A letter from Rich Hansen in Ethiopia
This last week we have witnessed three important aspects of Ethiopian life: corruption, ethnicity and long-distance running.
Last week I (Rich) had two stimulating experiences that together demonstrate the unique value of a Christian graduate institution like the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST). On Tuesday I co-led an all-day seminar for our M.A. in Leadership and Management (MALM) students on “Corruption in Ethiopia.” EGST offers the only opportunity in Ethiopia to study leadership from a Christian perspective. Groups of students presented eye-opening case studies of corruption, often out of their own personal experience as government or business leaders. I gave a talk about corruption from a biblical perspective, including a major emphasis on how human systems themselves can be corrupted by evil. Students raised excellent questions about how they can become change agents in a society where corruption is endemic. The very fact that we could spend a day talking about such a volatile issue is a testimony to the MALM program, and an amazing opportunity for “real life” integration of Christian thinking.
Then on Friday I gave the weekly lecture in the Integration Seminar for our M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies (MABTS) students, who are mostly pastors and mature Christian leaders. Each semester faculty members take turns offering weekly lectures addressing a particular theme from their various disciplines. This semester’s theme is “Ethnicity”; I spoke on “Pastoral Ministry and Ethnicity.”
Ethnicity in Ethiopia is an extremely complicated issue and a powerful force. For example, all of us remember the 1994 “ethnic cleansing” of one tribe by another in Rwanda that led to over 800,000 deaths. While Ethiopia has been spared such genocide, ethnic conflict can still flare into violence. (To give you some context, there are about eight broad ethnic groups in the country, and within those groups, about 80 tribal groups, some quite small and others quite large.) During this class, my students spoke of one deadly encounter only two years ago in which Christians killed one another on both sides of an ethnic divide. In the early 20th century almost all the Protestant churches here first took root in particular geographical areas, which means that today each denomination is primarily “ruled” by one ethnic group. In short, ethnic identity often trumps Christian identity — one is a member of his/her tribe first and a Christian second.
In my lecture I walked headlong into this emotional minefield with only three months experience and a few conversations with local leaders! However, my lecture presenting a biblical view of ethnic identity vis-à-vis Christian identity permitted students to engage in a spirited discussion about if, and how, things could change. Especially moving for me was the common recognition by students of the personal costs one must be willing to pay to choose one’s Christian identity over one’s ethnic identity. Several commented that they were grateful to be able to talk so openly about such a crucial issue that affects them as church leaders.
Both Tuesday and Friday I felt incredibly privileged to be at the transformative juncture where committed biblical faith encounters critical social issues — but especially with students who are already leaders in church and society. As some seeds planted on these two days take root by God’s grace, the impact on Ethiopian churches and society could indeed be more than we can ask, or even imagine” (Ephesians 2:20). I’m praying that it will be. EGST is playing a unique role in bringing it about.
On a less serious note, this past Sunday Rich and I (Marilyn) both participated in the Great Ethiopian Run, a 10k charity race, along with 35,000 other people. In this enormous crowd I even ran into three people I knew: acquaintances from Ethiopia, the United States and Britain. In Ethiopia long-distance running is a national pastime. In fact, we were 20 feet away from Haile Gebrselassie, one of the most famous long-distance runners of all time, who was celebrity “starter” of the race. The spirit was joyful, with many Ethiopian participants chanting cheers, blowing horns and dancing in the street along the route. Runners/walkers all wore yellow T-shirts with green trim and red letters (Ethiopia’s colors). As we looked ahead and behind us during the race, we could see a stream of yellow about a mile long in either direction. As two of the relatively tiny number of “fareng” (foreigners), we were cheered along by spectators. While Rich and I weren’t the first to cross the finish line, neither were we the last. And we are now proud owners of medals to prove it.
Today, on Thanksgiving eve, we will gather with seven others, mostly PC(USA), to celebrate Thanksgiving. Turkey traveled on a plane yesterday with three Americans from Shenandoah Presbytery. We will be giving thanks tonight for the food, for the blessings we have received here in Ethiopia and for you and your support.
- Please pray for Rich as he prepares to give a lecture to the Assembly of God Bible College in Addis Ababa about the “value of philosophy for theology” in December. Also pray that he can complete two major syllabus projects for his spring semester classes by December 17.
- Pray that our EGST students can complete their work as the semester draws to a close and all are extremely busy.
- Pray for the safe travel of Nathan, Milli, Megan and Lauren Hansen as they all arrive in Addis for the Christmas break on December 20.
Rich and Marilyn
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 57