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A letter from Marilyn and Rich Hansen in Ethiopia

September 2010

Dear friends,

Two men and two women sitting at a large, square table with pens and papers in a room (painted white).

Marilyn and Rich in language school.

As I write this with the call to prayer from a nearby mosque in the background, it seems incredible that Rich and I have been in Ethiopia more than three weeks now. This morning we woke to a rooster crowing (repeatedly), a cow mooing and a donkey braying — this in the center of a city of 7 million people.

Our time here has been marked by a fairly steep learning curve, but we have barely scratched the surface of Ethiopian culture and daily life. And of course with many different ethnic groups, 80 different languages and several religious traditions, the culture varies greatly from person to person and place to place.

Our primary focus has been as student and teacher. Both of us attend language school each morning for 3+ hours. Our teacher Suratu is wonderful, with a strong Christian faith and a great sense of humor. After three weeks we have learned 400+ vocabulary words and are attempting to speak in sentences of several words. In our class of three people (our fellow student is a Swede) I provide the comic relief. Last week I so misinterpreted what Suratu said (I was acting out with great expression a verb that meant “sick,” but I thought meant “to wake up”) that she laughed until she cried. We are told Amharic is the third most difficult language in the world to learn, and I believe it. Words are masculine or feminine, verb endings change when speaking about a male or female, and some sounds in Amharic are not used in English at all. One of my favorite words in Amharic is the word for sofa, which is “sofa.”

Rich finished his second week of teaching. Due to our language focus, he is teaching just two sections of one class this semester, “God, Creation and Humanity,” to about 30 students altogether. He and I have been impressed with the caliber of faculty and staff at EGST (Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology). Well-educated professors seem committed to high-quality education and high standards for students as well as being personally committed in their faith. Most of the faculty are Ethiopian, but also include a Dane, a Swede and another American. EGST students already have a university degree and many will leave EGST to become leaders in denominations, NGOs, government and business. One student I met in the M.A. in Leadership degree program is the only Christian in his Muslim family; he is well spoken, has worked as a radio commentator and now has a job with local government. Another student Rich had tea with before class this past Monday has been a teacher for five years and is now in the M.A. in Leadership program to develop leadership skills to fulfill his dream of opening his own school.

A large group of people eating lunch around a large wooden table.

Rich at an EGST staff lunch.

EGST is well run, but this is Ethiopia. Monday Rich was planning to use the copy machine before his class to print handouts for his students. The electricity went out all across our area, which should have been manageable because the school fortunately has a generator for power outages. When the electricity still had not come on with the generator, Rich learned that the school generator was not working either. And so it goes …

Our housing in Addis is now falling into place. Our first 18 days were spent at a guesthouse of the Bethel Synod (the Presbyterian synod) of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) denomination, which is our PC(USA) partner in Ethiopia and 5+ million strong. Our guest house was in the northern part of Addis and required a 30-minute taxi ride to language school or EGST. However, we moved last week to another compound much nearer both schools, where we will live for about another month. Used by Southern Baptists, this compound is quite nice, with green grass, a tranquil setting removed from traffic and pleasant accommodations. In October we will move again, this time to our permanent home. This house, owned by EECMY, is on a compound shared with Danish, Norwegian and Ethiopian Christians. Living there we will be surrounded with interesting people. One of the great benefits of our time here so far has been meeting other mission people from all over the world and hearing how they are serving in Ethiopia as teachers, doctors, Bible translators and agricultural workers.

A group of six family members posing for a photo under a tree.

Our family.

The compound where we will eventually live, and another compound next door used by the Mekane Yesus Seminary, are next to a river. On Wednesday we had a very heavy rainfall with large pieces of hail (I was waiting in a car trying to listen to my language lesson on a tape recorder and I finally gave up because the noise of the rain and hail was deafening). We learned the next morning that two faculty homes were completely flooded on the seminary compound as well as a number of student accommodations. A Swedish colleague of Rich’s at EGST and his wife lived in one of the houses. His computer and a few clothes were the only things saved. The other house was just occupied by a Danish mission family who had arrived in Ethiopia the previous night; they evacuated their house by swimming through several feet of muddy water with their two small children. It took only five minutes for the water to enter the house and rise six feet. Everyone says if the flash flood had happened at night, many lives would have been lost; we are exceedingly thankful that no one died.

Today is the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. Tomorrow is Ethiopia’s New Year’s Day. Yesterday along many streets were flocks of chickens and roosters, available for purchase to prepare doro wat, a spicy chicken stew that everyone eats to celebrate the holidays (we already learned “doro” is chicken). People who bought a live chicken walked down the street carrying it upside down by its two ankles. Goats are also popular, and one man tried to get on a taxi (really a van, which is the most common public transportation) carrying his live goat upside down with its four legs tied together. (He didn’t make it on the taxi because there wasn’t room for him and his goat.)

Daily we confront new experiences and daily we realize God’s provision for us. We are grateful to all of you for your prayers and support. Thank you so much!

Here are four prayer requests for September:

  • Thanks to God that no one perished in the recent flash flood, and that those who lost all their belongings might be sustained, emotionally and materially.
  • That God would bring a good renter for our house in Visalia, California, soon!!
  • That renovation work needed before we move into our permanent home would be done professionally and on time.
  • For our continued ability to learn Amharic and that Rich can create a good learning environment in his classes.

Marilyn and Rich Hansen

Also, please note Marilyn's email; we love to hear from you but please send to both our emails, sending a cc to Marilyn, so we can both keep up with all your messages.

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