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A letter from Rich and Marilyn Hansen in Ethiopia

April 2013

Dear friends and supporters,

Teshome, Rich and Josep

The classroom air was sticky warm, no doubt because of the 50 bodies squeezed elbow-to-elbow into the room.  Most were men in their 20s and 30s, leavened by a few women. The room was so packed with three students at each tiny table that there were no aisles between the tables. Thus, students stood up and physically parted the tables like the Red Sea so I could walk to the front of the room. Then the tables flowed back together again, cutting off my escape.  But, of course, I didn’t want to escape.  It was a privilege to be there.

Almost all the 50 smiling students in front of me were practicing pastors. Many attend classes in Addis Ababa during the week, then take a long bus ride home to preach in their congregations on the weekends.  One is Joseph, a refugee from South Sudan. Another is Teshome, who told me he started as a pastor at the age of 20.  Now, after 20 years of pastoral experience, he finally has the chance for an education. Teshome comes from Dire Dawa, a provincial town in Muslim eastern Ethiopia where Christians are a tiny minority.  It is hard ground in which to plant the gospel.  The college principal told me that, like most pastors in his Synod, Teshome supports his wife and children on 900 birr a month. My heart fell as I did the calculation: $49 a month…about $1.60 per day.

Joseph and Teshome are students at the Central Ethiopia Synod Theological College, one of the schools of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), our PC(USA) partner in Ethiopia. Sadly, there are only a tiny handful of theological schools in Ethiopia offering B.A. degrees. Like most Bible training schools, Central Synod College offers post–high school education in the form of “certificates” (421 students) and “diplomas” (100 students). I’m sure most in the class I met feel fortunate to study three years for a diploma—to get a university B.A. degree is beyond their expectations.

How did I find my way into this classroom filled with the warm bodies of these eager students?

Students at Central Ethiopia Synod Theological College

Amanuel, one of my brightest systematic theology students at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST), is a full-time teacher at the college even though he will not graduate with his M.A. until this fall.  When he encountered pastoral questions from his students (and knowing I had been a pastor for 30 years before moving to Ethiopia), he invited me to the school as his guest. My first day at the college included a lecture, tea break, and stimulating question-answer session—about 2½ hours nonstop!  It was both exhilarating and exhausting!  Since then I’ve been invited back three more times to address “hot” topics in their churches: creation vs. evolution, spiritual gifts, the meaning of “spirituality.” 

Why did I jump at the opportunity to interact with these local pastors?

Imagine a geographical area larger than the state of Maryland stretching from Addis Ababa in the fertile central highlands across the barren Rift Valley desert through Muslim eastern Ethiopia and all the way to the Somalia border 500 km away. This is Central Ethiopian Synod—encompassing 447 congregations and more than 300,000 church members. Yet Central Synod currently has only 310 trained pastors for its 447 congregations! Churches are growing so fast that as many as 28 congregations are yoked together to be served by a team of only four pastors.

At a recent consultation of theological schools in Ethiopia I learned the following: In order to train the 16,000+ evangelical pastors with a basic theological education, 500 Bible college teachers with M.A. degrees are needed.  Yet today in the whole country (80 million people) there are no more than 50 teachers with an M.A. degree!! 500 needed—50 available. Currently there is only one evangelical theological graduate school in Ethiopia training teachers for these M.A. degrees—the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, where I teach. 

Rich and Amauel

Over his career, how many pastors might Amanuel train for God’s Kingdom? Perhaps 30 a year? Perhaps 1,200 in a lifetime?  Each of those pastors will influence many people—say very conservatively, 1,000?  Thus Amanuel’s career might touch 1,200,000 people for Christ. In my time at EGST I have invested my life in 20 or 30 M.A. level students like Amanuel.  Calculate the number of lives they might touch—through those they will teach—and the number is staggering!! Paul wrote to his student Timothy: “What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).  Through my experience at Central Ethiopian Synod College, I now know some of their names…Joseph and Teshome.

Friends in Christ, never underestimate the fact that you are touching many lives every time you pray for Marilyn and me or give financially.  If you would like to help prepare students like Amanuel to have a significant, long-term impact on his nation for Christ, we welcome your financial support (see the link below).

Finally, don’t forget that we will be traveling around the U.S. this summer sharing our stories of all God is doing here in Ethiopia.  We will be based in the Washington, D.C., area in June, then head to Los Angeles in July, followed by the New Wilmington Mission Conference near Pittsburgh and a few days in southern Indiana in August. If you live near any of these hub cities, we’d love to meet your mission group or congregation.  Please contact us.

In Christ’s mission with you,

Rich and Marilyn

Please pray for:

  • The 206 students currently enrolled at EGST: that they will grow spiritually and intellectually so that they can make a difference now and when they graduate
  • The 133 applicants currently interviewing for EGST placement in the fall semester, 2013: that the faculty will be given wisdom in choosing which applicants should be accepted
  • The students at the Central Ethiopia Synod Theological College—and every other Bible training school in Ethiopia: that they will be better able to serve their churches through this training

Rich and Marilyn

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 107

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