A letter from Michael Weller in Ethiopia
I write to you with a spirit of thanksgiving for your participation in the various ministries that God has called us to through our partners in the Horn of Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Sudan. The living and powerful Spirit of God continues to be revealed in the lives and faith of our sisters and brothers in Christ, usually in challenging circumstances that continually test the measure of their faith.
Easter in Gambella, Ethiopia
I traveled to Gambella the week before Easter to visit with the Nuer people of West Gambella Bethel Synod and the Anuwaa people of East Gambella Bethel Synod. In the past 12 months the people of the Gambella region have suffered and experienced much loss from cattle raids by the Murle people of the Sudan.
Traditionally, the Murle believe God created cows and entrusted the keeping of all cows to them. Therefore, cattle raids are not perceived as stealing, but rather as responsible actions for re-collecting the cattle that rightly belong to them. I do not present this explanation as a justification of the killing of women and children or for the pain, loss and suffering that has resulted from the raids, but to help you appreciate the continuing need for well-trained evangelists and pastors in Ethiopia and Sudan to share the news of God’s love for all people.
That may seem too simplistic to address the real problems of people in conflict, but the unpacking of God’s love through biblical teaching provides both the motivation and the means to discover new ways of living in relationship with neighbor and enemy. As the word of God is capable of changing perspectives, so the Spirit of God is able to change hearts. Thus, concepts like forgiveness, reconciliation, justice and peace become a living practice. Perhaps one day Murle Christians, who have the opportunity to become evangelists and pastors, will find the voice of conviction that gives witness to the full measure of God’s love and the implications for human life as revealed in Jesus Christ.
In the meantime, I spent Holy Week visiting with Nuer and Anuwaa friends. It was a good week, even though my friends took me to the graves of those killed in the raids. The mounds of earth have no voice, silence is their explosive message, for their existence marks a day of trauma and violence and death. The mounds that mark the graves of women and children are in a lonely place that, after the rains, will simply be a lonely place. Life is fragile and memory transitory.
It was a good week, even though my friends took me to the abandoned villages where only the wind dares to remain, only the sound of the wind whispering the memories of children playing, of women grinding corn engaged in conversation with their neighbor, of men naming their cows and watching the sky for signs of a planting season that will never arrive because death has stolen it from them. A community robbed of vitality and the prospect of potential.
It was a good week, even though my friends took me to visit the displaced survivors, the widows and orphans, the uncles and aunts, the grandfathers and grandmothers, who must continue in life and find a means to begin again, and again, and again. Fatigue, hunger and illness blanket the good days, but in the context of world disasters this situation is small, and so the responsibility for care is simply the charity that extended family can scrape together.
Even though my friends and I walked in a darkness that was real time and not yet any time, a darkness that was place and merely just a place, darkness that was a shadow circumstance pregnant with despair, but indistinct by its regularity, it was still a good week in the same way that Good Friday is part of Holy Week. For we lived it in the expectant fellowship of a people who have a great hope that news of an empty tomb and a risen Lord bring to light the promise that today does not have to be the same as yesterday, that time and place and circumstance have meaning and purpose for the present, and that one day “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17, NRSV). So following an all-night vigil, 4,000 people gathered under the mango trees beside the Barro River to declare with one voice that the Lord is risen, the Lord gives life and the life that the risen Lord gives is significant and purposeful.
The peace of the Lord abide with us all,
The 2007 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p.329