Four years under construction

A PC(USA) mission letter from Ethiopia (2014 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 133)

September 19, 2014

Ethiopia Before

Pillars of concrete mark the foundation of the EGST building in the fall of 2010. —Courtesy of Marilyn and Rich Hansen

ADDIS ABABA

The Hole

The hole was big. The hole was muddy. The hole was filled with water. 

When we first arrived in Ethiopia in 2010 and toured the building occupied by the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST), one of the EGST staff pointed out of the window to the hole behind the building: “That's where our new building will be.” We stared at it, trying to imagine what would rise from that muddy pond.

We were also trying to imagine what would rise in our own lives. We came to Ethiopia with a hole that needed to be filled...with understanding of this culture and country; with people who would become our colleagues and friends; with the knowledge, skills and gifts for a ministry that would matter here.

Our first morning in Addis Ababa we walked through the gates of the compound where we were staying and onto a road awash in people, donkeys, sheep, noise and apparent chaos. People spoke in words we did not understand, using sounds that our mouths had never formed.

Rich and I looked at each other. Our hole was big.

The Foundation

Two months later the foundation of the new building began to rise: cement columns emerged from the hole, which was now partially refilled with dirt.

The foundation of our lives and ministry in Ethiopia was also taking shape: meeting EGST students, understanding how the school functioned, learning the history of the country. We celebrated Meskel, an Ethiopian religious holiday, commemorating the finding of the actual cross of Jesus by St. Helena, Constantine’s Christian mother, according to Ethiopian Orthodox tradition.

We attended daily language school, not only to learn to make sounds but to understand the culture and daily life. As in the U.S., holidays are celebrated with traditional food, in Ethiopia often with lamb. And so our foundation at language school to celebrate Meskel included witnessing the slaughter, skinning, dismembering, preparing and cooking of a sheep.

The Initial Construction

Slowly, slowly cement block walls and concrete floors began to emerge as the building progressed. In Ethiopia most construction is with cement, due to lower cost and availability. Rocks carried by women on stretcher-like canvas were poured in a small concrete mixer. Buckets of concrete were sent to the second floor, using a rope pulley, then loaded in wheelbarrows and rolled to molds where the concrete would harden around rebar.

Our construction was being strengthened, not by rebar, but by relationships moving from the superficial to a deeper level. Rich began meeting with all of the students in his classes, either singly or in pairs, for tea or coffee orkitfo, a popular raw beef dish. He heard their stories, their dreams, their sacrifices to be students at EGST. We held a Christmas gathering in our home for all of the students from Rich’s first semester of teaching, a custom we maintained for the next four years. As we sang Christmas carols and prayed in English and Amharic, we experienced the bonds of the body of Christ in a fresh way.

The Scaffolding

In  the 16th century 40 percent of Ethiopia’s land was forested. Today it is 4 percent. But eucalyptus trees are common and are used all over the country for scaffolding. The EGST building, like many others under construction in Addis, soon began to sprout scaffolding to use for climbing to and supporting the rising stories of walls and floors and ceilings.

Rich began meeting regularly with two Ethiopian men, both graduates of EGST, for support. As they shared and prayed together, mutual trust and caring grew. Notwithstanding the language and cultural differences, Thursday afternoons became a time of honesty and lowering barriers. I began attending a weekly prayer group of expat mission co-workers. Prayer for each person’s ministry and relationships were a way of building up the body of Christ and providing encouragement to one another.

The Shell

In 2012 the building’s shell was clearly emerging, story by story. Seven floors with recognizable rooms and corridors could be identified. The framework was finally there.

After two years in the country we felt more acculturated. Seeing a horse standing in the middle of a road, hearing and speaking Amharic, accepting the power going off and on, or the shortage of sugar seemed normal. We understood that life, as anywhere, had frustrations. We also understood what a privilege we had to work at EGST, where a new generation of passionate, committed, intelligent Christian leaders were being challenged to think and question and learn.

The framework we now had allowed us to more effectively minister. Rich began focusing more of his teaching on the issues of cultural worldview vs. biblical worldview. Students were challenged to think outside their comfort zones. I was able to speak to women in the Bible study I led about Rahab, the prostitute, and how God used her, even as prostitutes were plying their trade feet from where the Bible study met. Both of us felt that we could speak with more legitimacy because of the framework we now had.

The Completion

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This July desks and chairs and books were moved into the new building. It is finally completed after four years. The walls are painted, the plumbing is installed, and the electricity is turned on. EGST will have a beautiful new building in which to expand its mission to “equip Christ-like women and men for the service of church and society in Ethiopia and beyond.”

However, our lives will always be under construction. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (II Cor. 3:18).The Lord will continue with His process of our transformation, of our construction.

We have completed our time in Ethiopia. Now living in the U.S., we will not be returning to Ethiopia for a fifth year. But we give praise and thanks to the Lord for the work He has done in our lives and for the ways we trust that He has used us to further His work in Ethiopia.

We encourage you to continue to support PC(USA) World Mission through your prayers, correspondence and finances. And, as always, we thank you for your support of us, which has meant so much — your prayers on our behalf and on behalf of EGST, your financial support, and your communication with us. You have walked with us on this journey and we are grateful.