Rick Calenberg. After lunch we drove up to the conference center for two opening sessions. They were shocked when over 300 showed up and they had to call back to headquarters to stock more book sets for Friday. The sessions were very strong and I just love these people with whom I can only communicate through a translator, touch, and a smile. After dinner I read for another hour and nearly finished the 2nd of three books I plan to read on this trip. We did a bit of email with our wives which soothed our beleaguered souls before another sweaty and lonely night under a mosquito net.
Wednesday, July 2: We open the first full day of the conference with worship. A tall handsome man sings fervently to the very throne of God. A sea of hands lifts to heaven like lilies reaching lustfully toward the sun. Though the congregation worships as one, each sings, prays, and moves with eyes closed in intimate communion with the one true God. The song climaxes with a crescendo of adoration and I am reminded that those who are poor, truly posses the kingdom and covet this sole possession which makes all else pale. Now the beat slows to a lilt and we allow Jesus to embrace our souls with a tenderness I’ve forgotten in this last season of frenetic service. Here is where I want to dwell. The sessions went reasonably well. One ended with a powerful exhortation to the Ethiopian pastors to faithfully proclaim the gospel in this hostile land. I skipped out on the final session to go play soccer. It was fun and the men I played with most surely enjoyed beating up on a 45 year old American; I even got nutmeged. About 9:45 p.m. I went and wok up Tony so we could dance in the rain we prayed for.
Thursday, July 3: At breakfast I was reminded that I live at the center of my world. Because of both my occupation and propensity, I’m usually the center of attention and the truth is, I love it. I am intoxicated with the desire for honor and attention. God, save me from myself. Teach me to put others at the center, not out of a sense of compassion or obligation but from the exhilarating realization that people are immensely interesting, beautiful, and valuable. During the break a woman asked Tony and I (through a translator) to give her our addresses to write to us. She is an evangelist whose church as well as her nonChristian family has rejected. Female evangelists are not easily accepted in these churches. She asked for prayers, which is often a prelude to asking for money. Our support could make a world of difference to her and cause a world of hurt for the mission. Lord, give us wisdom to manage the vast resources at our disposal. After my session we called for the church leaders to lay hands on Tony and pray for healing. We felt heat spread across his shoulders. Afterwards he felt no pain and raised his hand above his head for the first time in 5 years. He experienced immediate (though not complete) mobility and has not had pain since. He is doing all sorts of things for the first time in years like sleeping through the night, wearing a back pack, holding his hands behind his back. I couldn’t be more thrilled. He now gets to give a presentation on mentoring…I can’t wait! He’s gonna rock! P.S. He knocked it out of the park.
Friday, July 4: After teaching on Jesus’ view of women through the eyes of John, Tony and I were privileged to pass out over 350 book sets to pastors. As a special treat, a 90 year old evangelist gave a greeting to the conference. He began his ministry in 1942 and walked everywhere he preached for the first 50 years in some of the most hostile territory in the world. He is destined to wear a white robe soon. In the afternoon we returned to Sodo and I shouted "Happy Fourth of July” to all the markets so that thousands of Ethiopians were at one time both excited and very confused—not only do they not recognize our holiday, they use a completely different calendar.
Saturday, July 5: We continue our trek back to Addis and arrive shortly after lunch giving us time to pull money from one of the three working ATM’s in the capital city…it was out of cash. But we did make it to a money exchange place so Tony and I could pay our bills before leaving the country. We swung by a coffee shop to pick up a few bags for friends back home. We had one last meal with our friend Esias and then Tony and I arrived at the Airport three hours early for our 10:45 p.m. flight back home, ending in the arms of our wives. Tony’s companionship for the last 18 days has led me into a deeper appreciation of his selfless generosity, self-depreciating humor, and hyperbolic praise of others. Lord, please grant that this is but the first of many adventures we share together.