For three weeks in July, I stayed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I lived at the office compound of Transformation Love, a child sponsorship ministry in a blighted area known as Korē. During the day, we visited the homes of the women and children who benefit from the ministry, and at night, I taught a philosophy and theology class at Evangelical Theological College.
Learning about Korē
My first experience with Ethiopia was in 2010 when I went there to help with a course at ETC, and also to check out this blighted area called Korē. Korē is an area in Addis Ababa, where approximately 80,000 people live in small, shanty homes made from sticks, mud, and metal sheeting, with severe limitations to food, clean water, and basic sanitation. Plastic tarps are also used on homes as shelter from the rain, which comes down in torrents in the winter months (summer months for Americans). Korē started out as a leper colony decades ago and centered around ALERT hospital, which ministered to these people. With the industrialization and development of Addis, Korē soon became a highly populated place where lepers, HIV victims, widows, and orphans abounded. In addition to a labor-intensive way of life, Korē is a place where there is abuse, prostitution, and violence. The only refuge has been the refuse of the city dump, Koshē, offering scant food supplies, and plastic to be rummaged for sale.
My first experience in Korē involved visiting women in dark, windowless, mud homes, who sat in lonely desperation with HIV while their children wandered the streets amid animal waste, garbage, muddy pits scattered among crude, stepping stones, and where men and boys played pool during the day and drank away whatever money they had in alcoholic doldrums. Where were the husbands? There were all gone: gone with abandonment, or death by disease, or to another city to find another meager labor position, making mere dollars per day. I saw food stands, which was good, but on a closer look, the food was covered with hundreds of flies. Women and children washed their clothes in dirty tubs of water. There were blind people. There were lepers. These walk the streets in awkward, mechanical, uneasiness. Some men wander the streets with nothing on but a shirt, walking in a half-daze.
What possible hope can these people have for this life? The question weighed me down with a heaviness too difficult to explain. This place shook me to the core. I’m reminded of a recent song by Pearl Jam – not exactly Captain Christian K-Love– but a poignant criticism of the suffering people undergo even with the hope of a blissful afterlife. The lyrics say, “Go to heaven, that’s swell, how do you like your living hell?”
Well, that all sounds bleak, doesn’t it? As Christians, even though we have the hope of a new heavens and a new earth, we are indeed called to bring hope to the hurting in the here and now. But how? How is this to be done?
Just before I left Addis Ababa on my first trip there, I learned of a child sponsorship ministry. This ministry helps children to go through school, all the way through college, so they can get decent jobs and have a hope for their future. The ministry also gives families a month’s supply of food so women don’t have to forage for things in the dangerous dump. They get soap for both bodies and clothes. Children get uniforms and supplies for school, which is a must if a child is to go to school. (Education is free in Addis, but families must supply both uniforms and books. Otherwise, children are not allowed in school).
Having been to Korē three times now, I have seen how Transformation Love helps women and children, and some men, by showing the compassion of Christ through physical and spiritual nourishment. There is nourishment for the whole person in terms of food, shelter, medicine, education, Bible study, worship, and prayer. I have seen the youth in TL graduate from high school with high honors and pursue education in nursing, IT, business, and pastoral ministry. Transformation Love and other ministries like it truly help people break the cycle of poverty.
Still, there are a number of challenges that lie ahead. Korē is developing economically. Roads, sidewalks, banks and other business, shopping centers, and large, expensive homes are converging on Korē from its outer rim. The city of Addis is under current plans to move the dump further outside the city, and therefore, people are investing in construction projects in Korē. This means jobs for many people doing many different things, and it is hard to deny the goodness of this development. However, what this also does, is raise the rent for the disenfranchised who either are unable to work these jobs due to lack of education or sickness, or both.
We have therefore a great challenge ahead of us, and this includes plans for both housing and the creation of jobs for the women. What kind of jobs can we help create for women who are sick and carry the stigma of HIV, and who are also uneducated, and are unable to work at a bank, for example? These are the questions we are now asking, and there is still much work to be done for these poorest of the poor.
Teaching at ETC
At the college and seminary, the course on philosophy and theology covered the history of western thought, along with major theologians and theological movements within the Christian church from its inception until now. Wanting to maximize the potential of relevance, I asked my students to tell me the challenges to the gospel in their culture, and they said they involve primarily the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Islam, African Traditional Religion, and Cultural problems, which are similar to our own here in the U.S.
First, the EOC teaches that because Jesus is divine, he is unable to intercede on behalf of sinners before God. Therefore, people are to pray to Mary, angels, and saints, and receive blessings by incantations, kissing the church gate, blessings from the priest, and other similar things. This brings in a lot of syncretism with pagan religion, and even witchcraft into the lives of people.
Second, there is the great challenge of Islam, which comprises 35-40% of the population in Ethiopia. There have been cases of violent persecution. Doctrinally, however, Islam teaches the impossibility of God becoming a Man in Christ, that the Bible is corrupted, that the concept of the atonement of Christ on the cross is blasphemous, as Allah would never allow one of his prophets to suffer shame, and that people must pay for their own sins, and may not receive forgiveness by means of the punishment of another.
African Traditional Religion is a third challenge for the gospel, as it teaches that God, the Supreme Being, is distant, unknown, and only to be feared; this means that life on earth involves appeasing good and evil spirits in order to be blessed. These spirits are arbitrary, and cannot be trusted, so it seems that fear is a constant emotion in ATR adherents.
In Ethiopian culture, as in our own, there are problems of fatherlessness, divorce, pornography, drug and alcohol addiction, depression, abortion, & hints of homosexuality imported by the West’s dominant, secular worldview. My Ethiopian students they are experiencing a whole host of challenges imported by the West through social & news media, movies, tv shows, and the like.
In A Nutshell
I want to thank my local church, Corinth Reformed Church, for all the support I’ve had, and for everyone else who supported me and my family in prayer, encouragement, and in finances. I couldn’t do this without you all. Although I was in Ethiopia in body, you were there in spirit. As Paul thanked the Philippian Christians for their partnership with him in the gospel, so I also thank my local church, and everyone who gave financially and prayed for me and helped take care of my family. Our Ethiopian brothers and sisters in Christ rejoice at the visitation of their American friends. They rejoice with hugs, kisses, handshakes, and tears. It means so much to them to have someone come such a long way to visit, teach, and show love and compassion. I do hope to go back next year, as the college has given me this invitation. Thank you again. May the Lord bless you all richly in Christ Jesus. Amen.