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A letter from Barbara and Larry Moir in Ethiopia

November 28, 2010 – Advent I

An Ethiopian Journal

Desta’s Song

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my savior,
for he has looked with favor
on the lowliness of his servant.
(Luke 2:47-48a, the “Magnificat”)

She stands all of five feet four inches tall, about average for a woman of her generation.

Her home is mud-walled with dirt floors. The wind and rain enter in those places where the mud has fallen away from the wood lath.

The bed is made of eucalyptus saplings nailed together to make a frame. The mattress is made from a blue poly tarp, stuffed with teff straw. All this is set opposite the leaking wall, away from direct exposure to wind and rain.

The kitchen hut out back is equipped with a fire ring, over which she makes the Oromo flat bread called buddeena, or as the Amharas call it, injera. Her daughters-in-law and granddaughters help her make the thick Ethiopian stew known as wat.

Desta is as far removed from prosperity as one can find without being abjectly impoverished. Yet she is more prosperous than any of us can imagine.

When she smiles her eyes are bright, and the lines on her weathered face become all the more beautiful. Her children do not know exactly how old she is, neither does she — perhaps in her early 80s. In spite of high blood pressure and chronic bouts of giardia, an intestinal parasite, Desta is quite strong, although she will tell you that she is not, that she is old and ready for God to call her home. Only slightly stooped at the shoulders, she does not have the extremely bent back of other women of her generation, those whose bodies have been misshapen by years of carrying heavy burdens while their husbands walked alongside carrying an umbrella and walking stick. She must have been loved and respected by her husband, Lamesaa, who died two years ago. He did most of the heavy lifting.

Desta still shows her frailty at times, being too tired to get out of bed in the morning or taking a deserved nap in the afternoon. But when strength is called for she has it in spades — strength both spiritual and physical. Recently she boosted herself into the back seat of a pickup truck, saving her the indignity of having the local mission co-worker help her as he has done for his own mother.

Akko (grandmother) Desta’s spiritual strength, her profound faith, rise from the depths of her soul and illuminate the space she inhabits. One does not have to ask her about her blessings; she will tell you quite freely. She owns her own home and has a loving family with grandchildren she cherishes and delights in. Her many friends from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church gather weekly in each other’s homes for prayer, and she takes her regular turn as hostess with help from her daughters-in-law and two teenage granddaughters.

What this all boils down to for Desta is that God has blessed her life and there is nothing more that she needs. She knows Jesus Christ as intimately as humanly possible. She knows that the Son of God was born in a stable less well furnished than her own small house. She and her granddaughters have beds and the cows sleep outside. She understands that prosperity does not make for blessedness.

In Africa as well as North America the preachers of the prosperity gospel tell a different story. They say that God wants us to be rich with material wealth — fancy cars, McMansions, Caribbean vacations and a wealth of gold, platinum and silver encrusted with diamonds about our necks and fingers. They claim that because of the gifts of the magi — gold, frankincense and myrrh — Jesus was really a powerful rich man, like Herod.

Desta and her family would not recognize this gospel as anything but false. Where would the prosperity gospel and its purveyors leave a woman like Desta? They would have us believe that because she has not obtained the “wealth” they say God wants us to have, Desta and her family are not truly blessed by God.

This Advent and Christmas season, when you think of Jesus the Son of God born in a rude stable, lying in a borrowed feed trough, think of Desta. Moreover, meditate on Mary’s Song, the “Magnificat.” Think of Mary and her vital example of faith in the One who blessed us—from the stable to the cross through the grave to eternity.

Were Desta Irish, or Scots, instead of Oromo, she might be heard singing:

Riches I heed not,
Nor vain empty praise;
Thou mine inheritance,
Now, and always;
Thou, and thou only,
First in my heart;
Waking or sleeping,
My treasure thou art.

“Be Thou My Vision” —Slane)

Barbara and Larry

The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 50

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