ONE Regional Faith Organizer Joe Mason recently traveled to Ethiopia to document a faith-based aid and development program.
This morning, I took a walk down a busy street in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in order to take in some of the sights and smells of this ancient culture. Known for its wide variety of exotic spices that bring tears to the eyes of many, I’m reminded that this part of the world has its own unique flavor. I pass shop after shop after shop, each one confined to a few square feet of real estate, situated just off the busy street that connects two of the main routes in this dynamic metropolis.
As is often my mission, I’m given the task of documenting one of the more successful compassion ministries in Addis Ababa. This time, I traveled to the Lideta Primary School, funded by the Ethiopian Assemblies of God Aid and Development Association. The school is providing education, clothing, food and even job training. I wonder if the merchants I’m walking by are able to send their children to school, or if their kids have to work in order to help support the family.
Before arriving in Addis, I knew that I would see evidence of poverty. I knew there was great need in this land. My mind goes back to the mid-1980s, where images of severe malnutrition made world headlines. But at the time, I wasn’t old enough to understand the factors that cause a famine of this nature. Since then, Ethiopia has made strides toward improving its standard of living, and it has faced setbacks. I still struggle to understand the political, environmental, social and even religious components that influence the well-being of the precious people that live here. But I do know this: Ethiopia is a nation of men, women, boys and girls, each created in God’s image, and He places great value on their lives.
I finally arrive at the school to witness an amazing site. I walk into a courtyard of children at recess, being led by their instructor, stretching their legs after a morning of intense learning. They are happy. Their joy can be heard in their laughter as I snap a few pictures. They love to try out their English skills on me, which are being taught to them by highly qualified teachers.
“Hay-lo sah,” a young boy says in a tiny, high pitched voice. In addition to English, they are being taught mathematics, writing, reading and many other vital subjects. I’m taken off guard as their instructor circles them up to sing one of their favorite Christmas songs. I laugh to myself because they are singing “Last Christmas“ by the 80s pop duo Wham!. They then break into some traditional Ethiopian tunes, which are all belted out as loudly as possible for me to hear. I love to hear them sing.
Soon it’s time for lunch. That familiar smell of distinct Ethiopian spices floats through the air. Cooks prepare and feed the children their beloved injera – it looks like a pancake, only not as sweet. The children tear off a piece of the sponge-like flatbread and scoop up some meat, then take a bite. They again smile at me as I watch them enjoying a nutritious meal. Nutrition is critical in early childhood development, and it is vital to a young mind who is eager to learn.
Many of these boys and girls would not have a future if it weren’t for this school. I sit down to talk with Joshua Alemayehu, the director of the Ethiopian Assemblies of God Aid and Development Association, which funds the school. “God is using the church as an instrument of kindness, to stretch out his hand to the poor,” he said. “It was Jesus who fed 5,000 people who were desperate and hungry. So He just fed them. You cannot separate compassion ministry from the gospel.” These children are the poorest of the poor. Approximately 2,500 of them come each day, many living on the roadside, to have a chance at a better life.
Joshua’s statement about Jesus made me think. “He just fed them.” Though that may be a simplistic idea, it is what we as believers are called to do. We must care for the poor and the suffering of our world. The mission of the EADA is not only to provide for their immediate physical needs, but to invest in their futures. They are investing in the next generation of Ethiopians, who will one day have an immeasurable impact on their country and world. Joshua shows me several training classrooms, offering instruction in trades such as information technology, sewing, hairstyling and more. Students who graduate from the primary and secondary school are offered valuable job training, free of charge, so that they can thrive in their vocational lives.
Many programs like the EADA are supported fully by faith-based groups, believers who recognize that God’s heart for the poor and suffering must be demonstrated in our world today. Other faith-based programs partner with government agencies such as USAID in order to maximize their effectiveness.
In my opinion, we must get behind these programs, no matter how they are funded, in order to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate. Part of this is making our voice heard to lawmakers and government officials, to make sure that vital life-saving aid and development programs are protected in the US federal budget. In challenging economic times, we must support programs that work – programs that save lives.
When we, as believers, have the opportunity to “Speak out for those who cannot speak,” (Proverbs 31:8), I believe that we must seize those opportunities and be an advocate for the world’s poorest people. During this Christmas season, I hope we all remember Christ’s identification with the less fortunate. We need to “just feed them.” But let’s go beyond that. Let’s be their voice.