Ethiopian Journey: The Western Gambella Bethel Synod, Partners and Friends

by Jeff Ritchie

The Mekane Yesus Church has long been a partner of The Outreach Foundation. This year, as we carried out our mission on behalf of the refugees, we experienced a deepened partnership with the Western Gambella Bethel Synod of the Mekane Yesus. They were of immense help in planning our itinerary and in assisting in all the logistics of our ministry among the refugees. However, they have a vibrant ministry of their own, and we spent Monday morning, June 26, with them as they shared their programs, hopes, and dreams. 

We were impressed by the way that the Development and Social Service Commission leverages funds from a variety of global partners to carry out an ambitious program including a malaria project and a child sponsorship program. We were grateful to hear that the Jack Jordan Bible College and the Manping Theological College of the Synod are more than willing to include students from South Sudan whose theological studies had been interrupted by the civil war. 

The Synod’s inclusive and welcoming vision for outreach to their neighbors from South Sudan was also evident when it comes to the construction of new churches. They spoke of establishing new churches at three key points where refugees enter Ethiopia from South Sudan. These churches would be built to serve both the Ethiopian Nuer residents and the Sudanese Nuer refugees, and they hoped that The Outreach Foundation would partner with them as we have done in the past through our Low-Cost Church Construction.

What inspired us as much as the programs of the Western Gambella Bethel Synod were their leaders. Let me introduce the two with whom we spent the most time. 

The Rev. James Gatdet, the new President of the Synod, and our Sudanese American team members have known each other for years. Frank Dimmock also has worked together with the Rev. Gatdet on projects in the past. The Synod President spent an enormous amount of time with us for which we were grateful. We especially appreciated his going with Frank and me to the Gambella Office of the Administration of Refugee and Resettlement Affairs for one last attempt to gain permission to enter the camps. Unfortunately, the answer was “no,” but we met the people in ARRA whom we needed to meet because of his presence. The Rev. Gatdet was also familiar with some of the tensions within the churches in the camps with which we would be confronted, and he offered us a “road map” for dealing with them which turned out to be the path of wisdom. Thank you, Rev. James Gatdet!

Another James, the Rev. James Doup, is a missionary of the Mekane Yesus Church to the people of South Sudan. Appointed three years ago, the Rev. James has been a friend and colleague each time we have come. Missionary Doup says, “My witness to the refugees is, ‘You are not alone.’ Someone is alongside you in your struggle.”

As part of his work, the Rev. Doup has been part of a team distributing relief supplies; he has preached regularly in the camps; and he has given refugees training in how to use audio Bibles. Doup is also an advocate for their needs in the churches of the Synod.

This year, since we were unable to enter the camps, the Rev. Doup volunteered to handle the logistics for the youth of the camps to come to the Synod compound instead. Our main project this trip was to present piano keyboards and sound equipment, one for each refugee camp, and the Rev. Doup arranged for the use of the church on the compound, the purchase of the supplies for the meeting, and the handling of how we would get the keyboards back to the camps after the meeting. Thank you, Rev. James Doup!

Our fellowship with the Synod concluded with lunch at a riverside restaurant. It was a warm time of fellowship and reinforced our sense that we are more than partners; we are friends.

Jeff Ritchie
Mission Advocate