by Joy Casey
Today was a long day full of challenges, disappointment and joy. We pulled into the parking lot of our hotel just as the sun set. Dusty, parched and ready to be done with unbelievable “roads,” my attention is now focused on sharing bits and pieces of what evangelism in rural Ethiopia looks like. There are always amazing stories of how God touched lives that I never tire of hearing. Then there is the sobering news my staff brings me of significant push-back from the strong Mus!im communities where we are bringing the Good News of Jesus. But God, always faithful, had us end our day on a high note of encouragement. Read along as I share a few vignettes from the last 10 hours.
We headed out at 8 this morning to visit a nearby (20-30 minutes away) literacy class held in a recent church we built. The children have only been in class for three months but are making good progress learning the phonics of the Amharic alphabet. They also demonstrated they could add, subtract and divide simple numbers – I was surprised! They only have school four hours a week, but their eager brains soak up learning.
This is the second year for the church to hold literacy training for young children who cannot walk miles to a formal school. Our missionary who started the work in this village has good rapport with the people and many children head to the church to learn how to read. The Imam ordered Mus!im families not to allow their children to enter the Christian facility, but parents were desperate for their child to learn so ignored the warning. A month ago, in response to our school, the mosque began offering their own literacy classes, so we no longer have Mus!im students which is disappointing.
The next stop was to be deep in the heart of a people group that is 99% hard-core Mus!im to bring encouragement to our missionaries and the new Christian community the missionaries are slowly building. I was eager to meet the brave people who stand for Christ in a very hostile environment. Just minutes before we were to leave, a phone call squashed our plans. In the area where we were headed, there had been a dispute between two tribes over a boundary that was significant enough for the federal army to be called to restore order. When something like this happens, Christians are always tense because historically the Mus!ims use unrest as a license to target individuals who have turned from Islam. The caller warned against strangers, especially a White stranger, from coming. My presence would attract too much unwanted attention. So, Zerihun (Evangelism Director) and our Missionary Coordinator went to check things out.
Prior to our missionaries coming, the few Christians in this village kept their heads low and prayed alone in their houses. Now, after missionaries being in the village a year, they gather together house-to-house, but never in the same place consistently. They meet on various days at various times. No house can hold all the adults and children, so the children are taken to a lean-to and taught both phonics and Bible while their parents are with our missionaries and enjoying fellowship with each other.
Over lunch, Zerihun reported the status of the Christians and missionaries explaining the intricacies of the political and religious climate of the village. He said when they entered the village, a couple of Mus!im men followed them and stood outside the house the whole time they were there. Zerihun invited them in, but they declined. He brought back pictures to soothe my disappointment for not being able to touch and see the missionaries who are so often in my prayers.
Next, we headed over hill and dale to visit a new church start among a completely different tribe of people. They are Mus!im, but much more receptive, open and friendly. It is with this tribe of people we have had the most measurable success. The missionary who reached out to this village has planted two very successful, large churches among his tribe. One is now self-sufficient under the leadership of a pastor, and the other is on the cusp of being launched on its own. Missionary Kena* has a modus operandi when he starts evangelism in a new place. He finds a man of peace who will let him erect (or use) a mud hut on which he immediately plants a wooden cross announcing there is a church in the area. Never mind there isn’t anyone in it yet … there will be. It made my heart glad to see the cross on top of the straw roof as we pulled up to the church. Kena had called the people to come greet us, and we stepped into the church hut with worship going full blast to the beat of a drum … what a treat!
Kena shared two stories of people who are new followers of Jesus. One was a Qur’an scholar but a seeker of truth. He was the man of peace on whose property the church sat. Kena and he spent hours together as God worked on his heart to joyfully surrender to The Truth. Another woman was pregnant, but her side swelled badly and she was in constant intense pain. Prior to delivering her baby, Kena prayed for her. Within three days, the swelling and pain completely left! She had a normal delivery and was radiant today when I met her. Incredibly, 100 adults and teens cram into the tiny hut to worship and learn from Kena, while 40 kids are taught outdoors.
Many people contributed toward audio Bibles from the gift catalog and High Pointe Church youth group raised over $1,500 for the same. Because of this remarkable generosity, I was able to bring many Bibles loaded with the languages of the three main people groups we work with. Today I had the joy of giving Bibles to 10 people who cannot read. The looks on their faces says it all! Many more will be distributed tomorrow.
*Not his real name. We don’t share missionary names or the names of the villages for security reasons.