Sunday, March 4- Hello from Awassa, Ethiopia. This is a third world country, so we’ve been enduring some hardship in comparison to our lavish lifestyles in the West and the U.S. The electricity and internet has been on and off since we arrived so it’s been hard to get these blogs out as scheduled. The shower in my hotel room has been but a few drops, and sometimes no water at all. So again this morning I visited the pool at 5:30 a.m. as I have since arriving in Awassa to get my daily bath, showering at the pool’s outside shower (cold). Fortunately the water isn’t as cold as it is in Sacramento, but enough to give me some gusto and wake me up. I’ve also been enduring diarrhea since Friday, as a few other members of our group. Please keep us in your prayers.
Before leaving to church while passing through the lobby, the manager at the hotel said he wanted to move me to a new room, one with water pressure. Such joy, a good hot shower tonight!
Today we visited Vehiwot Bihran Church in Awassa. We were given royal treatment, visiting the Pastors office and were escorted to the front center pews of the church. They are actually wooden benches seating six. We were lucky to have the special privilege of being guests, due to when we arrived the church was full, spilling over into outlying overflow areas. I could feel something was special before we began service, that God’s presence was in our midst. Then a young man took the stage and began playing an electronic Yamaha keyboard, making it sound like a dozen instruments from a piano, organ, saxophone, drums, and the list goes on… Another young man picked up a mic and sang, and they filled the church with praise and worship, in their native tongues. It brought me to tears, as well as many of my Vision trip friends gathered around me. Announcements were made, all in Amharic or Oromo, and we were acknowledged and were asked to stand and be greeted by the congregation. A visiting Pastor from New Jersey gave the Sermon in English, and after each phrase an associate Pastor interpreted the English to the native tongue. During the sermon, the visiting Pastor talked often about being here in Ethiopia It felt like he was talking to our team. Several other members of our group felt the same and that the spirit was moving through us. An incredible choir sang two anthems in native tongue, accompanied by the keyboardist. The amount of music from both the soloist that opened the service and the soulful choir filled me as though God was breathing his spirit in to me. I’ll never forget especially the man in the back right in the Choir who was so filled with Jesus he glowed in a special hue. Another one of many events during this trip that will transform me forever. Following the service I was called to visit their “Media Center” and introduce myself to the sound technicians and the keyboardist. They showed me their modest, but adequate sound system, and we exchanged our passion to serve the Lord through our gifts God gave us in Audio/Visual presentations, bringing the sound of the spoken word and music to the people of the church. We exchanged email addresses and I expect a new relationship with my brothers in Christ at this vibrant church. Did I mention the congregation was over 5,000 this day and every Sunday? A delightful morning praising God! Following the service we met the Pastor and one of the Associate Pastors at an Italian restaurant. You ask, Italian? In the late 1800’s and again in the early 1900’s, the Italians occupied Ethiopia, making an impact on the country. For instance, the electrical system is Italian protocol, 120hz/240v versus the USA 60/120, and the same plug outlets as in Italy. (We all brought special adapters to plug our devices in to to recharge). Even though the Italians occupied Ethiopia for these two durations, Ethiopia has maintained its sovereignty, something the Ethiopians are extremely proud of, the only country in Africa that has. During our delicious lunch the Pastor shared with us his 40 years with this church, 30 of which as head Pastor. He has planted 15 satellite churches in Ethiopia with a total congretation of 15,000. He filled us with other anecdotes and information about the obstacles and best practices to make the church so vibrant. Following we visited the church property again and he humbly showed us the groundwork being done on a new Sanctuary that will hold 7,500 people, for future growth from the current 5,000. The spirit is alive in this church and we were grateful for the opportunity to visit. Before leaving the construction site we got in a big prayer circle and Andy from World Vision blessed the holy ground we were standing on.
So much has already been embraced by our team on this trip, and it was time to have some R&R this afternoon to charge up our batteries. Tamaru coordinated a boat ride on Lake Awassa which our hotel sits on its shores. We cruised the shoreline and came upon 8 Hippos wallowing in the water. Hippos are one of the most protective and dangerous animals on earth, however we got about 100 feet from them and got to see them up close. Earlier blogs I mentioned we were hoping to see some indigenous African animals, now we can add Hippos to the list of Camels and two species of monkeys.
Our boat ride was cut short, apparently God was hearing our prayers for rain to break this drought. Praise God! On the way back to the hotel boat dock, we came across several indigenous fishermen in home made boats made out of reeds. They stood and either fished with poles or with spears. We passed one fisherman who pulled out his catch of a half dozen tilapia.
I was moved in to a new room with water pressure and had a delightful hot shower! I cleaned up and had dinner and devotion with the Vision team before going to the lobby for a Facetime/Skype event with the church. Our Faith Vision team met in the lobby to set up a computer link via the internet. The facility set up a special light for us and we gathered on the couch to do some Q&A with our congregation. It was 9:15 p.m. our time, 11 hours ahead of PST, 10:15 a.m. in Sacramento. We got the link set up, and everything worked fine on the Ethiopian end, but ironically there were technical issues in Link Hall and we couldn’t do the event as planned, so Joe Parente modified the plan by setting up a laptop in the Narthex. There were audio issues in the Narthex, so we couldn’t hear anything at Faith, but they had our audio feed, but due to so much noise in the Narthex and the small speakers on a laptop we couldn’t communicate. So, we waved and did some sign language, Jenny and Virginia May held up pieces of paper and communicated by writing notes. Now I know what it feels like being in a fish tank, people strolled by the laptop camera in the Narthex and waved at us as we waved back. Funny how things worked so well in the third world country and in the technology driven USA we had a technical issue.
As I write this there is some lightning and a steady rain falling, let’s pray it will continue overnight. Please continue to pray with me for rain to break the drought and prevent further famine in the Horn of Africa.
Tomorrow, back to Awassa for a final day in the area to meet God and see how he is working. Please continue to pray for me and our Vision team, for health and safety and that we would continue to embrace witnessing God at work in Ethiopia.
Peace in Christ.