by Jason Barta
This post may be a bit different than what you normally read from NewLife, but I hope the emotions and observations I have after a very long travel hiatus due to Covid will address questions many of you might have.
I am traveling with Dr. Antoinnette Williams, a gifted teacher, inspiring encourager and powerful prayer warrior. Dr. Williams is a teacher and strategizer with DMi – David Chung Ministries. She also is friend of NewLife Ethiopia and a vital partner in grounding leaders in our church plants, inspiring everyone she comes into contact with. This week she held two workshops in two locations for our missionaries and church leaders.
We arrived in Ethiopia October 31st having passed 2 Covid tests to get here (and another test is required to leave). We were tired, but excited to be back in Ethiopia where God called us both to many years ago. In some ways it felt like a first time trip even though I have been here a dozen times. It is emotional to come back to Ethiopia as two of my children are from this beautiful country and it holds a special place in my heart. The fact that God’s grace has allowed me to come here so often is never lost on me, and I am grateful to be able to invest in my children’s birth country.
Upon arrival, we went through immigration, got our passports stamped and made it through one last security check with no resistance to all the formula and medicine we were bringing. We had been praying for God to go ahead of us as we brought ten suitcases full of necessities for our orphanage, school, Ethiopia staff and missionaries. There is always the risk of supplies being confiscated or a demand for a large “tax”; it is energizing to experience His divine protection.
We loaded our bags in the van and then stopped at a coffee shop and enjoyed a wonderful cup of Ethiopian buna (coffee) before embarking on a 3-hour car trip to Ziway. We checked into our guest house, freshened up some (after a 23-hour plane ride and 3 hour car trip!), got some lunch and then headed out to visit the nearby Christian compound where we have 3 kindergarten classrooms, a training center and a church nestled in the center of a Muslim village. It was Sunday and we arrived there around 3 p.m. and were shocked that the entire Christian community was waiting for us even though church started early that morning.
Who are we that they would want to wait that long? Music and singing greeted us and it warmed my heart to hear the beautiful voices of my brothers and sisters half way around the world worshiping the same God we do. We prayed for the church, its members and the village that Jesus’s name would be made known, even in the mist of civil unrest and significant persecution. It was a powerful time of prayer!
I often hear the question, “Why go? Would it not be better to just send the money?” Experiencing the anticipation of people so eager to be encouraged by us they stayed at church from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., reinforced the necessity of being physically in their midst. I truly believe as we come to worship, pray and teach these converts from Islam they are refreshed and can see and feel the love of Jesus. They ask, “Why would these Americans leave their families, jobs and comfort to come spend time with us?” The answer is simple: Jesus sees their need and expresses His love to them in this tangible way.
Living in a village is like nothing we Americans can comprehend. They usually have one set of clothes and pair of shoes. They are all farmers and that is how they provide food and money for their families. When drought and famine come, on its heels is starvation and the specter of death. Then the next year they do not have seeds from the harvest and the cycle continues.
I can only imagine being a Christian in a Muslim-dominated village. With the hardness of daily life and the persecution they face as converts, I might ask, “Where is God in all of this?” And then we show up to let them know we see them and love them and, more importantly, God sees them and loves them. He hears their cries and is with them and comforts them in the hard times. Our presence tells them they are a beloved people who God loves so much He would send a brother and sister halfway around the world during a pandemic just to tell them that.
When little children run up to you to hold your hand, when adults smile and give you a hug, when you pray for them and they pray for you, as tears roll down our cheeks …. we are forcefully reminded why we come and, more significantly, they are shown that God sees and loves them more than they will ever be able to comprehend.
We eagerly welcomed going to bed after this emotional and eventful day. Many of our church leaders and missionaries have traveled from afar to partake in Antoinette’s leadership training!