A letter from Michael Weller in Ethiopia
June 3, 2008
Hospitality and companionship: Part 1
I hope this series of newsletters will enable you to travel with me and experience vicariously the hospitality and companionship I enjoyed while traveling from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Malakal, Sudan, by any means possible. The job of being PC(USA) regional liaison for the Horn of Africa can be described as participating in meetings, writing reports of those meetings and handling anything that arises in the mission and ministry of the church in our shared ministries with partners in Ethiopia and Sudan. The satisfaction of the work, though, is in the relationships that develop and the sharing of faith, service and love that these relationships make possible.
Hospitality is being greeted by friends. In this case, many friends, old and new, welcomed me with open hearts and shared freely a place to sleep, eat and have fellowship. My friends in East and West Gambella Bethel Synod welcomed me with joy. Once they understood my plan to travel through Gambella to Malakal they immediately began to pray with me and for me while helping to make the arrangements. For companionship on this first leg of a long journey, the Reverend Stephen Tung, a Nuer pastor was appointed. Companionship is a theme I will return to later.
On our way by car to the village Burebay, a seven-hour trip from Gambella Town, Pastor Stephen and I stopped to worship at the congregation in Niningyang. The Gambella region is a flat land, more similar to Sudan in its landscape, temperature and vegetation. It experiences much trouble in the form of cattle raiders stealing cattle, the internal displacement of people due to insecurity and regular seasonal flooding that last year destroyed three plantings. Failure to harvest in 2007 is the cause of the current food scarcity in the region. The Anuak, the Nuer and the Majangir are all affected by food scarcity, which has gotten worse since my trip a month ago. Since that time, the rains have begun and planting has started, but the very young and the old are in jeopardy because they are underfed and not prepared to deal with the season of malaria and water-borne diseases that are part of May and June.
Nevertheless, I was received with warmth and kindness at Niningyang, and in worship they asked me to pray at the time of the offering. The offering consisted of maize, sorghum and wheat, the very grains that are now unavailable in the region. That is one of the things about the Christians in Gambella: They do not withhold anything from anyone. They share generously in their occasional abundance and often from their usual scarcity. In the community of believers, hospitality through sharing is a practiced gift. In the midst of the sharing, God is a constant companion.
One of the blessings of traveling along the Barro River on our way to Burebay was that Pastor Stephen and I could enjoy the fish. All the way to Malakal I ate fish, for the rivers were low and fish were available. The hospitality of the Burebay congregation was as warm and generous as Niningyang. Pastor Stephen and I slept in Burebay that night, where the pastor made room in his “dwell” for two other guests on a separate journey, making the total number of men sleeping in the grass house six. Companionship can be a close experience. For our part, Stephen and I rose early the next morning. We crossed the Barro River in a dugout canoe, and we were in Sudan.
We walked three and half hours to the place where we could get a boat to the city of Nasir, Sudan. Walking in Sudan provides the opportunity to appreciate the significance of companionship on a journey. Stephen offered encouragement while telling stories of the places we were walking through. He comforted me throughout the trip, and I was grateful for the way time passed until we got to the boat.
Since I’m running out of room in this newsletter, I will continue the story in the next newsletter and perhaps the next. The focus will continue to be on hospitality and companionship, for I have only begun to give a glimpse of the rich experience that defines these practices in Africa.
In the meantime, please remember our Gambella brothers and sisters in Christ who are living in difficult circumstances, dealing with food scarcity and the prospect of a difficult season with malaria and cholera. My Anuak and Nuer friends in Addis Ababa set aside Wednesday as a day of fasting with special times of prayer for their families and friends in Gambella. My experience of hospitality and companionship and love with these people compels me to participate.
To be continued …
Peace and grace to all,
The 2008 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 12