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A letter from Rachel Weller in Ethiopia

Late Fall 2013

End of the Year Letter / Christmas Letter—Oh, yeah. That's something people do sometimes, isn't it?! It has always been a hard thing for me to do.  I wish the end of the year were all wrapped up in a nice package that could be opened, dealt with, and all the superfluous parts and packaging discarded neatly in the recycle bin—no, the trash can—so that the new year could be started all fresh, smooth, and orderly. Won't happen, will it?

I had many hopes for 2013. I had hoped to move into a house. The ground hasn't yet been broken.

I hoped that several Community Health Evangelism (CHE) programs would have been planted and making community changes by now. (CHE is a Christ-centered program that combines community development principles, evangelism and discipleship. It equips participants to identify community issues and mobilize resources to achieve positive, sustainable change. It seeks to transform lives as people work together to address local needs such as clean water projects, preventive health measures and literacy classes.) A good training workshop we held in March just kind of fizzled. I hoped that the logistics position for South Sudan would have been filled, the person oriented and moved to Juba, and Michael freed to stay in Ethiopia more. That ended tragically as our friend and former colleague, Mark Rasmussen, was appointed, diagnosed with cancer, and then died before anyone understood what happened.

So I sit here today wondering. What am I doing here? What are my hopes for next year?

Through all the questions, frankly, I do know what I am doing here. I am constantly reassured, through many mundane and spectacular means, that I am doing exactly what I heard God ask me to do so many years ago. I remember when we were living in Dembi Dollo talking to colleagues about the struggles of the people in Gambella. I remember saying—to myself, or someone? I don't remember—“Someone should go there and BE with them.” Many years later, here I am, in Gambella, being with them. I have never been accused of being the frenetic, do-a-bunch-of-things-all-at-once type, but I suppose many people have been wondering what exactly I am doing. Sometimes it feels like I spend a lot of time spinning my wheels like we used to do in Dembi Dollo trying to get the car out of a mud hole. Sometimes I feel like I'm doing nothing, neither moving forward nor in place. But when I ask God, “Should I leave?” I am assured that I am where God wants me; I should not leave. I have come to believe that the most important thing we do is to BE in relationship—with God, with our family, with our neighbors, and with others. The things we do while we are being are not so important. So I am here, listening to God's call, listening for God's call—with various filters on my ears, depending on my fickleness—being with God's people in Gambella.

Sitting and being together is great. How I wish my call were that simple: conversation, coffee, consultations, sweet tea—that is, good, hot, sweeter than North Carolina, sweet tea—discussions, more coffee! But how restless I would become—though not nearly as quickly as some—if I had nothing more to do. I will carry many of my hopes from last year over to next year. I will do what I can to make each of them a reality.

I am still hoping to move into a house—one house, all contained under one roof—in 2014.  Got some work to do on that one. Redesign it, to start with, so it fits into our budget.

Between the time I began this letter and now my hope regarding Community Health Evangelism (CHE—we say “chay”) has turned to reality! Rev. Matthew Doleak recently returned to Gambella after being away for three years pursuing a degree in theology. As the new Director for Mission and Theology (Evangelism) of the West Gambella Bethel Synod (mostly Nuer people) he approached me recently asking if I was still doing CHE. “That’s my assignment,” I told him. He said, “We have a lot of work to do.”! Woohoo! It’s what I’ve been waiting for—someone to “champion” the idea and move it forward. The result is that this week we will present the vision to synod and presbytery leaders along with the leaders of the four Nuer-speaking congregations in Gambella. At the end of the seminar the four congregations (assuming they like the idea of the program) will decide how they will move forward with it, and then in the next month or so we will train four people from each congregation to be trainers. It looks like there’s a pretty good chance we’ll have a few changing communities by this time next year.

Last, I continue to hope to spend more time together with Michael than separated from him. The logistics position has been re-posted.  Applications are being processed. A person could be in place “soon” (by some definition), which will allow Michael to turn over some of the busy work of South Sudan and spend more time building relationships in Ethiopia. I hope.

Even though my accomplishments in 2013 are minimal, God's blessings are obvious. My living place is really quite enjoyable. My morning coffee routine at my fresh-air breakfast nook includes entertainment by some of the most beautiful birds, and lizards, and the other day a Serval cat in a tree. My work routine… well, there's no routine, but I am daily blessed by my co-workers' examples to live more consciously of God's presence. I am surrounded by people who are glad I am here. People like Rev. Matthew, Moses Hoth, Okello Oluch (on the Anuak side of town) and Rev. Wudenish, who has started a women’s project to learn about, prevent, and treat fistulas caused by traumatic birthing. I am blessed by modern communication technology. Though we are apart so much, Michael and I are able to continue to be in communication with one another through phone, email or skype even when he has been in remote corners of South Sudan or Ethiopia. Of course we also enjoy conversations with family by the same methods. These and many other blessings are the hope that encourages me.

As Peter says in his first letter: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (I Peter 1:3).

Mark Rasmussen's wife, Caroline, through her blogs on CaringBridge, reminded us so poignantly of the real Hope we have though all our dreams and expectations suddenly come crashing down around us. During this holiday season join me in remembering her and those who grieve. Pray for deepening relationships—church to church, people to people, people to God—that are grounded in the transformational love of Christ, which is our only hope. And after you have opened your Christmas packages pick up the wrappings, straighten up the room, and get ready for the messy work of following God's call and basking in His Hope.


For the two of us,
Rachel Weller

The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 133
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