Sarah Childs '08
I find myself searching for words to bring to life the relationships, experiences, challenges and inspirations of my time in Ethiopia this summer. So many words come to mind…words such as color, beauty, radiance, love, peace…contrasted by pain, suffering, persecution, and need - but most importantly, God's faithfulness.
I led a team of my peers on a month-long trip to Ethiopia this past June through the Summer Missions Program at Gordon. Coming from lives of privilege, we entered into a world of poverty. What we found was exciting. We experienced unity in the body of Christ, a unity that breaks down material barriers and dismisses geographical separation. We built lasting friendships with our brothers and sisters in Christ half way around the world. We cried with them, laughed with them, worked along side them and learned from them. We arrived in Ethiopia with servant attitudes and returned home with lives changed, hearts burdened and memories embedded.
"There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." -Ephesians 4:4-6
Our journey began in Northern Ethiopia, in an arid region including the ancient city of Axum. One morning in Axum, some of us woke up early and attended a 5 a.m. Timkat processional, a traditional Ethiopian Orthodox service that takes place a few times throughout the year. About two hundred Orthodox Christians marched around the city seven times while carrying a replica of the ark of the covenant. The whole service is very traditional and is attended by what appears to be most everyone in the town, children included. Although we did not adorn ourselves with the traditional white robes, we did cover our heads as we marched alongside them, men in front of the ark and women behind it.
Here our whole team is pictured in front of the ruins of Queen of Sheba's palace in Axum. The team consisted of five Gordon students, including myself, and two adults. Laurie Truschel, the director of student ministries on campus, was kind to serve as my trip advisor. It was also a blessing to have my Mom accompany our Gordon team. From left to right: Katelyn Lokker, Andrea Childs, Matthew Hawkins, Sarah Childs, Allison Petrone, Kristin Anderson, Laurie Truschel.
This picture shows the traditional housing of Ethiopians, a cluster of tukuls, or clay huts with grass roofs. The tukul is by far the most common housing structure throughout rural Ethiopia still today. Typically, a cluster of tukuls is occupied by one large family, extended and immediate included. This particular picture was taken outside of Axum, miles away from any city.
After a few days in ancient Axum, we continued on to the city of Lalibela, where we were again immersed in the rich culture and history of Ethiopia. We explored eleven incredible rock-hewn churches there, all of which were built by King Lalibela in the 12th century. They are built into the ground, made out of one piece of rock, hollowed out! According to historical accounts, King Lalibela had the churches built down into the rock in order to disguise them so Christians could worship in safety during a time of persecution. This picture shows St. George's Church, the most famous of the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela.
This picture shows another of the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. It is truly amazing that these churches, so immense and detailed, are carved out of one piece of rock! This particular church still holds weekly orthodox services inside, one of which we were privileged to attend.
Each of the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela has an Orthodox priest residing in it, leading services and training younger priests. This particular priest lives in one of the churches built as a monastery atop a mountain overlooking the village of Lalibela. He is shown holding two of the original processional crosses of King Lalibela.
Here we are (the students) after reaching the top of a very long hike to visit a rock-hewn monastery at the top of this mountain overlooking Lalibela.
The market at Lalibela, which gathers every Saturday, is one of the largest markets outside of the capital city, Addis Ababa.
On our way out of Lalibela, we drove past hundreds of villagers walking miles into Lalibela from the surrounding rural areas to sell their goods at the market.
After spending just less than a week adjusting to the culture and visiting historical regions in northern Ethiopia, we finally settled into our main destination, Yetebon, the site of the Project Mercy compound. Yetebon is a rural village, 8,000 ft above sea level, nine km away from the nearest town (Butajira) and is a predominately Muslim community. Project Mercy is an outreach comprised of Ethiopian Christians seeking practical ways of serving and developing the community of Yetebon. It was founded in 1977 by Marta Gabre-Tsadick and her husband, Deme Tekle-Wold. Our hosts, Marta and Deme are certainly some of the most amazing Christians I have ever met. They are inspiring, humble, and wholly devoted to the Lord… just as their ministry is. Currently, the Project Mercy compound is comprised of a school, a hospital, an orphanage, housing for teachers and doctors, and a church… all at the foot of the beautiful and lush Garaghe mountains.
Most members of my team taught English in the school. The Medhame-Alem school on the Project Mercy compound has over 1,000 students, kindergarten through 10th grade. The students that attend this school are considered very privileged, as there is a long waiting list of those who wish to attend. This school is the only opportunity for most people living in this rural area to get an education. In addition, each child is fed two nutritious meals a day, every day of the week. These children come from families of herdsmen and farmers. Their parents are forced to live off the land, which is risky considering the history Ethiopia has of drought and famine. Project Mercy is slowly building up this rural mountain community, starting with the children. They are being taught for the first time the importance of personal hygiene and drinking clean water. The education provided here is the key to empowering these children, their families, and ultimately the community.
In addition, Project Mercy is teaching village women a trade, basket-weaving, by which they will be able to support their families.
Because of my interest in pursuing a career in medicine, I was able to work in the hospital on the Project Mercy compound during our time in Yetebon. The Glenn C. Olsen Memorial hospital is a very new, impressive, and clean facility. The doctors (all Ethiopian Christians) are devoted to providing quality health care to the many village people in the region, as well as educating them on personal hygiene and disease prevention. They try to raise awareness of public health issues such as HIV, STDs, malaria, and parasites.
By far, my favorite place in the hospital was the pediatric ward. This cute little five year old boy, Mifta, was suffering from severe burns on his feet and legs (we think he stepped into the cooking pit on the ground inside his family's hut). Mifta was in the hospital almost the entire time I was working there… he became my little buddy! Despite the language barrier, I had a lot of fun visiting him. It was in this setting that I saw extreme suffering and pain in the eyes of very young and helpless children...and at the same time I saw in them an excitement and joy that inspired me. God has given me a heart for medicine and it was such a blessing to have my first real taste of it this summer.
Dr. Kassaye, the head doctor of the hospital, is a phenomenal doctor as well as a devoted Christian and an excellent teacher. Here he was updating me on a case, showing me a chest X-ray revealing the presence of pulmonary tuberculosis in the patient.
One day, on our walk returning from the hospital, a young girl recognized my Mom as her English teacher and kindly invited us back to her home. She brought us into her family's tukul (a clay hut with a grass roof) to meet her mother and sisters, who were shy but welcoming. The inside of this tukul functions as a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and shelter for the animals at night.
This picture captures the peaceful magnificence of the lush Garaghe mountains surrounding rural Yetebon - such a contrast from the dry northern parts of Ethiopia we had previously visited.
Pictured here are Dershai and Armani, both "house kids" living on the Project Mercy compound. There are 38 other house kids also living on and attending school at the compound, all of whom have been virtually adopted by Marta and Deme (the founders of Project Mercy). Some of these "house kids" are orphans. Others have been disowned by their Muslim families for becoming Christians. Whatever their past circumstances may have been, they are now well taken care of and well fed. These "house kids" love the Lord. They welcomed us warmly and befriended us quickly upon our arrival in Yetebon, and we of course grew to love them very much.
This is a scene from market day in Butajira, which is the nearest town on a map to Yetebon. This bustling street, located only 9 km away from Yetebon, feels as if it is a world apart from the quiet mountain village.
If I had to choose one picture to portray daily life in Yetebon, it would be this one. The beautiful, lush countryside, wet from recent rain. Thick clouds still hanging over the Garaghe mountains. Animals grazing. False banana and corn crops surrounding each tukul. Smoke rising up through the roofs of tukuls as dinner is cooked on the ground inside… I found in Yetebon, among countless other blessings, a peace and simplicity that is often unimaginable to our culture.