The longer I live, the more convinced I am of the importance of discipleship. A few weeks ago a team of volunteers came to Soddo from Real Life Ministries in Idaho to teach discipleship principles. They encouraged us to ask ‘what and how’ questions and gave us concrete examples and excellent teaching. Their teaching encouraged Mark and I to intentionally pursue more discipleship opportunities.
I have been teaching a Bible study in my home on Thursday afternoons to teenage girls. I enjoy this class so much. The girls come straight from school and just like American kids, they are always starving. I try to have cold drinks, chai and popcorn and peanuts or even some cookies. On Valentine’s Day I made heart shaped waffles and also served heart shaped cookies. We are continuing in our study of John. Last week was a particularly powerful story as we learned about the woman caught in adultery. I like to use drama whenever possible with my ESL students because it often gets the point across much better than mere words. Two girls acted out the part where the Pharisee drags the woman and throws her at the feet of Jesus. My girls were in rapt attention. As we neared the end of the story I asked them, “Did Jesus just put his arms around the woman and say, “Oh, my dear, I’m so sorry this happened. Everything will be alright.” “No, they said in unison. “ He forgave her but he said, “Go and sin no more.” I emphasized to them that Jesus can forgive anything but he does stipulate, “Stop sinning.” The girls didn’t want to leave. They kept saying, “This story is so good! “ This week I taught on following Jesus who is our light. I used the illustration of staying on the path and keeping the light of Jesus in front of us. I kept reiterating that if we fall off the path, Jesus forgives us. To my dismay, at the end of the lesson one of my best students asked, “But if we fall too far off the path, Jesus won’t forgive us.” She quoted an Old Testament scripture. I looked her in the eye and said, “There is absolutely nothing you can ever do that will keep Jesus from forgiving you. Nothing!” Did she get it? I’m not sure. I will just keep reinforcing grace. There is such a works centered religion in this area that it is challenging to get my girls to understand the forgiveness and grace of God.
On Saturday mornings Mark and I both attend Bible studies for the residents and their wives. After lunch I move to the backyard and disciple our 17 y/o student, Abebe. I’m teaching him from the book of John. Mark stays in the house and disciples Tecka, our hospital pharmacist and local youth pastor and also Bakalu, our head midwife. He is using the discipleship training sheets from Antioch Community Church in Waco, TX.
Today I began discipling one on one a young woman from my Thursday Bible study. Her name is Yeftisira. In a warm up question a few weeks ago I asked the girls what they hoped to be doing when they were 25. Most of them gave the typical answers about career choices. However, Yeftisra said she wanted to be a prophet in the Lord’s church. I felt like God wanted me to go one on one with her in a deeper study. Her English isn’t that great, but with Demekech’s help we will disciple her. As an added bonus, I get to disciple Demekech also. For this study I’m using the Antioch Community Church discipleship study.
Today I asked each of them about their fathers. We were studying the prodigal son story. Yeftisira shared that she has a kind father but that he has rejected her now because she has become a Christian. He is Orthodox. Demekech shared that she had a wonderful father who was known all throughout the village for his kindness. He died when she was a little girl. But she also shared the story of her grandfather. He had been a witch doctor. He and his wife had lost numerous children. He came to Soddo to seek out God. The church prayed for him and he gave up his witchcraft and became a believer. After that his children lived and Demekech’s father was the second child in the family to live. The first church in the village met in the grandfather’s garden. As she finished her story I choked up as I pondered what her grandfather would think if he could see his lovely granddaughter now.
We arrived in Johannesburg one week before Christmas. It was great hanging out with our two South African grandchildren, Faith and Mark.
The last few days were spent at Pilansburg National Park where we stayed two nights. We drove through the game park twice and saw just about everything, including a rogue elephant that very nearly attacked one of our vehicles. Our trip ended with a last night dinner at Papachinos where the kids could make their own pizzas and play on the playground and the adults could relax and share stories.
Taking care of orphans, widows and street boys in a developing country can often sound like a rewarding and perhaps exotic experience but the truth is, it can come with a boatload of problems. Each story can have layers upon layers of information that slowly unravels. An example is the following story. Sintayoo, whom I have written about before, came to our hospital almost one year ago with a terrible skin infection. According to his story, he is an orphan who was forced out of his uncle’s home and later worked as a child laborer in another home. They also kicked him out when his skin disease became openly infected. He made his way to our hospital begging for help outside the gate. He was filthy, covered in tattered clothes and his wounds were seeping pus. He was admitted to the hospital and put on heavy doses of antibiotics along with a nutritional diet. Later his legs had to be debrided in surgery. After about two weeks in the hospital his legs had healed enough for him to be discharged. But what do you do with a 13 year old boy that nobody wants? Discharge him? Where, to the streets?
We found a widow with a boy the same age as Sintayoo and paid her a monthly stipend to care for him. We put Sintayoo in school. He loved being at the hospital and for a while we couldn’t seem to keep him out of the wards. But slowly he seemed to adapt to his new life. Weeks went by and we didn’t see him. Then one day he came back to the hospital with infected legs again. He was admitted again on IV antibiotics. We lectured him on washing with soap daily and he promised he would do that. Now fast forward to last week.
Almaz, the widowed caregiver, came by the house to get her monthly stipend. She seemed a little anxious. I asked her if everything was OK and she said that Sintayoo’s infection was back, this time on his hands. Later Sintayoo came to the house and I could see that this same skin infection had covered his hands and was moving up his arms. It was infected. Once again, we put him on antibiotics. The next day, Almaz returned to the house. She was distraught. The landlord had evicted them, she said, because of Sintayoo. She had to find another place to move that day! I gave her money for the rent (200 birr, which is $12.00) and told her that I would like to visit her on Friday.
On Friday Demekech (my maid) and I took a bajaj to visit Almaz and Sintayoo. When we entered the little room at the back of the compound, Almaz had water boiling on the charcoal stove and freshly popped popcorn waiting in a basket. The room was decent by Ethiopian standards. There was a tiled floor and the mud walls were painted a bright green. They even had one electric light bulb. By the way, most of the rental homes in Soddo are made of plastered mud. The only furniture in the room was the bed we had purchased for Sintayoo, four wooden stools and a tiny and very rickety table. We sat down on the little wooden stools while she prepared the coffee. As Demekech translated, I began to ask questions about Almaz’s life. This is the story that unraveled.
She has no memory of her parents. They died while she was still very young. She was an only child. Her uncle took her into his home and she lived with him until his death when she was 15. She never went to school. When her uncle died, she came to Soddo. She married and had one child. (I know there is a bigger story here). Her husband was a drinker and abused her. She kicked him out of the house and later, she heard, he died. Her only son could not walk. For nine years he crawled on the floor. When he was nine, she gave her life to the Lord. She prayed for her son and he began to walk! Almaz is a tiny thing, and looks malnourished. I have never met her son. She has virtually no front teeth; all have rotted away. By my estimate, she is probably about 31 years old. She looks 45. She has swollen legs and her feet are twice their normal size. It is possible that she also has the disease called, mossy foot or elephantiasis. Her only income, other than what we give her, is a small injera business. She makes 60 birr a month preparing injera for two families. That’s about $3.00. We are planning to purchase an injera cooker for her to use in her home and provide a bag of teff so that she can begin a new business. We also brought a bag of ‘mitten,’ a high protein powder made here in Soddo, for the family to make nutritious drinks. As we were leaving, Sintayoo informed me that the skin infection was actually all over his body. He showed me his back and stomach where patches of it had broken out. He also said that his grandfather suffered from the same disease. No here seems to know what it is.
So, as I said in the beginning, helping street boys comes with its own set of problems. I often compare our work here to an onion. We seem to peel off one layer of information and then another layer emerges. But in any country, helping the downtrodden is time consuming and emotionally draining. That’s where God’s grace comes in. I can’t do this by myself, but when God pours his grace out on me, impossible situations become possible.
“Little girls, little girls!” That song from Annie kept running through my head when I taught my first class at the Catholic girl’s school here in Soddo. There are approximately 800 female students at the nearby school. I worked with the sixth grade. Each class has approximately 50 students, all decked out in royal blue skirts and jackets. Because they spend so much time on grammar, I chose to teach a short literature piece. It was actually a folk-tale from Ethiopia. When you are teaching a foreign language, your students are from all levels. You never know, initially what level of English they will be capable of understanding. This story, perhaps, was a little too difficult. But today I brought it down a notch and taught a children’s fairy tale. It was still too difficult. I’ve done quite a bit of self evaluation and self criticism today, especially on the uphill walk home after school. The 6th grade class is just not going to work for me. I will need to work at a higher English level if I stay at the girl’s school. I came to this conclusion at the very end of class when I asked the question, “Is it important to obey your parents?” They didn’t answer. I asked it again and again. Silence. Then the Ethiopian teacher asked the question in Amharic. They practically shouted the answer, “Yes!” I need to be able to speak Amharic better to be able to teach ESL at this level. A dream book for me would be a 3rd or 4th grade literature text book.
My students come from all backgrounds. For the past four Saturday mornings I have been teaching an English class at a new seminary. It is still under construction. I ride a motorcycle over the worst roads I have been on in Soddo. The ruts are nearly as large as the motorcycle. I hang on to the back bar and hope I can stay on the bike. This time I only had about 12 students so I was able to learn their names and do a little more interacting with them. One of my students is an older man. I give different writing assignments to do over the week. One of them was to write five sentences using past tense. He told me about his life. He started as a shoe shine boy with no education. Then he worked in a weaving shop making the traditional Ethiopian cloth making about .50 a day. He continued to improve himself taking classes at the school. Today he is getting his seminary degree. He is so sweet. He can talk with me but when I check his homework he is totally clueless. That about sums up my English classes. I ask my students to use their finger to follow along with the reading so I know they are reading the material. Oftentimes I have to turn the page for them so they will know what page we are actually reading on! So far though, I have not found the books upside down! Really though, I enjoy the students so much. In reality, they teach me more than I can teach them.
My Thursday afternoon Bible class is still my biggest teaching delight. I love these girls. We have been hanging out in the gospel of John. With Demekech to translate, we do pretty well getting through some of the more abstract teachings of Jesus. Again, I think, however, that I’m probably learning much more than they are!
Teacher,” my student asked from the back of the classroom. “We have heard it said that when Americans die, no one cries.” “Is this true, teacher?” His question caught me off guard. My 28 students, all pastors, looked up expectantly, awaiting my answer. They nodded their heads agreeing with the question that had been asked. Tears welled up in my eyes, spilling down my cheeks. The pain of losing my good friend, Laura Reppart to aggressive brain cancer earlier in the week was still too raw. I was grieving her death, trying to continue teaching my class and living my daily life, but on the inside I was aching. She was gone and we would not meet again until heaven. When I began to pray in earnest for her health God had given me a picture in prayer time. It was of Laura welcoming others into heaven. It was a beautiful picture and one that brought comfort when I cried for her family and their loss.
I met Laura and her husband Jim for the first time when they arrived in Cameroon with a team of Abilene Christian University students who were doing a two year mission outreach. We were kindred spirits right from the beginning. She was my ‘Diana.’ It seemed to me that she could do anything. She was a home economics major at Abilene Christian University and it showed in everything she put her hand to. She sewed, taught Bible classes, loved sports, loved her kids and laughed and laughed at her husband’s funny stories.
Over the years we both went our separate ways. The Repparts went off to Nairobi, Kenya and worked as missionaries for more than twenty years and then later returned to the states to pastor a church in Washington and then moved to Ft. Worth to work with their beloved missions again. She spent the last few years in Malendi, Kenya with her husband Jim, working with unwed mothers, teaching them how to survive not just physically but spiritually. They were supported by the Caris Foundation. Laura will be greatly missed by more than just her family. She touched the lives of so many people.
The night of her memorial service I was grieving again. The service was to be streamed live but there was no way our Internet would be fast enough to do that. I went to bed sad. In the night, right during her funeral time, the Lord gave me a dream of Laura. It was so vivid and real. She was standing in front of the congregation gathered for her funeral and leading them all in worship. Her smile was huge and her joy transparent. It woke me up. I lay there in bed thanking God for giving me such a comforting dream.
I looked up at my students. My face must have registered just the opposite of what they had been told for they became unusually sober and quiet.
“What you have heard is untrue. We cry when our loved ones die.”
I’ve finished up two challenging weeks of Intensive English at the Wolaita Evangelical Seminary. This time I had 28 students, 26 male and 2 female. They were diploma students, meaning their course was two years instead of the degree students who go for the four year degree. The two weeks presented challenges for me. On the first day of class I learned that my friend, Laura, had died. That same day I developed unusual boils on my body. Thinking it was shingles, we began to treat it with antivirals. But by day four the sores were turning into very painful abscesses, something I had not endured since my Cameroon days in the 70’s when they were far too common. The following Monday I came home feeling nauseous
and went to bed. Later I began to vomit. The rest of the week my food intake was minimal which isn’t too bad in itself but I felt awful which wasn’t good. My transportation back and forth was sketchy. The plan was to pick me up a few blocks from the hospital on the main road. Several times the vehicle just didn’t come. But I had a sweet protector who functions as the school registrar who always made sure I had a ride. Many times I rode up the mountain on the back of a motorcycle. There are no helmets here so you take off and pray that it is not your time to die. It’s actually rather exhilarating to be on the bike riding through the town. The air is so fresh in the morning. The 20 minute ride takes me past the soccer stadium and huge taxi park where hundreds of people are coming and going to distant destinations. We head up the mountain, past the auto garages, lumber yards and the electric station. Still climbing, we continue the steep drive and pass the government hospital. This was the hospital built by SIM. Little blue bajoj taxis crowd the narrow road. Wedged in this corner are multiple tiny wood shacks selling fruits, vegetables and various items. There are several coffee houses where early risers are sitting on low stools enjoying their morning tea or coffee. Now the pavement ends and we continue up a rutted, rocky dirt road. The houses thin out. To my left Demoto Mountain opens up, its rocky grass covered hills crystal clear in the crisp morning air. Pink climbing roses that some missionary must have planted forty years ago are scattered throughout the trees drooping over the branches and sending out their sweet exotic smell. “I must get a cutting of those roses,” I think. Finally we arrive at the Terapaza compound where the driver drops me at my classroom. There is nothing like a early morning bike ride to pump me up to teach English!
The following are some of the humorous interchanges I had this week with my students.
“Teacher, I have a question.” “Is it correct English to use pronouns to describe animals?”
We had just finished reading a true story about a gorilla in the Chicago Zoo that rescues a little boy who falls into the gorilla pit. Ok, I thought, “What an odd question. Why wouldn’t you use pronouns? This will be interesting.” I pointed to the window and said, “That male bird in the bush is quite beautiful. His color is more brilliant than the female’s color. She is not as bright as the male bird because God is protecting her and her nest from other birds and animals. They are a pair.” “OK, I have used several pronouns,” I concluded, “to describe the birds. It is good English grammar to use pronouns to describe animals.”
Hmmm, they slowly nodded their heads thinking about what I had just revealed. “But teacher, one student asked, “are male birds really more colorful than female birds?”
“Here we go again,” I thought. “Science 101.” One simple question can open up so many topics that my students have never been introduced to.
After reading a story about a clever dog one day in my middle school classroom I asked my students if they had a pet. Several of them said that they had either a dog or cat. One girl said she had a monkey! That surprised me. I asked the names of the pets and they shared them. I told them the name of my former dog, Caleb.
“Teacher,” they asked. Is it OK to name a pet after a person?”
“I don’t know if it is OK in your culture but in America we name our pets with people names,” and then I proceeded to list the names of my friends and families pets.
“Amazing!” they said.
“Teacher, is OK to call a human it? This question came from a true story we were reading about a family who were expecting quadruplets. In the picture frame the doctor says, “It’s a girl!” He repeats the phrase three more times.
Hmm, this question stumped me. I knew that it was not OK to call a human it, but we definitely use the form in pregnancy. We also use it when the phone rings. We say, “It’s Aunt Mary on the phone.” I called in the pros and emailed some English teachers, including my sister Betty. I’m still not too sure I understood their answers. I felt like I was back in 8thgrade sweating through that horrible English grammar book diagramming sentences. Back then I could never seem to understand all the grammatical terms they thought necessary for me to speak perfect diction. Now days, grammar is not stressed in the American classroom like it was when I was a student. But in Ethiopia it is very important. The next day I stumbled through an answer for my students and they seemed OK but these grammar questions can be quite humbling.
What a weekend it has been! On Saturday around 5:00 we packed up a Kele Heywet Church land rover and headed out to the countryside. Our group included ourselves, the driver, Mark Launder, Abebe, Tesefye, one of the hospital chaplains/local evangelist and Tamaru, an evangelist friend. Tamaru works as an evangelist in the area we were headed to. Our goal was to show the Jesus film to a local village 11 km from Bali. Mark Launder recently arrived back in the country and he brought with him state of the art equipment for showing the movie in the countryside. He found a portable screen that allows the movie to be seen from both sides of the screen. Along with this he brought a ‘quiet’ Honda generator, projector, two speakers with sound board, two microphones, two lights and a DVD player. The land right now is so green and lush from the heavy rains. The drive there was stunning. We were surrounded on all sides by distant mountain ranges. The spiky lush ginger is ready to harvest and the brilliant green teff was softly blowing in the breeze. The road we were on is also the way to the new dam that is being built on the Omo River. We saw truck after truck returning from the dam after unloading their concrete load. Bali is located in a large valley between the mountain ranges. The altitude is much lower than Soddo so malaria can be a significant health issue.
We arrived at our village around 6:15. This didn’t give us much time to set up for darkness would be upon us in 20 minutes max. Quickly Mark Launder talked us through the set up process. We laid everything on the ground but promptly ‘lost’ the equipment in the three foot tall grass! Each pole for the screen connected to another pole by matching B to B and A to A, etc. There were at least eight different cables to attach which had to be fished out of the tall grass. Soon darkness was upon us. We used the land rover head lights and flashlights to finish the set up process. The two large black plastic equipment boxes served as our table to hold the projector and sound board. I really wondered how effective we were going to be showing the movie in such high grass. Would people actually come and sit in this tall grass? But come they did.
One of the many difficulties of working in Africa is the vast amount of tribal languages. Even though Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, the people in the villages often only speak their tribal language. This was the case in this village. My broken Amharic was useless and I resorted to my five Wolaitta words of greetings, praise the Lord and thank you! We started the program by showing a Wolaitta music video to attract the people. After about 20 minutes of music the crowd continued to swell to around 500-600 people. At 7:30 we began the Mary Magdalene movie. The movie is in Amharic but Tesefye surprised us by picking up the microphone and translating each line into Wolaitta. He did a masterful job. We particularly like this movie because it tells the story of Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene. Several of the scenes are outstanding, showing the healing of the woman who bled for 12 years and the woman caught in adultery. There is also a very intense scene where Jesus sends out the demons from Mary Magdalene.
I wish my camera could have captured the village people sitting in the high grass watching the movie. At one point I walked around towards the back of the crowd. I was just amazed at the amount of people, some sitting, and many standing. Afterwards one of the pastors gave an alter call and several came to know the Lord through this movie.
At 10:00 P.M., in the deep African darkness with only flashlights we took the equipment back down and packed it away. The church members took us to a room outside the church building and fed us dinner. We sat together in groups of three. They brought in platters of injera with cabbage and potatoes and fresh Ethiopian cheese with chopped greens mixed in. Later for dessert they carried in trays of fresh boiled yams! Our Ethiopian friends greeted the yams with delight but for my American taste buds this was not dessert. The yams tasted like boiled potatoes. They explained to us that there are male yams and female yams and that we were eating the female yams. Towards 10:30 the women brought out strong coffee mixed with homemade butter. This is a traditional Wolaitta drink. I knew I wouldn’t sleep if I drank coffee at 10:30 at night so I could gracefully pass. Interestingly enough, all of my Soddo Wolaitta friends also wanted to ‘pass’ on the coffee. They didn’t care for the rancid butter mixed with coffee either!
We drove back 11 km to Bali where Tamaru’s office is located. He had beds all set up for us to sleep. Mark and I had our own room with two mattresses on the floor. Because we were in the valley the temperature was quite hot. We didn’t sleep all that great but still it was much nicer than I had anticipated. Before leaving for the trip I had gone out and purchased some foam to sleep on but we ended up not needing it. Sunday morning we were up bright and early. We headed back over the rough two track road into the bush for the church service. The church service began at 7!
We got there about 7:20. We had had nothing to eat or drink. After several songs by the choir, Mark preached his ‘woman with the issue of blood’ sermon. He emphasizes through this lesson that Jesus loves allpeople. Later there was more singing and then Tamaru gave an invitation for people to come forward to confess. Things are done so differently here than in a typical Protestant church in the U.S. He asked them to come forward and kneel down at the front of the church if they were having issues with their brethren. About 25 people, both men and women came forward and carefully knelt down on the concrete floor. Tamaru would bring each person up one by one and then they would call out the member in the audience that they had not forgiven. This person would leave their seat and come forward. Tamaru would counsel them and then they would hug each other and make-up. It reminded me of the times I would try and make peace with my children and force them to hug and make-up. I’m not sure if all this hugging and confessing really worked. I watched one older man glare at the man who had called him up and embarrassed him in front of his friends. By the look on his face I don’t think there was much forgiveness going on! After this confession time, Tamaru spoke to the church about the ten widows that were part of the flock. He implored them to take care of the widows as Jesus directed. He called the women up to the front of the church. Only four came forward. The other six were home sick; a telling sign of the intense poverty that these widows endure. Three of the four women were barefoot and surprisingly were actually quite young. As they stood at the front, the church took up a collection for them. The members came forward and dropped their money on the podium. At the end, they collected 109 birr, which is just around $6.00. The church service was still going strong when they led us to another room to eat lunch before we had to leave. The Ethiopians are so tough. I cannot imagine an American church meeting at 7 in the morning and not having anything to eat. They fed us the same food but this time there were bananas for dessert along with yam and they also made us coffee with just sugar. That was a treat for this caffeine starved missionary. I felt so dull during the entire service due to lack of food and caffeine. We got back home around 1 and collapsed in bed. I don’t know when we have been so tired. We both remarked that it was an exhausting trip…but…we would do it again. It was great being out with the village people but there was also a connection that we were missing. I felt like a spectator watching the show, but not really participating. The language barrier was huge. These people only spoke Wolaitta so my little Amharic was worthless. In the future I hope we can do more ministry, praying into the lives of these people and their deepest needs.
Looking back, the picture I will keep in my mind of this trip was all the black faces huddled together in the tall grass watching the Jesus movie under the brilliant African sky lit by billions of tiny stars. I’m sure it was the event of the year in that remote, tucked away village.
Mark and I are committed to education. We firmly believe that one of the most sustainable ways to make positive changes in Africa is through education. It is because of the PAACS program that we chose to work at Soddo Christian Hospital. Mark knows that if he can teach these young doctors how to diagnose and do female reproductive surgery, then he can make an impact on the health care of women in Ethiopia. In the same way, we believe that if I can teach students in English, History or Bible, we can make positive sustainable inroads into making Ethiopia a better place to live.
With that vision in place, we are always on the lookout for worthy students, both male and female, to support in school. For the first year and a half, however, all of our students we have helped have been male! Since we both have a heart for helping women, Mark in health care and I in education, we did not understand why we couldn’t find one female student to help. The male students are great guys, but we wanted to support some females! This past month I put out a plea to a few friends to look out for bright female students who were poor and needed a boost with their education. God brought us two, both coincidentally named Bethlehem. Let me tell you about them.
One day Tilahun, my gardener, asked if I would interview his niece Bethlehem, as a potential student to support. He told me that her father was dead and the mother was very poor. The following day he brought her to my house along with Abebe to translate. One thing I have learned about Ethiopians is that it takes time, good listening skills and good questions to get the true history. Bethlehem showed me her report card. She had completed grade 5, but she looked to be at least 13-14 years old. She was ranked fifth in her class but her grades were not particularly noteworthy. She had mostly 70’s. How she could be fifth in her class with grades like these, I wondered? I had so many questions. If she’s so clever, why are her grades only in the 60’s and 70’s? What kind of teacher would be satisfied with his top student only making a 70? Bethlehem initially would not look me in the eye. When she talked she always looked down. I asked her what her school day was like. She replied that she went to school half days. That did not surprise me. All the public schools are on half days. There are too many students to fit them all into one classroom so they alternate between mornings and afternoons. It still bothered me that her grades were so low. I then asked her if she missed a lot of school. Now the story began to unravel. She said that often she had to miss school to work for her mother. She said that her mother was sick a lot and couldn’t work. “What kind of work does your mother do?” I asked. She told me that her mother chipped rock for the new roads. With each prying question I learned that her mother’s health was not good. She had a back breaking job of chipping rock which paid 17 birr a day. That equals $1.00. The men, who did the exact same job, were paid 25 birr a day. I felt my spine prickle up. I remember my mother telling me about working in the factory during the war and doing the exact same job that a man did but she was paid less. Eventually this changed in the U.S. but here in Ethiopia, generations later, the same scenario was playing out. We agreed to help her in school but I know this is not really solving the primary problem. Her mother needs an income that doesn’t require back breaking work. We are looking into the possibility of helping them start a little store on their compound.
Our other Bethlehem was brought to me by a young medical student, Ephraim. This little girl could already speak English. She was a tiny little thing with a raspy voice, but very shy. She was the top female student in her school and also during testing topped off as the top female student in another Soddo elementary public school. Her report card revealed the same thing. She had mostly 90’s. She was from a poor family with seven children. Her father and mother, however, were both living. I decided, with grades like these, to pursue the private school where we had sent Abebe. The next day I took her report card and paid a fee for her to take an entrance examination. Not surprisingly, she scored well and was admitted to the school in 5th grade. It’s going to be fun to watch her blossom in the private school.
On a humorous note, one of my hospital gardeners came to me this afternoon and wanted help with school. Again, we love to help with school but this was kinda funny. I asked Demeketch, my maid, to translate. In Wolaitta, they went back and forth with Mogus holding a report card in his hand. I told him I knew the report card was his brothers. I said, “How is your brother’s report card going to help you?” He said that he couldn’t get his own report card because he owed book fees and until he paid them they would not release his report card. He was willing to use his brother’s card to get into school. I asked him how much he owed. He said it was 200 birr. That’s about $12.00. Later he thought more about it and said, “Well, I’ll just enter school at first grade.”
“What?” I said. “You are willing to begin all over again?” “What grade did you finish?”
“Fourth grade,” he responded.
“Seriously, you are willing to give up four years of your education and your life for 200 birr?” In actuality, 200 birr is a lot of money to someone like Mogus. He makes about 150 birr a week.
I offered to pay his book fine so he could get his real report card and enter school in 5th grade.
I have to say that one of the greatest blessings being here in Ethiopia is being able to help young people achieve their educational potential. With so little money, we can help students purchase their textbooks, pay tuition fees and provide uniforms and exercise books. The word ‘private school’ sounds expensive but in reality the fees are only $8.80 a month. That’s less than one cinema movie now days…and it’s just so much more fun!
September is an expensive time of year for Ethiopians. On September 11 the entire country celebrates New Year, which is the first day of the Ethiopian calendar. New Year’s is a big holiday and it is expected that everyone will have a new set of clothes and shoes and eat doro wet, the traditional spicy chicken stew.
When the average day laborer makes 25 birr ($1.40) a day, these expectations can prove challenging to meet. Shortly after New Year’s, school begins. The government does not require uniforms for students under 8th grade, and there are no school fees so it is helpful for poor families. Also text books are provided. But just like in the U.S. there are hidden fees, which quickly begin to add up. Even though the text books are free, students are still required to purchase their exercise books which cost 8 birr (.40) each and must also have a photo ID which is usually about 8 birr. Depending on the grade level, a student can need anywhere from 6 to 12 exercise books. Now it begins to significantly add up. If a poor family has four children in grade school they can be out a considerable amount of money. Twelve exercise books quickly adds up to 96 birr which is four days of labor. When the student enters grade nine, they are required to wear a kelly green uniform and if they are in grades 11-12 they wear an olive green colored uniform. The uniform is 400 birr ($23.50), which for a poor family equals one month of wages. The expenditures in September can be crushing. On top of all of this, the Meskel celebration takes place on September 27. Meskel means cross in Amharic. If New Years equals doro wet, then Meskel equals tibs. Tibs is the celebrated Ethiopian food of grilled or pan cooked tiny cuts of beef with peppers. It is served with injera. Last week my gardener borrowed 200 birr from me so that he could pool his money with a group of friends buying one cow to share. The cow costs 6,200 birr ($364.00). No other month requires such an outlay of cash on the Ethiopian family.
Even before coming to Ethiopia it was my dream to have a Bible study for just high school girls. God has placed such a burden on my heart for the girls in Ethiopia. This summer I picked up a three day, 1 ½ hour English class at Jackie’s English school on the hospital compound. When I walked in the classroom I was shocked. I had about 12 girls in the class. This is so unusual that I definitely paid attention. “God, is there something you are doing here? “ Normally my classes are about 85% male. One girl in particular caught my attention. It took me forever to learn to say her name properly but she was always patient with me. Her smile and friendliness was contagious and I found myself drawn to her. She is a woman of peace, someone whom I believe will lead others to Christ. I prayed and prayed and decided to offer them a Bible study in my home on Thursday afternoons. It would be a way for them to learn English and the Bible. We are using the Real Life Ministries program but altering it just a bit. We read the story in Amharic and then we reread the story in English. After that I teach the story and include details that might have been missed. Demeketch translates for me when I get into trouble:) I then ask the students, “What have you learned about Jesus today?” It is always so enlightening to listen to what they have learned about the savior. Then I have them try and retell the story, in English as much as possible. I have between 8 and 12 girls attending. Write me personally if you want more details. We pray together at the end of class and I enjoy hearing what their specific prayer needs are. Please keep this vital Bible study in your prayers. I’m so encouraged and prayerfully hope that this will only expand into more studies at different locations.