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A letter from Marilyn Hansen in Ethiopia

October 2010

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1)

Dear Friends,

Braking to miss pedestrians casually walking across the road and swerving to avoid the public 12-passenger taxis loaded with 19 people, I drove for the first time yesterday in Addis. Braking and swerving may be apt metaphors for our life here.

Giving importance to relationships is a core value of people in Ethiopia. Greeting those you know, inquiring about their families, discussing what you have been doing is part of the culture. I am learning to “brake,” to slow down, to get to know the people around me. Tsion, an employee of the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST), brought me an orange soda and colo, a grain snack, as I was waiting for Rich at school one evening. As we ate together, she showed me pictures of her family, talked about a recent outing to a lake near Addis, shared about her studies.

Swerving around the obstacles and roadblocks is also part of our life here, developing the ability to find a route around blocked expectations. The expectation that I am in control of what I do crumbles when the power goes off at home (regularly) or when I find that the shop where I planned to buy a screwdriver is closed for an unknown reason. I am reminded that, no matter what I think, my life is under the Lord’s control, not mine.

The expectation that I will excel in learning Amharic has also crumbled. Our teacher repeatedly tells us, “Izosh, Izosh,” which means, “be strong, be of good cheer.” And I experience humility, realizing that I must become a child in order to learn a new language and culture.

As we brake and swerve around the obstacles, Rich and I continue on the Ethiopian journey to which we have been called.

Rich shares his reflections, the product of many cups of tea shared with students:

Photo of two young women and rich sitting at a table with a red and white checkered tablecloth.

Rich having tea with Lenssa (on left) and Adina (middle).

A young woman named Lenssa is in the Master of Arts in HIV and AIDS in Relation to Theological Studies program (MAHA for short). She has been a nurse for nine years and works full time at a large hospital in Addis. She is also taking six courses (more than a full-time course load!) at EGST!! Plus, she lives in a town about 30 km.away and has to commute two hours daily crammed into a taxi van. I asked her why she enrolled in EGST. She explained that, as a nurse, she has seen firsthand the result of the AIDS pandemic while working in an orphanage for children whose parents had died of AIDS.

When I had tea with two other students, Kumneger and Aelaf, they talked with heartfelt sadness about the 5 million AIDS orphans in Ethiopia’s 80 million population! Even though only in their early 20s, these two young Christian women have a dream of setting up their own organization to challenge Ethiopian Christians to adopt and care for thousands of these orphans.

About a third of the 30 students in my introductory theology course are in the MAHA program. It was launched a few years ago to prepare Ethiopian Christians to be leaders in their society as it addresses AIDS. This M.A. degree combines about 20 credit hours in biblical and theological training with 40 credit hours in medical courses about AIDS. Graduates serve in a wide variety of both church-based and secular/NGO programs relating to AIDS.

Yesterday I had lunch with Dr. Adamu, who teaches the medical classes in the MAHA program. He is an impressive man in his mid-30s. He specializes in AIDS and also teaches at Addis Ababa University, has both a medical degree and a public health degree and just returned from a consultation on AIDS in Beijing, China, under a program funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Adamu told me that the total number of AIDS cases in Ethiopia has stabilized. I said, “That's good news!” “Not really,” he replied. In fact, since there are many thousands of new cases every year, this means that people with AIDS are dying at a fast rate. If more people could be kept alive longer, the total aggregate number of cases should keep increasing! The largest HIV-infected group are young girls, who get the virus through older men. Dr. Adamu was passionate to share his knowledge with me, and it was sobering. I am incredibly impressed with how both this man and my MAHA students keep pressing forward to address this national problem with only a tiny fraction of the resources available in the United States. It is a privilege to have such committed, compassionate people as both students and faculty colleagues.

Photo of a house with a steeply pitched roof; the sides of the first floor are painted blue.

Our house in Addis Ababa — we moved in October 1.

We continue to see God at work in our lives here. Many people, both expats and Ethiopians, have shown us great kindness. Nega, an Ethiopian schoolteacher we met, took us to an Amharic worship service where people passionately sang praises to God and listened with their whole hearts to the preaching. Next week we will visit his classroom and meet his students. Our house is being furnished, piece by piece, with the help of friends who take us around the city to find stores that sell lamps or water filters. We have shared meals with mission workers who are drilling wells, teaching college students and working on Bible translations for one of the 80+ languages in this country. At church on Sunday the speaker was an American linguist who has spent his last 50 years working with the Afar language, decoding the sounds, developing an alphabet and translating Scripture.

We realize the privilege we have to serve in Ethiopia and are grateful for your support that allows us to journey here, including our braking and swerving. Thank you.

Thank you also for remembering the following special prayer concerns as you think of us:

  • Our Visalia house was rented as of October 8! Praise God! Many thanks to those who prayed about this need.
  • Pray for our EGST students as many of them juggle full-time jobs, wives, husbands and children in addition to a full load of classes.
  • Pray for Rich as he prepares for a two-hour lecture on “Ethnicity and Pastoral Ministry” to be presented November 19 — ethnic issues and conflicts are extremely complicated here and he’s just “off the boat.”
  • Pray for us to absorb as much as possible as we continue our daily language learning.

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 57

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