A letter from Rich and Marilyn Hansen in Ethiopia
“What church are you from?” one of the students asked me. “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” I answered.
Another student’s eyes lit up and his face glowed. “I didn’t know you were Presbyterian! I found out yesterday I got a scholarship from your church. I am so happy."
Kejela is a student at Mekane Yesus Seminary, the seminary of our PC(USA) partner in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY). I was working with a small group of students in a weekly English class at the seminary (see photo). We had been talking about whether and how the students’ churches teach about sexuality and the topic turned to questions about U.S. churches.
After class Kejela and I talked more about his scholarship and his life (see photo below). For 12 years he has been serving as an evangelist for an EECMY church in Debre Zeit, a town south of Addis. In that time Kejela and his wife and 4-year-old daughter have survived on a very small salary from his church, trusting that God would provide for their needs.
For 17 years, from the time he was in 10th grade, Kejela has felt God calling him to ministry. For 17 long years he has been praying that he could attend seminary and study theology. He is now finishing his first year, on the road to fulfilling the calling he has felt for so long. Each day he goes back and forth from Debre Zeit to Addis by public transport, a short distance of 30 miles, which sometimes takes two hours due to traffic and road conditions.
Unfortunately, when he began at the seminary, Kejela’s church stopped supporting him. This past year has been difficult financially. He had no idea how he was going to pay for his second year of seminary. Then came the news about the scholarship.
The PC(USA) awarded scholarships to 39 students worldwide this past year from 73 applications. The selection process is difficult, with many deserving students and not enough funds. Kejela considers himself fortunate to be among those chosen because this money will allow him to continue as a second-year theology student this fall.
“I am a servant in different areas of Ethiopia as I speak and teach at conferences. But how can I teach them without education? A teacher must be greater than the student (i.e., have more knowledge) to teach,” he told me. Kejela will continue to gain that knowledge, thanks to the PC(USA).
Sofanit was working on a Ph.D. in microbiology at a university in Wales when her brother tragically died in his early 20s, causing her to ask questions about her faith. After his funeral, rather than returning to her studies in Wales, she remained in Addis Ababa. I first met her in my office at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST) when she asked for special permission to take evening postgraduate theology classes (see photo). Over the course of that year, God changed her whole life direction. Sofanit represents a changing dimension of life in Ethiopia—women stepping forward into places of leadership in the church that have long been denied them. Through her studies at EGST Sofanit has received a new calling from God to become a theology professor.
Of the 17.5 million Protestant evangelicals in Ethiopia, there is only one woman with a Ph.D. in theology—and she received her degree just last year! In order to pursue her goal of becoming a theology professor, I encouraged Sofanit to apply for a PC(USA) Global Leadership scholarship to support her study for a master’s degree in theological and Biblical studies at EGST. Like Kejela, Sofanit was one of nine Ethiopians to be awarded scholarships by the PC(USA). Sofanit’s dream is that EGST will send her abroad to get a Ph.D. in theology so that she can return to EGST as one of the school’s first full-time female faculty members.
Sofanit will be a wonderful role model for both women and men in breaking down cultural stereotypes that still prevent many Christian women from fulfilling their potential in the third largest Christian nation in Africa! EGST is the most pivotal institution in the country in empowering these female Christian leaders. Of EGST’s current 206 students, 28 percent are women pursuing master’s degrees in Biblical and Theological Studies, Leadership and Management, and Development Studies focusing on concentrations on HIV/AIDS or gender issues. In our new entering class of 82 students this fall, 35 percent will be women. It is my great opportunity as a PC(USA) mission co-worker to share in the development of women like Sofanit who will be future Christian leaders in Ethiopia.
Both of us thank you, our partners in prayer and financial gifts, for the privilege we have of knowing and supporting two recipients of this scholarship. Without you, Kejela and Sofanit would have a more difficult time pursuing their calling to serve the church of Ethiopia effectively and faithfully.
Rich and Marilyn
We covet your prayers for:
• Kejela and Sofanit and the other 37 students throughout the world who are receiving PC(USA) support for their education
• For our safety and health as we continue to travel for the next seven weeks in the U.S.—and for good communication skills to tell our story of how God is working in Ethiopia
• For the new students entering EGST this fall and those students who are continuing in their studies