by Joy Casey

Mana Gammachuu is translated ‘Joyful Place’ … and that it is.  For most anyway.  Ethiopian or American, kids generally share the same cognitive milestones, and some 5-6-7-year-olds are more ready for school than others.

We have 60 children in our kindergarten school in a Mus!im village of about 5,000 people — kindergarteners full of wiggles and giggles.  As you will find in any classroom on planet earth, some kiddos love every minute of their school day while others would rather be outdoors playing.

Take Sinbo, for example.  This little boy is not fond of sitting in a chair indoors.  His teachers report he is not attentive and is disruptive.  Now how could a sweet face like his get a report like that?

Then there is Lensa.  This little girl LOVES school and everything about it.  She eagerly reports her favorite subject is learning to write and energetically delves into any and all learning scenarios.  She is a joy to teach!

We get little vignettes like these throughout the school year that we share with sponsors.  Kim, our program administrator, receives the reports, and sharing some of the more interesting stories at our staff meeting made us all laugh and feel somehow closer to the teachers and kids.   Sponsors also get a description of the daily living conditions of the children and some of the struggles their families may be going through.

I needed a reminder that each child in our kindergarten is a unique individual, not just a number or part of a group.  God loves each of them, even Sinbo … maybe especially Sinbo … and will use the two years they are in our school as a way to perhaps change the perception of Christians in this Mus!im-dominated area.

The families of the kindergarten students are supplemented with a bag of corn, their staple food, and hygiene products.  Meeting basic needs during semi-drought conditions which yield stunted crops, is a tangible way of expressing the words, “Jesus loves you,” and breaks down barriers between Mus!ims and Christians.

Even though school is going splendidly, the political climate where the school is located is tense.  The people living there are of the Oromo tribe and tribal affiliation is much stronger than national identity.  The Oromos are also the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia (55 million) and a group called the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) is seeking autonomy for their tribe.  To achieve that end, they disrupt local governments and displace people from other tribes living in Oromo towns and villages.  Because 98% of the Oromos are Mus!im, Christians are always a target when lawlessness gets the upper hand.

There are nine Oromo missionaries living and serving in the area of our kindergarten.  They and other Christ-followers use caution when out and about and lean heavily on the Holy Spirit’s guidance when sharing about Jesus.  Even with threats and danger all around them, the missionaries shared the salvation message with 1,500 people last year and 15 courageous souls accepted Jesus as their Savior.  Christian fellowships in six villages continue to meet.

When Jason and I visited Ethiopia in December, it was too dangerous for us to go to this village and spend time with the teachers and children in our Mana Gammachuu school.  We are praying for a resolution to this conflict so people can regain a sense of safety and pursue daily living routines without fear.

I want to extend an invitation to sponsor a kindergarten child for $35 a month.  You will be assigned a child and receive information about his/her family.  It is fun and rewarding to become involved with a family by helping their child learn to read and write, add and subtract, preparing them for first grade and beyond.  This solid educational foundation is an incredible gift in a society where less than 48% of the men can read and very few women are literate.