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Friday, September 7, 2012

Mount Tabor and Around Hawassa

After I chased a monkey out of my hotel room (at first I thought it was a cat), we visited Mount Tabor and then visited congregations around Hawassa, which is a part of the South Central Ethiopian Synod.

The South Central Ethiopian Synod is one of six synods that used to compose the Southern Ethiopian Synod. Approximately, 1.7 million people are a part of these six synods, over 500,000 people are in the South Central Ethiopian Synod. These statistics are important because the Tabor Evangelical College provides the majority of the training for pastors and evangelists in these six synods.

Tabor Evangelical College was formed by the Norwegian Lutheran Mission (NLM) in 1968. About 63 pastors were trained at Tabor between 1968 and 1977. In 1983, the communist Ethiopian Socialist Government confiscated the school's property. In 2001, the government returned then property to the EECMY and the school was reopened as a church operated high school in 2003. Today the high school serves about 700 children. In 2005, a Bible school to train evangelists was opened on the site. In 2008, a certificate / diploma program in Missions was started. Finally, in 2012, a Bachelors in Theology (B.Th) program began.

Of the 3436 congregations in the six synods that comprise southern Ethiopia, there are only 415 pastors. This means each pastor serves on average six to eight congregations. Practically, this means a congregation receives Holy Communion every 6 to 8 weeks. In the EECMY, only pastors can perform sacramental acts such as Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. The evangelists are not ordained and therefore cannot administer the sacrament. In a church body that adds approximately 500 congregations a year and that has a significant shortage of pastors, the EECMY did not "declare" an emergency and allow or license the evangelists or other lay leaders to perform the Sacrament. Instead, the focus and desire is to train more pastors to meet the demand. This is very commendable and shows faithfulness the the Lutheran Confession concerning the office of pastor.

The meager library at Tabor Evangelic College had a copy of Pieper's Christian Dogmatics, Preus' The Fire and the Staff, and Koehler's Christian Doctrine. After a tour of the campus, we departed to see examples of a small, medium, and large congregation -- as well as rural and urban.

As we left Tabor Evangelical College, we ran into Aklilu Ameje, the father-in-law to Dr. Tilahun Mekonnen, the President of Concordia College, Selma, Alabama. A small world indeed...

After leaving the college, we visited a small (more than 350 members) congregation in an urban setting. The church is poor in comparison to other congregations... So poor, that concrete or brick walls cannot be afforded. Neither can the congregation afford a pastor. The congregation is served by an evangelist and other lay leaders. When possible, the congregation borrows a nearby pastor to celebrate Holy Communion. When we arrived unannounced, people were gathered in the congregation for prayer. The Ethiopian New Year is approaching. EECMY congregations have the custom of praying the week before the New Year. The synod office gathers prayer requests from across the synod, the country and the world. Each day before the New Year, members of the congregation gather to pray. Every congregation that we visited today held prayer services. Some congregations had 5 people while others had 100 or more.

At a larger congregation, people gather for prayer before the New Year.

Next we visited Tabor Congregation, which only can be described as a "mega" church with over 6,500 members. Tabor Congregation started just 16 years ago with 250 members from the mother church in Hawassa. This congregation sends evangelists through out southern Ethiopia. We asked the congregation leaders and the Synod President if there was ever conflict between the evangelists sent by Tabor Congregation and other congregations or the synod. Both answered no. They told us that the work was done "systematically"'and in coordination with the Synod's strategic plan. After the evangelists start a congregation, they turn it over to the Synod.

We visited the Ambosa Congregation outside of the city. This congregation would represent a rural, middle class church. The congregation has about 600 communicant members, and about 1100 total members (500 unconfirmed children). Notice the building style is similar to the church's built by the Norwegians. Similar style churches can be found in Madagascar, where the NLM also was active.

All the congregations we visited were very hospitable. While we saw only a fraction if the 1,100 or so congregations in the South Central Ethiopian Synod, we have an overview of small, medium, and large congregations in both rural and urban environments. We also saw the tremendous need to train more pastors, as well as the resilience of God's people.

As we bid farewell to our hosts this past evening, we were given a gift of traditional Sidamo clothing. Thank you President Hailu Yohannes Bullka, and all the pastors, evangelists, church leaders and people of the South Central Ethiopian Synod, who showed us wonderful hospitality.

We leave Hawassa in a few hours to return to Addis Ababa so we can catch our return flight.

- Posted on 8 September 2012 by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


To Awasa

Yesterday, we rose early and drove south from Addis Ababa to Hawassa. Along the way, we stopped at various places.

After leaving Addis Ababa at dawn, we stopped for breakfast at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant in Ziway. This restaurant featured the delicacy of raw meat, which we avoided. We did take part in other traditional Ethiopian food such as tibs and the traditional coffee ceremony.

Raw meat being prepared to be serve to restaurant guests.

We stopped at Langano Lake for lunch and coffee. There are many lakes along the rift valley. The lake above is known for its brown water and for not being infested with parasites.

Before reaching the Awassa, we visited the Arsii-Negle congregation of the Central Rift Valley Parish. This congregation is rapidly growing in a Muslim area. Currently, there are about 500 members. After last Sunday's service, the congregation tore down their old building and began construction on a new building to better accommodate the people. Next to this congregation is a missionary training center that was initially funded by the LCMS. The LCMS has in the past assisted congregations such as the Arsii-Negle congregation with tin roofs to complete the construction.

As we drive closer to Awassa, President Hailu mentioned to us that we were entering a Rastafarian area. He said do yo want to see the temple? We said sure and stopped to see the Rastafarian Temple in Shashemane, Ethiopia. Many people from Jamaica have come to Zion (Shashemane, Ethiopia).

Finally we arrived at the headquarters of the South Central Ethiopian Synod. In the SCES, there are more than 500,000 members, 1310 congregations, and 140 pastors. One of the greatest needs is for the training of new pastors. Today, we will visit Mount Tabor Regional Seminary to better understand the training needs of the SCES.

The Athanasian Creed is posted in several places in the South Center Ethiopian Synod's headquarters.

A page from the EECMY hymnal. This is the beginning of Sunday worship and is very similar to what the LCMS uses.

Teaching the next generation how to use an iPhone.

Our time here has been good and we have been received well.

- Posted on 7 September 2012 by Rev Dr Albert Collver.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Trip to Ambo

This morning we left Addis Ababa for Ambo in the second hour of the morning (8 AM). In Ethiopia, time is reckoned much like the Bible -- twelve hours of night and twelve hours of day. The sun rises at 6 am. The third hour of the morning is 9 am. Shortly after departing from Addis Ababa, our rear tire went flat.

While waiting for the tire to be replaced, Drs. Collver and Lehenbauer had their shoes shined after President Abraham first had his shoes shined. The cost of each shoe shine was equivalent to about 15 cents in US currency. As meager as that sounds, the boys were thrilled to shine our shoes and to receive our wages. In fact, our Ethiopian hosts would not allow us to over pay the boys. So we paid the going rate.

The land between Addis Ababa and Ambo is primarily farm land. The land is farmed in the traditional way with ox drawn plows. Today was the day to plow as many, many farmers were plowing their fields.

When we arrived in Ambo, we attended the graduation ceremony for seven evangelists.

President Abraham of the Central Ethiopian Synod (EECMY) spoke to the graduating class and passed out the certificates. Twenty-three other students are half way through the two year, summer intensive program. An evangelist has the responsibility to preach to the non-believers near their assigned congregation, to visit congregation members, and to teach the catechism. They cannot celebrate the Lord's Supper, as that is reserved for the ordained pastors in the EECMY. Female evangelists have a very similar role to deaconesses in the LCMS -- teaching Sunday school, visiting the sick, and teaching adults.

We ate lunch in Ambo, which is famous for its natural, sparkling mineral water. Over lunch we had a fascinating conversation regarding communion practice, casuistry items such as how to handle divorce in a congregation and when remarriage is permitted, and fellowship issues. President Abraham explained how during the communists years non-Lutheran protestants such as Presbyterians, Baptists, and Pentecostals merged into the EECMY as a fellowship union. This was a pragmatic move during the communist years, not unlike other Protestant groups calling themselves Lutheran during the Reformation. President Abraham explained how the EECMY recently broke this fellowship union with the other Protestants because they did not hold Lutheran doctrine. He also explained that only Lutherans commune at Lutheran altars. He said in fact the Baptists and Pentecostals consider the EECMY too close to the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics because the Lutherans believe that in Holy Communion Christ gives his body and blood to eat and to drink. The conversation was very helpful. After lunch we visited some congregations in the Ambo region.

The Ambo Parish has 32 congregations and 12 preaching stations. It is one of the fastest growing areas inside the EECMY. In fact, it seems that the church buildings cannot keep up with the number of people attending church on a Sunday. The congregation pictured above is 4 years old and has 1,300 communicant members with 1,800 members total. Last year, the congregation added 357 members.

The congregation pictured above in the Ambo Parish has a regular Sunday attendance of 4,000 people. The pastor explained that they are adding a second story to the building to accommodate more people. This congregation is near a university and has an active outreach to college students.

The final congregation that we visited Olo Nkomi was burned down in 2009 (the commemorative marker says 2002 because the Julian Calendar is 7 years behind the Gregorian calendar used in the West) by Ethiopian Orthodox zealots. The evangelist at this parish was stoned by the zeolites. Although he survived the attack, he has been permanently damaged. President Abraham explained that several EECMY congregations have been burned to the ground by Orthodox and Islamic radicals in recent years. He noted that the persecution has actually caused more people to flock to the EECMY... As Tertullian wrote in the 2nd century, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."

After we visited the EECMY congregation that had been burned down, we visited the nearby Ethiopian Orthodox monastery.

A Ethiopian Orthodox Monastery sits on top of the small mountain pictured above. We returned to our hotel after dark to prepare for an early departure at sunrise to the southern part of Ethiopia.

- Posted on 5 September 2012 by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Dejazmach Belay Zeleke St,,Ethiopia

Follow Up To The Ethiopian Highlands

The excursion into the Ethiopian Highlands was rather overwhelming in some ways. A night of sleep has provided an opportunity for some additional reflection before heading out West to Ambo.

Near the Ethiopian Orthodox monastery we stopped along the side of the road to pick up a couple of marble crosses.

I should have mentioned regarding the Blue Nile River that some scholars believe it to be the river Gihon mentioned in Genesis 2 as the river that circled the land of Cush (Ethiopia) and fed into the Garden of Eden.

When we visited Fiche, where the coffee ceremony was held... A few more things ought to be mentioned. Over 200 children attend programs at the EECMY's center. The EECMY approaches people in a wholistic way -- body and soul, not unlike the LCMS' Witness, Mercy, and Life Together that seeks to do works of mercy in close proximity to the Gospel. The mission statement for the Fiche project is "We work along with the Church Centering Christ to fully invest our efforts in releasing project children from Spiritual, cognitive, social, and physical bondages and create fulfilled, self reliant, and responsible Christian adults!!" I mention this because the young woman who prepared the coffee ceremony for us was once like one of the children pictured above. She attended the Fiche center as a child, learned some life skills, attended university, and now works for the church with the very children she once was.

Although there is much to admire about the EECMY, it should be noted that the LCMS and the EECMY are not in altar and pulpit fellowship. There are differences between our churches. At the same time, there are a number of commonalities including the high regard for the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God. The current agreement between the EECMY and the LCMS focuses on cooperation in external matters and in the exchange of information. This visit gives us the opportunity to become better aquatinted with one another and to see where more commonalities (as well as potential differences) exist.

Off to Ambo...

- Posted on 5 September 2012 by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Dejazmach Belay Zeleke St,,Ethiopia

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ethiopian Highlands and EECMY Congregations

Today, we traveled from Addis Ababa through the Ethiopian Highlands to the Blue Nile River and back to visit EECMY congregations from the Central Ethiopian Synod (CES) located in the highlands. The entire trip took more than twelve hours. So much was seen that it is difficult to describe it in a meaningful way but will try below.

We left Addis Ababa early in the morning and drove out of the city into the Ethiopian Highlands. The Ethiopian Highlands is sometimes called the "Roof of Africa." The pictures above were taken at an elevation between 9,000 and 11,000 feet. The air was thinner and to those of us not used to it, we found it more difficult to breath. Believe it or not some people were training to run. Plus the ordinary people who live there were carrying sacks of produce, charcoal, et al. up and down the mountain.

As we approached the pass to the Blue Nile River, signs warning of rock slides greeted us along with baboons who walked along side the road, and mist from the water falls.

This is a water fall that feeds the Blue Nile River, located approximately 10,000 feet in the highlands.

After a challenging drive on mountain roads we reached the Blue Nile River. The Blue Nile merges into the White Nile forming the Nile River.

In the Ethiopian Highlands we visited several EECMY congregations. At one of the congregations, we were served traditional Ethiopian coffee. The photo above shows green coffee beans being roasted dark brown the traditional way and finally served to us in cups.

We visited some EECMY congregations under construction in the highlands. When we arrived children from the village came to greet us. The Ethiopian Highlands are primarily Ethiopian Orthodox. There are many monasteries in the area where pilgrims come for healing. The sights reminded me very much what I have read about how Martin Luther found the situation at the time of the Reformation.

Pictured above is an Ethiopian Orthodox monastery in the highlands. In the top picture, the monastery can be seen with a water fall to its right. This water fall is considered holy and is believed by pilgrims to be a source of healing. In fact, many Ethiopian Orthodox churches and monasteries are built next to natural springs or water falls. In the lower picture, pilgrims can be seen streaming to and from the monastery. Many of these people are sick or crippled.

The Ethiopian Orthodox monastery and some of the EECMY congregations are located above the rift valley, specifically, the Zega Wedem River Valley in Debrelibanos Area.

On our return, we stopped at a mission outpost in the Ethiopian Highlands. We presented an Amharic translation of Martin Luther's Small Catechism to one of the EECMY evangelists. President Abraham presented with catechism with Dr. Collver. Nearby the church a boy plays with a bull whip and a young girl presents us with flowers picked from the plateau.

Today, we traveled several hundred kilometers North into the Ethiopian Highlands. We saw where the people of the highlands live and met many people in various villages. Tomorrow, we leave early in the morning to head West toward Ambo.

- Posted on 4 September 2012 by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Dejazmach Belay Zeleke St,,Ethiopia

Monday, September 3, 2012

EECMY And Saint George Cathedral Visit in Addis Ababa

Pictured above (in no particular order): Rev. Dr. Wakseyoum Idosa Negeri, President of the EECMY; Rev. Pereje Jemberu, Vice President of the EECMY; Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa, General Secretary of the EECMY; Tadelech Loha, women's ministry; Girma Borishie, Admin and Finance Director of the EECMY; Rev. Abraham Mengesha, President of the Central Ethiopian Synod of the EECMY; Deed Jaldessa of the EECMY; Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations; Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, LCMS Exec Director of the CTCR; Dr. Michael Rodewald, LCMS Africa Regional Director.

Today, 3 September 2012, we visited the headquarters of The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The EECMY was founded in 1959 and presently has about 5.8 million members. The EECMY is generally regarded as one of the fastest growing churches in the world. In 2009, the LCMS signed a working agreement with the EECMY to see where we could cooperate. The purpose of our visit was to follow up on that agreement and to become more familiar with the people and congregations of the EECMY.

These leaders of the EECMY graciously agreed to meet us one day after the funeral of Prime Minister Zenawi. President Wakseyoum attended the Prime Minister's funeral on Sunday. The entire country of Ethiopia has been mourning Prime Minister Zenawi's death.

At the meeting the LCMS presented gifts to President Wakseyoum, including this red stole which was given as a special gift from President Harrison.

Martin Luther's Small Catechism translated into Amharic also was presented, along with copies of the Witness, Mercy, Life Together Bible Study. WMLT was well received by the EECMY as it is compatible with the EECMY's approach to wholistic ministry, chiefly that human care and social work needs to be done with Word and Sacrament ministry.

For the rest of the week, we will be visiting various synods (districts) and congregations of the EECMY.

After our meeting we had some famous Ethiopian Coffee and then headed to Saint George Orthodox Church.

Saint George Ethiopian Orthodox Church is an octagonal church built in 1896. It is a relatively small church that holds about 200 people. Shoes must be removed before entering the church, and there are separate gates / doors for men and women to enter. People with certain ritual uncleanness are not able to enter the church but must remain outside the gates until purified. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has existed since Philip the Evangelist explained the Old Testament prophecies from Isaiah to the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40.

The church is named after Saint George.

Christ defeated Satan on the cross.

The final judgement.

The archdeacon of Saint George's Cathedral gave us a tour. He was very interested in comparing the beliefs of the Orthodox church with the Lutheran "priests."

The archdeacon demonstrated the chanting of the liturgy in Ge'ez, an ancient South Semitic language that resembles Hebrew and was the original language of Ethiopia.

He also demonstrated the use of the drums.

When the drums are played the chanting is faster. This form of chanting has existed since the 6th century AD.

Tomorrow we visit EECMY congregations outside of Addis Ababa.

Posted 3 September 2012 by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Airport Rd,Addis Ababa,Ethiopia