A letter from Rachel Weller serving in Ethiopia
March 19, 2015
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Fasting is a common practice in Ethiopian Christian communities. Many churches designate one day a week to gather at the church or someone’s house to focus on prayer. They go without eating or drinking all day. The Jabjabe congregation in Gambella practices this discipline every Friday. I was invited to participate with the members of the Jabjabe congregation, a new church with an active membership. At 7:30 am my companion came to my door to escort me to the church.
Walking out from the town into the African grasslands, I found myself focusing on the path that led us to the church: a track of hard-packed dirt ribboning its way through the thirsty grasses and brush. The huge electricity substation we passed that will one day provide power to South Sudan seemed out of place. Following the meandering path down the side of a ravine-like gully and back up again, we placed each step carefully to avoid slipping down the hill on the loose rocks and soil. We talked as we walked, explaining to each other how our over-50 bodies objected to this kind of work at this hour of the morning. Waiting till our bodies agreed to move, however, would mean facing the angry midday sun. So we laughed and pushed forward. I reveled in the privilege of an early morning African walk.
Nearing the church, we could hear a single voice accompanied by the beat of a drum inviting all to “Come, gather at the house of the Lord.” Depositing our shoes just inside by the door, we greeted the singer and her husband, an elder of the church. They had probably been there since we started walking. Eventually, one by one or two by two others arrived until there were about 20 of us. Mats on the floor allowed the women to sit comfortably, legs stretched out in front of them or tucked up under them to one side, backs held straight. Each man chose two chairs, one to sit on and one to place Bibles and belongings on in front of them. One woman, whose body defiantly resisted sitting straight-backed and straight-legged on the ground, pulled up a plastic chair.
The day consisted of prayers interspersed with songs. Prayers for healing are common—last week some of the church members went to the hospital to pray for the sick. They found children without families there; the children were from South Sudan. Rejoicing, we gave thanks for healing. A woman unable to conceive had recently become pregnant. An old man who has been sick for a long time is still in need of our prayers. We prayed for peace in homes, peace in our community, peace in South Sudan. A man recently released from prison asked for forgiveness and to be brought fully back into the Christian community. We laid hands on him, thanking God for his love and acceptance of each one of us and for this man’s repentance.
In the middle of the day we looked at God’s Word. For four hours the first chapter of Philippians spoke to us. Someone asked why Paul calls us to suffer. A deep question for a community living in suffering.
After a couple more hours of prayer the meeting ended and we walked home. Somehow the path had gotten longer. Arriving at my home, I welcomed a long, cool drink of water. My companion invited me to “breakfast” (our first meal of the day around 5 pm). We both marveled at the way God sustained us throughout the day as we submitted ourselves to communion with God.
While I’m in Gambella I know that I will have one routine—praying with my friends on Fridays. Other than that, routine is something that escapes my life. Just when I think I’ll be able to start one, something happens. The electricity goes off. The usual water rationing routine is lengthened—more days, a week (going on two) between water-from-the-faucet days. Procedures for requesting funds change. My passport goes missing.
The constant, however, is God who knows the plans for me, for the work of the church in Gambella, for each one of you, wherever you are.
Perhaps before you receive this letter Michael and I will be traveling to the U.S. to attend the Ethiopia Mission Network meeting. We’ll be hearing from Bryant Meyer, the author of Walking With the Poor, an excellent book that envisions transformational development—the kind that every worshipping community everywhere should be engaged in. We’ll be in the U.S. only long enough to attend a couple of meetings, but then when we return to Africa I hope to have funds in hand with which to begin the Gambella Community Health Evangelism program, which is designed using principles and ideas that Mr. Meyer points out in his book.
Four short months later Michael and I will be returning to the U.S. to visit you. We will be there to interpret what we have learned about God and the church as we have seen both work in Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan.
We will arrive in Western Pennsylvania at the end of August and take a few weeks to make sure our bodies are in working order. We will stay with my parents in Franklin, Pa., until December and will be available to travel to visit with you from there. After the Christmas holidays we are trying to work out a schedule so that we can visit with several of you in the same areas at the same time. Michael will not be available from the end of January through some time in February, but I will be. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can talk about dates. The PC(USA) expects that inviting churches will provide funds for travel, room, and board while we are with you. Consider sharing the cost with others in your area.
We are willing to tell the story during the worship hour, at Sunday School, during midweek services, in private homes. Or you suggest something.
Here is our planned schedule (with suggestions for areas) as we can see it at this time:
Early Sept: arrive in Pittsburgh, Pa.—visit doctors, etc.
Oct 13-23: Louisville, Ky.—World Mission national offices, Sudan Mission Network
Sept-Dec: itinerate around Western Pa./Western N.Y./Eastern Ohio
Jan-Feb: Rachel alone mostly—West Coast? Midwest? Florida?!
Late March–early April: we have a commitment (the exact date is not yet set) in Pittsburgh.
Mid-May: Western N.C. (for daughter’s college graduation)
Late July: New Wilmington Mission Conference, Pa.; PC(USA)
Your support for us and the partners we work with provides us one of the assurances that we walk the path God planned.
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 133
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