I am back in the land of the internet. I’ve spent the last few days in the Borana region of southern Ethiopia. The Petros Network was invited here just in the last couple years to partner with a largely forgotten people, and I can say that the transformation that I’ve seen happening is truly incredible. Whole villages are changing for the good in tangible ways through the power of the gospel. We look at the people there, and they are so young that your initial thought is that they aren’t capable of changing the world, but thank God, we are being proven wrong again and again.
I will have stories to tell later as I go through the pictures and interviews from this past couple weeks, but for now I have pictures from both Arba Minch and the Borana region. Usually I have a few photos that I know are going to be some of my all time favorites, but this time there are just so many I’m happy with that it’s going to take me a while. Enjoy these for now, and soon I’ll have more.
Today was not a people day, it was a travel day, so the pictures will reflect that. I took two short flights and landed this afternoon in the city of Arba Minch in Southern Ethiopia. Tomorrow we hit the road, but for today, we were able to recharge a bit. I have to say, this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and that’s saying a lot.
Unfortunately I only get to spend one day here, but please enjoy these pictures from this amazing place, including one very atypical picture of Kifle swinging on a vine in the forest.
I’m writing today from the field in Ethiopia, since I’m blessed to have internet in this part of the country. We spent the day today training and interviewing a couple hundred church planters. As usual, I’m on media duty, which for me is not a duty at all but frankly pure joy.
One of the great things about going to Ethiopia is getting to hear perspectives and simple wisdom from people I would never have contact with otherwise. Today’s simple but profound statement said to me by an Ethiopian brother was, “Jesus didn’t die to save buildings. He died to save people.” I wish we’d remember that whenever we refer to the building we go to as “the church.”
Here are a few pictures from today and yesterday. The first includes the man I was speaking to.
I’m in the airport in Washington DC, waiting to board my flight to Ethiopia. If we’re honest, a jumbo jet is really not much more than a giant aluminum canoe with engines big enough to get it into the air. This makes the possibilities of what it is and what it can do even more amazing.
It was not that long ago that my mother rode a cargo ship to the mission field in Nigeria. It was not that long before that, that missionaries would board a sailing ship with their worldly possessions packed into a casket, because they knew that’s how they would be going home.
I’m truly blessed to be able to walk through a door, get onto the magic canoe, and 13 hours later walk through another door into a different world. If you’ve never been to Ethiopia, it truly is a different world. Ethiopia was never colonized, so there is very little westernization. Hardly anyone speaks English or any other European language. Foods are different. Ways of thinking and doing things are different. And all of these things make Ethiopia wonderful.
In about an hour I get onto the plane, and less than a day later I have the privilege of joining some really fantastic and dedicated people from the Petros Network, to train church planters and help facilitate what God is already doing there. I’m looking forward to posting pictures and stories of what happens in the next two weeks, if internet is available. Until next time…
It’s been a year now since I was in Africa, and next week I go back. Once again, I’ll be going to Ethiopia. I’ll be taking my camera, not to show pictures of miserable children and flies as some like to do, but to capture a realistic picture of life; to bring awareness not only of the struggles but also the triumphs that people have on a daily basis. My goal is to capture the heart of the people and communicate what commonalities tie us all together on both sides of the ocean. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, both from Ethiopia and North America.
I’ll be traveling to two different regions, one of which I have not yet been to. I will try to keep blog posts going as I travel, though internet is not always a possibility, so there may be gaps. I may not be able to be specific about where I am at times for various reasons, but I will be traveling to the East and the South. It’s been five years since I was in South Sudan, and the southern region I’m going to will be the closest I’ve been to that country since then. I’m curious to see how the two regions compare, so in that spirit, I’m posting pictures from South Sudan today. We’ll see if there are any similarities when I get to Southern Ethiopia. Until next time, please enjoy the photos.
The widow was ready for our arrival. She smiled warmly as she greeted us with “Akum Nagoma”. Her simple mud walled house had been cleaned and was in order. She was dressed in her best. New magazine pages had been plastered to the walls, as is the custom to beautify homes in this part of Ethiopia. A television sat under a plastic cover in the main room. She seemed to be doing well…if you chose not to really look.
The rows of dots tattooed on her shrunken neck were too close together; in fact she looked skeletal. When we complimented her on the new wallpaper, she said, “oh, that’s old,” even though we could see that it had just been put up. The television sat there conspicuously, but what good is a television when you don’t have electricity?
We knew something was up. The house had been beautified for our arrival. The wallpaper was obviously new. The television and many of the items in the home were likely borrowed from friends or neighbors. Though she tried to look happy, she was obviously either sick or starving or both. As we asked her questions about how she was doing, her smile and warmness changed. She at first said that she wasn’t able to express how she is doing, and finally broke into tears. It was likely that she knew we were there to help, but the thing about poverty that most people who are not financially poor don’t understand is that Poverty and its ugly siblings Shame and Isolation usually walk hand in hand. Though she knew she needed help, she also didn’t want anyone to know that she needed help, particularly not these strange foreigners coming into her home. She didn’t want anyone judging her ability to take care of her children or herself. Being poor is bad, but everyone knowing you’re poor is so much worse.
This situation cuts to the core of why Christ calls us not only into relationship with Him, but also into relationship with those around us, who are made in Christ’s image. The scriptures are numerous in this area, but I’ll just highlight one. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” It is because of this principal that the enemy seeks so much to divide us. If we remain in relationship with each other, we are less likely to fall into sin, less likely to fall into not only financial poverty, but poverty of spirit. Studies show that married people live longer than single people. It’s nothing magical, it’s just that it’s not good for people to be alone. Its why the writer of the book of Hebrews thought it important enough to write, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” The enemy knows that we are stronger together, that is why one of the most worn out tools in his box is Shame. How many times has someone disappeared from church when trouble hits? “Iron sharpens iron” is the saying, but we can’t sharpen each other if we isolate ourselves.
There is no shame if we realize that we are all broken people. We are all broken in different ways, but when we gather together as one body in Christ, my strength helps you in your weakness, and your strength helps me in my weakness. But we have to go in with the humility of knowing that “while we were yet enemies of God, Christ died for us.”
The great thing about having indigenous staff in Ethiopia is that there are people who can check on this widow and see how she is doing. It’s also why short-term missions is so hard. It’s hard to build relationships from afar, but if you have people on the ground it’s that much easier. Hopefully this widow will realize that no one is there to judge her, only help. Starting is the hardest part, but if she goes the path of many of the other widows in this community, she will soon be sustainably feeding her own family and herself. In so doing, she will lift the community as a whole.
A couple years ago, I wrote an article about my wife’s experience as she moved through fears, worry, and difficulty on her first journey to Africa. I wrote about how the first time the gravity of what she was doing hit her was when she went in for her immunizations before going to Kenya. Here is a link to that blog.
Now it’s my son’s turn. In less than a month, he will be going with me to Ethiopia. It will be his first time overseas (other than the Caribbean.) Certainly it will be his first time to a developing nation. Whereas my wife had fears of the unknown, I don’t think my son even knows yet what there is to fear. That is a good thing. Fear is usually of the unknown, and when whatever it is you are fearing eventually becomes known, it’s very rarely as bad as you thought it was going to be.
Quite the opposite, I’m excited for my son. He is going to experience new cultures and languages, new foods, new continents. He is probably going to see things that can only be understood through experience. He is still in high school, but this will give him a better education than anything possible in a classroom. He is going to learn about the real world through experience. Being taught in a classroom is one thing, but you never truly gain understanding through second hand knowledge.
I suspect he’ll have a similar experience that I did on my first trip to South Sudan. I remember being on the plane, and suddenly “What on earth am I doing?!” went through my head. He’ll be alright though. I know he’ll come back stronger and wiser. I know he’ll see things perhaps that test his faith, but also he’ll see things that make him realize that God is even bigger than he thought he was.
This is the first of my children to travel with me. I have two more that are younger. My eight year old has already been asking for a couple years if she can go to Africa with me. I always tell her the same thing. “When you’re 16.” I’m excited that the day has come that the first one is going.
Coming full circle, in similar fashion to three years ago, I was in a Passport Health office taking pictures of someone getting a shot who probably didn’t want their picture taken. Fortunately for him, my son only needed three immunizations, and one of them was oral. His road to becoming bulletproof didn’t take as many needles as my wife’s or mine did. Lucky him.
Normally I don’t put two photography-only blogs nearly back to back. However, there were simply too many pictures from the last trip to include in my April post, so here is another. Plus, my thoughts on other subjects are still ruminating. So rather than work on getting my disheveled thoughts into a proper order, I’ve decided to be lazy and put pictures up instead. Judging by the number of people that look at my blog when it’s only pictures, that seems to be what people want anyway. So here are more pictures from my trip to Ethiopia last month.
I’ve been back from Ethiopia for a week and a half now. I’ve finally recovered from jet lag. My work on the photos is largely done, and now I’m going through hours of video. I spent the better part of a week with 150 people who live their faith in the same way the early church lived their faith. These men and women are living in some of the most dangerous places and are literally putting their lives on the line for their faith. I met people who have been beaten and stabbed, lost their jobs and families, and still find Jesus to be who he said he was and consequently worth everything they’ve gone through.
I shot video of some of the most incredible interviews you could imagine, some of which had to be shot in silhouette to hide their identity. I thought the stories of the early church were good, but some of what I heard was better. You’d think then that the interviews would be the highlight of my week, but they weren’t.
During lunch each day the team I was with would walk back to our hotel and have lunch at the hotel restaurant. One day I decided to instead go across the street to a vendor who had been cooking a pot full of something that at the time I could not identify. Generally I would go across to her spot (there was no stall,) and have buna, or really strong coffee served in a small cup. As I sipped my buna earlier that morning and watched her cook, I decided to have lunch there instead. Now before you tell me that it’s foolish to eat street food in Ethiopia, I’m just going to say that just because the kitchen is in a hotel doesn’t mean it’s any cleaner than the street food. Plus, I’d been able to actually watch her cook, and I was comfortable with it.
As I walked over with a couple friends I’d traveled with, I realized that the place I would be having lunch was where the indigenous church planters we’d been ministering to were also having lunch. There were probably about thirty people all sitting together on plastic stools at low tables having what turned out to be shiro with either injera bread or baguette. Shiro is boiled bean flour mixed with water, berbere spice, garlic, and rosemary and boiled until it’s the consistency of thick soup. You then sop it up with the bread. Flavor wise, it was one of the better meals I had in Ethiopia. But flavor isn’t all there is to lunch.
The church planters made room for us at a very small table and through our translator, we began to get to know each other in a way that hadn’t been possible in the more formal setting we’d generally seen them in.
Before I left for Ethiopia, a friend of mine had told me that God felt he had a message for us as we were going. That message was that a lot of these men and women were having such difficulty that they were thinking of giving up. He said our presence would be very important, because it would help the Ethiopians know that they are not alone.
As I sat telling and listening to stories, they conveyed to us how incredibly important our presence was to them. They let us know just how much it meant to them that we’d come all this way to teach and encourage them. They said that because we had come, they would go and do even more. By having lunch with them, we were able to connect on a deeper level. No longer just teachers and pastors and students, we prayed for each other and become brothers and sisters bearing each others’ burdens. Lunch cost about $2 for the three of us, including tea, but I can’t put a price on the connection we all made that day.
We had lunch there the next day as well. When I go back to Ethiopia again, I will make a point to eat with the church planters again. The hotel restaurant may have more than one thing on the menu, but it can never match the company.
In four days I leave for Ethiopia. This will be my third trip to Ethiopia. I’ve also been to South Sudan four times, and I’m not even sure how many times I’ve been to Kenya. Every country I’ve been to, and every city, and every village has been different in some way or another. Cultures are different. Tribes are different. Nations that border each other have vastly different characters and cultures. I’m only talking about East Africa. I haven’t even been to central or West Africa, and only passed through South Africa.
I sincerely wish everyone could do what I do, at least once. I wish everyone could uproot and leave home, truly leave home and go somewhere so far out of their comfort zone that you couldn’t stand on a stool and see where your comfort zone is.
I hear so many people say, “We are so blessed here. We have so much we take for granted.” Having traveled to the places I’ve been, I know how true that statement is. I also realize how little the people saying it realize what they’re saying. If you take something for granted, then by definition you do not understand what it is that you either have or do not have. It’s easy to say, “We have so much,” because that’s the more obvious observation one can make, but it doesn’t mean you understand poverty. There is so much depth to what we don’t understand that I can’t describe it without taking someone with me and letting them experience it for themselves. There is so much more than, “We have so much.” There are cultural things we have so engrained within us that we have no understanding of how other cultures think. Each time I go, I understand a little more, and I realize more how much I don’t understand.
The observation of “We have so much” also belies our idea that our culture is somehow superior to other cultures, because we see them as having so little, while having little understanding of what we lack within our own culture. What are the divorce rates within American culture? How much of this “We have so much” is actually things we don’t need that get in the way of family relationships and friendships? How many families have been broken up because we had a choice of either building a legacy with our spouse or children, but we chose instead that a career was important and having a nicer car than our neighbor? How many of us have heart disease, cancer, gout, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity because we are “rich”? While most Africans would be considered poor in our eyes, it’s not always because they lack basic necessities. Rather it’s because our idea of “richness” is so monetarily based that we fail to see our own poverty. I know many Africans that have a legacy that I can only dream of.
There are so many other things we take for granted that I could get into, but I fear that it would only evoke a deer-in-the-headlights look in many readers. I say this not to be demeaning or to look down on people. It’s because I’ve been there. It’s fairly easy to describe some ways of doing things that are different, but it’s virtually impossible to describe the different ways people think. Which brings me back to the beginning. If you ever have the chance to do missions, by all means go. Get to know the people one on one. Build relationships. You’ll find you learn just as much what you didn’t know about yourself as you do about them.