Sunday, 7/19/15 Update from Sintaro Village, Ethiopia
After a good night’s sleep, we arise feeling much more rested and ready to face the day. We eat breakfast in the hotel, and are pleased that it is ready “on time”! Typically, time here is a suggestion. After a hearty meal, Pastor Mattewos arrives at the hotel and we are ready to start our day! The first stop is a sidewalk coffee shop to pick up our interpreters. We have to wait for a bit, but when they arrive, I am thrilled to see familiar faces! We have four interpreters today, and I know them all from my last trip! Several are all wonderful, kind-hearted men of God who dedicate their lives to the Lord. Joseph teaches catechism and teaching the gospel to children and Teshale is studying to be a priest. Also with us are Berhano and Aklilu, who I learned has recently gotten married! We make a stop to buy some more bottled water and then we are finally on our way to Sintaro Village!
As we approach the village, my heart begins to warm and my pulse quickens with excitement. I am about to be reunited with some beautiful souls that I have fallen in love with. The drive passes quickly as I observe my surroundings and note that everything this trip is much greener. The weather has held out for us so far and we have dry weather. It’s obvious that it has rained significantly though by the puddles and the ruts in the road. In very wet weather I can imagine that this road would be virtually impassable.
We make a final turn and I spy crowds of children—OUR children!—who see us approaching and begin singing a song of welcome. Tears immediately spring to my eyes as I recognize familiar faces. They recognize me too and several children call me by name. My heart is melting. One of the faces in the crowd I recognize is Lemlem. I greet her by name and she breaks into a huge grin as I embrace her. Too soon, I realize that the rest of our team has started walking away. Those who know me well know that I’m always the last to want to leave a group of people!
Sarah is with me and we follow the rest of our group up the hill. I make eye contact with her and I can see that her heart has been captured with love already for these people. I embrace her and we walk arm in arm up the hill. It is my extreme privilege to be with her on this trip and watch her grow in love and service for the Lord.
When we get to the top of the hill I realize that we have arrived at Meker (which means “Harvest”) Church. The building is fairly large and is packed with people. Church is already in session and they invite us to come to the front of the room. We sit facing them and they welcome us. When they invite us to respond, Lori stands and speaks for the group. She tells them that although we have traveled from far away, we are neighbors and brothers and sisters in the Lord. She says that we love Jesus and are visiting Sintaro because we love them too. She refers to the water that will soon be flowing from the well and that we are excited to celebrate not only the physical water, but the Living Water also. They respond with “Amen’s” and “Praise God!”. The service continues for a few more minutes as Pastor Mattewos gives a short message from Ecclesiastes, and then it ends with songs of worship and prayer.
At the end of the service, the announcement is made that there will be a short break and then we will be showing “The Jesus Film”. A few people leave, but most stay. I take this opportunity to get up and mingle with the crowd. I walk throughout the church shaking their hands and offering a greeting. Many respond with smiles and respect, but are a little unsure of how to respond to me. Noneetheless, I can tell that they appreciate the effort that I am making as they are very welcoming and glad to have me there. Others are more affectionate in their response—especially the women. Many hold me close in an embrace and whisper quiet words in my ear. I don’t know the meaning of the words, but I can sense their love.
After a few minutes, the show begins! The room has filled up once again and there is a quiet excitement in the room. I know that this is the first time for probably all of them in the room to experience seeing a movie of any kind. I make my way back to the front of the room and search for a seat. There are none to be had, so I end up sitting on the steps at the front of the church. Sarah, Brenda, and Rachel are there with me, and Lori is on a bench in the same area. We settle in, knowing that we will be there for about two hours until the movie ends.
I keep my focus on the film rather than watching the villagers. I don’t want any of the focus to be on me, but instead to be on the message of the movie. The movie is a dramatic reenactment of the gospel of Luke and it follows the life of Jesus from birth to death. Although I can’t understand the words, I know the story, so I’m able to follow along. It’s interesting to be able to pick out a few words and names here and there. Every once in awhile a sneak a peak around the room and see how intently everyone is watching. It’s an amazing thing to behold! Also, I realize that the room has continued to fill. Adults and children have filled every nook and cranny of this building and there are probably several hundred people in attendance! Children are continuing to press forward and before I know it, we are surrounded by them. They are pressed close and begin leaning on me and cuddling with me. I look at their faces and they are mesmerized by what is happening on screen. I silently pray for the work that is happening in their heart through hearing the word of God! I believe that this will profoundly impact them in untold ways.
At the end of the film, Pastor Mattewos stands and gives the invitation to have any who have not yet decided to follow Jesus to accept Him into their heart and accept the gift of salvation. He tells them that we will be showing the film again throughout the week, and suggests they invite their friends who need to hear the gospel message. We end in prayer and there is a real sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence among us.
We leave the church and start walking back to our bus. A group waits outside of the church for us, and in my normal fashion, I greet everyone and smile into their eyes. As I make eye contact with one woman, my heart leaps with excitement! This is my friend, Joy!!! Those who followed my journey in February will remember that she is the one who taught me how to harvest the “false banana” (which is a staple of their diet). I don’t know her name, but I’ve called her “Joy”, because that’s what she exudes. When I met her in February, she smiled and laughed throughout our entire encounter. I feel a kinship with her that is unmistakable. When I realize it is her, my face lights up with excitement and recognition and she knows that I remember her! We hug for a long time, and she is laughing and smiling just as I remember her. I pull back and look into her eyes and say “Kocho!” (which is what they call “false banana”) and she knows that I remember her. We hug and hug and I invite her to walk with me back to the bus. We walk arm and arm and smile and laugh the whole way. When we get back to the bus, she thinks that’s the end of our encounter, but I have a surprise for her. She steps onto the bus with me as I reach into my backpack and pull out photographs of her and her family from when I visited in February. She is surprised and thrilled! It’s time for us to go, so reluctantly, I say my goodbye and say wishful prayer that I’ll have the opportunity to spend more time with her as the week progresses.
It’s not even lunchtime yet and I’ve already had such an amazing day!!!
We drive onto the school property and I’m excited to see how much the construction on the school has progressed. The classrooms that were under construction a few months ago are nearly done and almost ready for the new students that will begin school in the Fall. The administration building is nearing completion too, and one of the new latrines is operational! I also see a distribution point for the water on the school grounds! This truly is SO exciting!
As we get off the bus, I see the familiar faces of Hanaga, the school principal, and Ashenafi, the English teacher. Lunch has been prepared, so we wash our hands and enter one of the classrooms, which is our makeshift cafeteria for the week. The cooks are there and I recognize them too. They are pleased that I remember their names. It has been such a pleasure to see people again and continue with developing our relationships. All of us have a longing to be known, and it is no different here in Ethiopia.
When I was here last time, many will remember that I got quite ill. Unfortunately, that means that even once I’d recovered, I had no appetite. Today was different. At lunchtime I found my stomach grumbly and even ate seconds of the delicious food prepared!
The skies are now looking quite dark and our driver and Mattewos are very concerned that we need to leave the village before the rains come. Covering these hillside dirt “roads” in dry conditions are challenging, and in heavy rains, I can imagine that they’d become nearly (if not completely) impassable. Their concerns are well founded.
We make a quick stop to do a hut visit of a young student, named Matthew. He is very quiet and shy and conversation with him is somewhat difficult. I ask him a number of questions that result in him showing us where he sleeps—a family of 6 shares a mat about the size of a double bed. He pointed to the corner and indicated that this was his spot.
The next hut visit is to see Brenda and Rachel’s sponsored child, Iyob. Brenda tells him that they are his sponsors, and he goes into his hut and comes back with their picture! He understands who they are! We are invited into his hut, which is filled with too many children to count. Based on what he said, it sounds like they have 9 children and both parents who live together in their hut. They also had at least three cows, 5 baby goats (plus the goat’s parents?), and chickens sharing the hut too. The baby goats were itty-bitty and Sarah was instantly smitten!
We are racing the rain, so it is time to go. We make our way down the hill and just as we get onto asphalt, it begins to rain. By the time we get back to our hotel and hop in the shower, it is a torrential downpour. We are thankful to have missed being out in it!
After a brief time of rest, we walk a few block away to eat dinner at the Lewi , which is a resort right on Lake Awasa. The rain has stopped so we eat outside as the monkeys, cats, and even a duck enjoy the evening among us. Dinner is over and we are ready to call it a day!