by Joy Casey

Before another day passes, I need to explain why I am doing this trip solo.  My colleague and friend, Jason Barta, planned to travel with me.  We spent much time planning what to bring and making sure our four suitcases were packed to the limit.  However, sitting at the gate at SeaTac, Jason became violently ill.  Reluctantly but wisely, he made the decision not to get on the flight.  His bags were pulled from the airplane, and he made it home to discover that his entire family was down with the flu.  I greatly miss not having Jason with me.  Only by being here and seeing how things are and having time with our in-country staff can we effectively lead.  Jason and I will come back in April along with two others from my church.

Today felt like an extreme 4-wheel expedition in the back country of Montana like I did with my family last summer, although on that trip we did not have to navigate around cattle and laden donkey carts.  75% of the time on our excursion today there were no roads and we negotiated dried gullies, ruts and rocks while skillfully avoiding slipping into craters.

Thank God for our trusty 4-wheel drive vehicle made specifically for such terrain. And thank God for Miki, our driver! The long distances between the two Christian communities we visited coupled with the incredibly rough ride left us fatigued at days end.  Would I do this again?  You bet I would!  I had the tremendous honor of meeting one man in particular, whose steadfast love of Jesus in the midst of loneliness and persecution challenged me to my core.  I had fellowship with a group of recent Mus!im converts living in an almost inaccessible area who are on fire to share the Good News they so recently accepted.  I also got to visit the most humble Christian community I have ever experienced in a town dominated by Islam.  I know not everybody is enviable of what I get to do, but I tell you … you’re missing out!

The sky is bright blue and the air is warming as we head out this morning to find a Christian community that has been in the making for several years.  Daniel,* one of our missionaries, has been coming to this village for two years.  It takes him an hour on his motorcycle to get there, but he has faithfully come at least one time a week, talking to people about the Lord and leading many to Christ.  A tall man named Mamaru was the first person Daniel encountered.  He was a pleasant man and kind, but rejected what Daniel shared although they remained friends.

The next person he met was a Christ-follower, the only one in the village. About five years ago a group from a church ventured to this place telling all who would listen about God’s plan for salvation.  Temesgen was as skeptical as his neighbors, but one night God gave him a dream where he was reading the Holy Bible in the midst of many Christians.  The dream was so real, Temesgen secured a Bible and began reading it cover to cover.  By the time he finished, he was captivated by God’s love.  No one else in his village was drawn to Christ, and Temesgen’s entire family rejected him because of his conversion.  If he died, they would not bury him.  He was not welcome at any family celebrations or funerals.  They would not speak to him and his wife; he was shunned by the entire village. Isolated and lonely, Temesgen began fervently praying for God to birth a church in his village so he could have fellowship with other Christ-followers.  He told us, “When Daniel came it was as if Christ Himself was among us.”  Today, Temesgen is overjoyed to see what God has done, and I know the group I met with today is the result of strong intercessory prayer … and the perseverance of Missionary Daniel.

Oh, and it didn’t take too long for Mamaru came to the Lord, too!  He has been discipled by Daniel and is a pillar among this group of Believers.  Mamaru donated a portion of his land to the church; so when God provides, a church can be constructed.

They are currently holding church at Mamre’s home.  “I believe Daniel was sent to us by God.  We heard the Gospel from him and accepted the amazing gift of eternal life.  Now, all I have … my house, myself, my land, my family … are given to Christ.”  When there were few of them, they had church inside her home.  But now with 135 adults and children, they meet in Mamre’s front yard under a big tree.

We gathered today under that nice shade tree that also provides housing for an incredible array of birds whose voices joined ours as we solemnly worshiped then prayed to the God of all nations.

As we have had the joy to do this week, we gave audio Bibles to many of the women who cannot read.  Thanks again and again to those who provided these solar charged Bibles !!

I really didn’t want to leave this sweet fellowship, but we promised Missionary John* we would stop by his village so we needed to say goodbye.

‘Stop by’ seems like a simple thing to do.  But in this case, it wasn’t simple at all.  It was quite a distance and there were no roads.  One-and-a-half hours later, we parked in front of a run-down building and stepped into a dark room.

Children seemed to pack the place, but as my eyes adjusted to the dark, adults were there, too.  John holds literacy classes in this room and there is a blackboard on the wall.  He started quizzing the children on their Amharic phonics and they were eager to tell what they learned.  Then he had several stand and say the books of the Bible which they did without missing a beat.  I am a sucker when it comes to kids, and what I observed made me happy.  Most of the children were dressed in clothes we wouldn’t give to Goodwill but were energetic and happy with faces reflecting their pride in learning.  Many wanted me to see their exercise book where they practice writing and made sure I was aware they also owned a pencil.

The mothers and babies in the room were much more solemn and the effects of poverty were reflected in their dress and demeanor.  We explained how to use (and charge) the audio Bibles, but the women seemed shocked more than ecstatic that they would be singled out to have a Bible.  One woman had a half-naked toddler with a cleft pallet.

The men were less shy and friendly.  But what struck me most was how dark it was in that room and how dreary!  I don’t know how the kids can see to write – the only light is from the open door.  Leaving, I began brainstorming possibilities of getting a light in there, but the literacy assistant cheerfully reassured me … “We teach the children during the daylight, so light is not a problem.”  I’ll have to take his word for it.

Leaving town, we passed a very handsome mosque.  Why would anyone want to leave their nice place of worship, especially knowing their community will turn against them if they accept Christ, to come to the room I just left?  John shared that several people he had witnessed to have come but left never to return.  Even by Ethiopian standards this place is unacceptable.  It is imperative we upgrade the visible presence of Christianity in this place.

God is omniscient.  He sees everything everywhere.  I ‘get’ the majestic attributes of God’s character (and love them!), but it is His attention to detail that astounds me.  He hears the prayers of a lonely son in an isolated African village of no consequence.  He leads a humble man to come be His voice in a place that hates Jesus, and then leads His servant to just the right people upon which He can build His church.  God loves the dusty, ragged village children (probably very much like Jesus as a boy) and doesn’t want them to grow up illiterate, so provides a place for them to learn.  And He knows the longing in a mother or grandmother’s heart to know God better so prompts a teenager in Graham, Washington to donate money so she can listen to God’s Word.  It’s all part of His elaborate tapestry, and you and I get to be an integral part of the warp and weave of His Kingdom.

*Not real name