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A letter from Carolyn Weber in Ethiopia

April 2011

Grace and peace to you in the name of our gracious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Already one-fourth of this year has zoomed by. The Rev. Debbie Blane, PC(USA) mission co-worker at Nile Theological College in Sudan, was my houseguest here in Addis Ababa for three months. Many gathered to bid her farewell before she left.

In early February Mekane Yesus Seminary celebrated its 50th Golden Jubilee for three days with many preachers and speakers reflecting on where we have been and where God is calling us into the future. Our partner, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), currently has more than 5.7 million members here in Ethiopia. One week after the church’s 50th anniversary several PC(USA) staffers enjoyed touring our campus and learning about our Christian-Muslim Relations Program: the Rev. Dr. Michael Parker, World Mission coordinator for International Evangelism and Frontier Areas, the Rev. Debbie Braaksma, Africa Area coordinator, Linda Valentine, General Assembly Mission Council, and Rev. Michael Weller, mission co-worker and regional liaison for the Horn of Africa.

A few days later seminary classes began. I am teaching Intermediate English, Spiritual Formation and Holistic Ministry and Development. My Spiritual Formation students have been learning a nine-step discernment process, so on two class days they came to my home on retreat for praise and prayer and quiet time for discerning their issues.

Two weeks ago I bought 30 copies of Cut Flowers: Female Genital Mutilation and a Biblical Response from author and mission friend Sandy Willcox to use with my English class. Eighty percent of Ethiopian women have experienced a whole range of cutting, excision and stitching of the genital area which is believed to make them docile and dutiful wives. In reality this unbiblical practice has caused endless pain to married couples as well as fistula, many unborn babies, health problems and more.

Photo of men and women standing in a row for a picture.

Partners from PC(USA) and Mekane Yesus Seminary tour MYS Chapel. L to r: Dean Teshome Amenu, Principal Dr. Belay Olam, the Rev. Dr. Carolyn Weber, the Rev. Dr. Michael Parker, the Rev. Debbie Braaksma, Linda Valentine, CMR Coordinator the Rev. Abdi Tadessa, the Rev. Michael Weller.

My initial exposure to female genital mutilation came during my first semester of seminary in 1985 while reading an assignment about it in the seminary library. I recall becoming faint and nearly falling off my chair, so you can well imagine that teaching about this harmful traditional practice has kept me in constant prayer for God’s guidance. Seminary Dean Teshome Amenu has been very supportive. A year ago he asked us to incorporate information about harmful traditional practices in all of our subject areas. Now he has offered to sit with any of my students to discuss whatever concerns they might like to voice.

To introduce the topic of harmful traditional practices, my first year English students worked in pairs to discuss the traditional practices of their own people groups that harm the body. As each pair reported to the class, we constructed a huge chart on the blackboard. This was then duplicated so they can continue the discussion with family and friends.

I returned a week ago from a five-day visit to the Gambella region in southwest Ethiopia, a place I had visited last July. On this trip I served the Nuer people group. Nuer men have six to seven parallel lines deeply cut into their foreheads when they pass from childhood. I was invited out to Itan — about 50 km. west of Gambella (halfway to Sudan) — to preach to the Itan/Lare Women’s Conference. Over 3,000 women attended. I spoke about many unnamed women who were healed/blessed/called by Jesus in the gospels — and then focused on the healing of the woman with the flow of blood — which I contextualized by talking about the 800,000 Ethiopian women who suffer from obstetric fistula because of their constantly flowing “disgusting body fluids.”

Women with babies stand and sit on the ground; there is a large tree in the background.

3,400 women and babies gathered at Itang/Lare Women's Conference in Gambella region, Ethiopia.

Earlier that morning I walked at 5:00 a.m. under the full moon. The ground there was flat without a blade of grass. Grass huts dotted the area. All was still as many groups of women and their babies lay sleeping soundly, stretched out on pieces of cloth on the sun-baked earth. Shortly thereafter a woman started drumming, moving from one group of sleeping women to another, singing to awaken them. That hour of the morning here so close to the equator is still a time of complete darkness except for the full moon. Soon thereafter the conference reconvened with women and babies sitting on the ground in a huge circle.

Hundreds of women from each presbytery stood together to lift up their praise and bring their sacrificial gifts for the eventual purchase of a bus.

Carolyn Weber standing next to a man wearing a clerical collar behind a lecturn.

West Gambella Bethel Synod DMT Coordinator the Rev. James Douth translates for the Rev. Dr. Carolyn Weber as she preaches in the Gambella Mekane Yesus Church to 1,741 worshipers, March 20, 2011.

The day before, I preached to 1,741 persons (not including children) at the Gambella Mekane Yesus Church on the West Gambella Bethel Synod compound in Gambella town. Many Nuers are refugees from the civil war in Sudan years ago. I had prepared a sermon, but when I arrived at the pulpit, the Lord gave me a different word to preach which was the story of my call into ministry and also the way that God planted the word in me when I was 8 years old to be a missionary in Africa — that has finally come to fruition in the last few years.

Last Saturday I rode with a small group of women and men from Project Hannah, the Christian radio program from Mekane Yesus about women’s issues, to preach at the Ambo prison. Sixty women with 30 children and 1,100 men are incarcerated there. We took two radios for the women to hear the radio broadcast, clothing and hand and laundry soap for the women. After speaking, I anointed and prayed for healing for each woman. In the men’s compound I preached about the parable of the sower and the seeds, encouraging them to use their prison time to become fertile soil in which God’s word can grow and bear fruit.

God has been doing a most unexpected thing through my call here to Ethiopia. I came expecting only to teach English and advise the librarian. God has taken my tiny expectation and blessed and broken it and given it to the people in ways that have touched and affected many lives. I can only humbly bow down in grateful thanksgiving to my creator, my Lord, and the Holy Spirit for all the ways I am being used as a pencil in the hand of God.

None of this could happen without your faithful support through prayer and your generous, sacrificial gifts. Your giving continues to bring glorious hope to the people here in Ethiopia every day. Your prayers are moving throughout all eternity as people are being fed by the Word and the incredible love God has showered upon us. Thank YOU and thanks be to our GLORIOUS GOD! And all of God’s people said, “Amen!”

Carolyn Weber

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 57

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