by Joy Casey in Ethiopia

Three hours from the capital city of Addis Ababa and we are there! It has been two years since I visited the Mus!im village where we first started our evangelism work. The ministry of NewLife has had a considerable impact on this village and surrounding area. When we started in 2010, this dusty village on the savannah was 100% Mus!im, but the people and leaders were friendly and welcomed us because of the extensive development work we did in their community.

These past two years, the mosque leaders have ramped up their rhetoric and the whole area has a different feeling. Small mosques are being built everywhere. The villagers are still warm and friendly, but there is a group of Oromo militant Mus!im men who call themselves the Oromo Liberation Front who want to destabilize the country for the purpose of Oromo autonomy. They have created fear, distrust, and unrest in this village. Recently, a local militia graduation near to our village was bombed, killing (among others) the brother of our guard. Our staff have their ears to the ground and let us know when it is safe to come or to do this and that. We had planned to go to this village Monday, but Monday was not safe, so we drove by and went to Addis. Yesterday things had significantly calmed down and we were given the green light to come.

The first thing we did was visit Madina, mother of a first-year kindergarten boy, Abatu Batira. Madina is widowed losing her husband to complications of diabetes. Abatu is one of eight brothers and sisters. This is the house they were all trying to live in.

And this is the house that a wonderful friend of our ministry had built for this family of 9.

The donor also made sure Madina had a nice mattress to sleep on and blankets and pillows for everyone. Madina had her house neat and clean with the walls decorated beautifully.

She was SO PROUD of her new house that will keep the rain out and has a cement floor that will not turn into mud … a dwelling that can actually accommodate her large family. It was a joy beyond my ability to describe to see her in her new home!

There is another house that has been recently constructed through the generosity of the sponsor of a kindergarten child, but we were unable to visit that family and see their house. For reasons mentioned above, our case worker did not feel comfortable having us out and about in the village too much. I did get to meet the mother of one other of our students whose sponsor has purchased a house and donkey for her. Construction has not yet started, but when she heard we were at Madina’s she came over to say thank you with lots of hugs and kisses, Ethiopian style.

It was great to be back in the Christian compound, see the church and training center and say hello to the kindergarten kids just finishing their lunch. We must expand our lunchroom. It only holds 40 and ideally it is best that all 60 kindergarteners have a place to sit and eat instead of eating in shifts. I brought daily vitamins with me that will supplement their lunch until the end of this school year. Kelli, who is traveling with me, had a fun time with the kids delighting them with bright balloons.

We recently renovated the playground, and all the play equipment is working perfectly and displays a fresh, colorful coat of paint.

This summer, we will do some much-need repair to the exterior classroom walls and paint the classes.

The classrooms were inviting, decorated with A-B-C, and counting pictures along with pictures and crafts done by the children. They made paper mache bowls, hardened them in the sun and then colorfully decorated them and made toy Ethiopian wheelbarrows out of scraps of bamboo … they were quite ingenious. I am sorry I did not take a picture to show you!

I brought manipulatives for numbers and letters that have endless uses for young learners—enough for all three classrooms.

I spent time showing the teachers how they can be used and encouraged them to allow the children to just play with them. Each room has a brand-new storage closet, so supplies are close at hand.  I wish every sponsor of a kindergarten child could physically see the children and the sweet Mana Gammachuu school and understand the impact this school has on children, their families, and the whole community. Each kindergarten family is visited by our pastoral staff. They get to know the parent(s) by listening and then praying for them. They share the gospel, and the family is left feeling supported and valued. These people are Mus!im and their leaders have made it extremely difficult for anyone to leave their faith. Despite that, the best news I heard during my time there was that the mother and father of one of our kindergarten boys had become Christ-followers! The strong Christian community that is established will provide the support and teaching necessary to help this couple remain strong in their new-found faith and resist the intimidation and harassment they will face. Through a donation from the child’s sponsor, we were able to leave a solar powered audio bible in the Oromo language with our case manager to give to our new brother and sister.

I also met one of our original kindergarten students, Marta.

Marta in Kindergarten

She is now in 9th grade! Most of our students continue in the village government school until 8th grade and some walk the distance (about an hour) to the nearest town to attend high school. It was so good to see her!

Today…was indeed a wonderful visit to this village!