Michael and Rachel Weller
It seems like the month of February has been full of activity and full of waiting at the same time. Our activity started in mid-January when Michael and I moved to Gambella - at least partially. With the help of Hassan, the synod driver, we piled a bunch of stuff into the Land Cruiser and then piled the three of us in the front seat and made the two-day trip. Thanks to a government push to improve Ethiopia’s roads the trip only took a day and a half. Most of the roads were great. We stayed at the East Gambella Bethel Synod (Anuak) for a week before we took a bus trip up the mountain to Dembi Dollo.
That was a fun trip. The 60 mile trip by public bus up the mountain took five hours - I’m sure I heard the bus puffing, “I think I can, I think I can” as we rounded a hairpin curve only to see another one ahead! The passengers were surprised to see “ferengies” (foreigners) on the bus. I enjoyed surprising them by speaking Amharic and then Oromiffa!
In Dembi, we had many wonderful visits with old friends and new church leaders, remembering the past and envisioning the future. Michael had been invited to preach at the “big” church in town on Sunday on what turned out to be “Mission Sunday” according to the lectionary calendar. It was an excellent opportunity to explain some of his sermon illustrations from 15 years ago, which we discovered people were still mulling over, pondering their deeper meaning.
Michael encouraged the congregation to acknowledge the work of the missionaries of the past, who brought the Gospel to the region. And then, seeking God’s word, he challenged them to take off their shoes and socks, roll up their pant legs, and do what God wants the Dembi Dollo church to do towards increasing his Kingdom. His translator for that sermon was Chaali Yosef Letta - the current president of the synod, a graduate of the former mission school - Bethel Evangelical Secondary School, and grandson of one of the early pastors, Qes Letta. There was a lot of symbolism all around - enough for another 15 year discussion! The next day we took the bus back to Gambella and discovered that the space where we had put our stuff and thought we would settle was being renovated. So we moved to the West Gambella Bethel Synod (Nuer) compound and set up life in the thatched-roofed tukuls where we now live.
At the end of January we had our first group of visitors - an eclectic group of people. Frank Dimmock, the PC(USA) coordinator for medical work in Africa, made his annual visit, bringing with him an Africa-experienced Presbyterian from Texas. Our daughter, Amira, came for two weeks after visiting her high school alma mater in South Africa. And the son of friends from our volunteer days in Egypt, Stephen Mehanni, came to fill in some time while he is on break from medical school in the States. For a week, we had a lot of conversations and trips to the several projects PC(USA) works with in the two synods in Gambella region - all of which I will keep an eye on, give advice when necessary, and encourage along the way.
The projects include the three clinics: Pokwo, Gilo, and Adura; two early childhood development programs (pre-schools), one in each synod; and Community Health Evangelism (CHE) programs which I will be developing. There are a lot of opportunities for partnerships.
When everyone left, Michael and many of the synod leaders went to Addis for meetings. I took a deep breath and tried to wait gracefully. With so many lists of things to do, things to accomplish, waiting is a chore. I waited for a week, and then I decided to wait in Addis, where I am now. The internet and electricity are regular enough to work when I want to work. I have several contacts to make and purchases to consider. My basic philosophy of mission weighs in much less on doing stuff than it does on building relationships. But stuff does need to be done to build a foundation upon which relationships can be developed.
Pray with me that that stuff stays out of the way of the relationships both Michael and I are eager to build as we do our part in the work of Kingdom building. Please pray for Michael as he travels to Khartoum this week, around Ethiopia the next week, and around South Sudan the following weeks. It is a busy part of the world.
Thanks for your part in this work. Your prayers, emails, and Facebook notes are encouraging.
Rachel and Michael Weller