Camel Diseases and Human Health in the Horn of Africa

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Our translator very thoughtfully marked this camel for me.

In this post we want to discuss one aspect of the veterinary component of the work we hope to participate in when we move to Ethiopia. When we discuss our desire to help Ethiopians (and share the love of Christ) through veterinary medicine, many folks in the U.S. (understandably) haven’t considered the value that people in developing countries place on their livestock, and on the veterinary infrastructure (or lack thereof) that is necessary to enable their livestock to be productive. Even fewer have considered the role of livestock species that are uncommon in America or the West.

A couple of years ago, I (John) got to help my boss write a review article for CAB Reviews (part of the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International), which we titled “The impact of camel disease on human welfare in East Africa.” We’d like to share some of the more interesting (in our humble opinion) information from this article here, to show how significant veterinary medicine can be for people who have extremely limited access to veterinarians and veterinary technology.

Introduction

We begin by describing how half to two-thirds of the 27 million camels in the world are in East Africa (i.e., Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia), where their ability to adapt to extremely harsh environments is highly prized. In East Africa, (dromedary, or one-humped) camels are used for meat, milk, transportation, market/wealth reserve, prestige, hide, and labour. We discuss how 75% of the world’s camels are found in the world’s Least Developed Countries, and are thus often neglected in terms of research into improved production methods and veterinary diagnostics and treatments. When we conducted interviews with pastoralists to better understand their livestock priorities and concerns, camels were ranked the most important species more than 95% of the time.

Adaptation to Extreme Environments

As drought and water shortages increase in the Horn of Africa, the camel’s ability to withstand these challenges (especially as compared to other livestock species) increases the potential value of these animals in this region. Camels can lose up to 30% of their body’s water (~3x that of other domestic animals) and survive. They also have unique mechanisms (including their kidneys, the shape of their red blood cells, and the shape of their bodies in general) that decrease water loss and enable rapid rehydration. Whereas a cow will naturally lose 8-11 gallons of water per day, a camel will lose about 1/3 of one gallon of water per day. In addition, camels are able to withstand extreme heat due to the shape of their bodies and special blood vessels in their noses.

If you want an idea of how harsh the Ethiopian environment can be, check out these photos of the Danakil Depression (and the camels there!).

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The harsh landscape in the Horn of Africa.

Reproduction and Calf Viability

Camels take a relatively long time to reproduce. Fertility rates in the Horn of Africa are around 40%, and gestation is 13 months. If everything goes well, a healthy cow (female camel) will have a calf about once every 28 months. There are a huge number of diseases that cause infertility or loss of prenatal calves in camels, such as pasteurellosis and trypanosomiasis. Losses may be as high as 40%. Once born, camels, like cattle, need “first milk,” or colostrum, from their mothers to protect them from infection until their own immune systems are developed. Many who make a living by herding (i.e. pastoralists), however, told us that they prevent the calves from drinking colostrum, because they believe that the colostrum itself makes the calves sick. Thus calf deaths are extremely common; the number we often heard was 50%. Probably 3/4 of these are caused be calf diarrhea – E. coli, Salmonella, rotavirus, etc.

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Acacia thorns are often used as corrals, here keeping the calves from wandering and protecting them from predators, like hyenas.

Diseases Affecting Production in General

In addition to reproductive diseases, there are many diseases that “cause wasting, weakness, decreased milk production, and in some cases, death. They also decrease in value from an economic/market perspective. These animals thus fail to serve their intended purpose, which is ultimately to benefit the welfare of the people who care for them. Diseases that affect overall health include (but are not limited to) trypanosomiasis, infectious respiratory disease, paratuberculosis (Johne’s disease), Camel Sudden Death Syndrome, intestinal parasite infestations, and ectoparasite (i.e., tick) infestations.”

Uses for Camels in East Africa

Food

Studies have shown that camel milk often makes up 30-50% of the nutritional needs of pastoralists in East Africa. One year old children in this region can receive up to 2/3 of their required mean energy and 100% of their protein from camel milk. Camels in the Horn of Africa produce an average of 11 to 13 pounds of milk per day (higher than cattle in the same region). Lactation lasts between 9 and 18 months. The milk has unique antimicrobial properties, and has lower somatic cell counts than that found in cattle. Mastitis is therefore an extremely significant disease for these camels (and, unfortunately, extremely common). In addition, the fact that the milk is commonly consumed raw is a cause for concern, as there are a large number of food-borne illnesses caused by drinking raw milk (i.e., brucellosis, tuberculosis, salmonellosis, etc.).

The risks of raw milk comes to my mind frequently when I work with camels, because there is a tradition that those who are about to work a herd will come together and share a bowl of fresh milk before getting started. It is considered impolite to decline, but I have found that if I make sure I have a big milk mustache, even if I only sip a little, my hosts are satisfied.

Camels are also slaughtered for their meat, which has a much lower fat content (and is much tougher) than beef. The hump, which consists of fibrous fat, is considered a delicacy in many pastoral areas. As with any slaughtered animal, there are a number of  potential food-borne illnesses associated with camel meat, including salmonellosis, campylobacter infections, toxoplasmosis, and echinococcosis.

Conditions at slaughterhouses are vastly different, as well. A colleague and I visited a camel slaughterhouse at one point, accompanied by the slaughterhouse’s veterinary inspector. We didn’t know quite what to expect, and when men with machetes started hacking at the camels’ hamstrings so they would lay down before being slaughtered, our eyes widened and our jaws dropped. The inspector noticed, and asked, quite innocently, “Is this not how you do it in America?”

 

Camel milk and meat. Note the fat from the hump on the upper left side of the plate.

Transportation

Another use for camels is for hauling goods, milk, water, or, in the case of many pastoralists, for relocating one’s entire home when in search of better pasture. In northern Ethiopia, many people won’t drink camel milk or eat the meat for religious reasons, but have found the camel’s capacity for transportation to be immensely useful. Camels are well-known for hauling salt out of the Danakil Depression in north-eastern Ethiopia.

Economic and Cultural/Societal Resource

Camel herds function as the wealth reserve (and therefore as a measure of cultural prestige) for many in the Horn of Africa, especially pastoralists. The Horn of Africa exports enormous numbers of animals (~$600 million per year) to the Arabian Peninsula, especially around Ramadan. Diseases in the Horn of Africa will occasionally lead to an export ban, which has enormous consequences for those who depend on this trade to make a living.

Zoonoses

We wrap up the article with a discussion of diseases that are shared between humans and camels, including brucellosis, Rift Valley Fever, Q Fever, rabies, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). All of these present serious health risks for the people that care for and come into contact with camels.

Conclusion

Hopefully this post has shown that “the camel is of immense value to many in East Africa, and especially to the pastoralist peoples who live there. This animal, which gets so little notice in most of the world, gives food, provides transportation, income and a sense of self-worth to these people.” Hopefully it also shows the role that a veterinarian can potentially play in East Africa, and how one can love others using their veterinary training and skills.

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Me and a friend.

The Orthodox Church and Mere Christianity

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In our last post, we wrote about how we came to learn about and join the Orthodox Church. Today, we’re writing to explain what the Orthodox Church shares in common with other Christian churches, as well as unique aspects of the Orthodox Church that tend to stand out. Again, this is written from the perspective of our unique context, and written for our friends, family, and other potential supporters.

C.S. Lewis, in the preface to his book Mere Christianity, describes how he wrote this book “to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” However, later in the preface he goes on to express his concern that readers might misconstrue this effort and “suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions – as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.” He goes on to describe a hall containing doors that open into a number of rooms. “Mere” Christianity can be found in the hall, which is “a place to wait in, . . . not a place to live in.” The rooms are the various Christian traditions and churches (where “there are fires and chairs and meals”), of which one must ultimately choose, if one is serious about following Christ.

Rooms may be chosen for a number of reasons – some good, some bad. Our reason for choosing the Orthodox Church, as we stated in last week’s post, was because we had become convinced that it offered the fullest, most thorough, most accurate means by which we might come to know, follow, and be united to Jesus Christ, eternally. Note that we do not say it offers the only way. We don’t dare make that presumption.

Mere Christianity

Here we will do our best to explain the hallway: the mere Christianity that Lewis describes in that fantastic book, from our perspective as relatively recent (~seven years) Orthodox Christians. If you’re really interested, we highly recommend that you peruse Mere Christianity itself (or read it again if it’s been a while).

We are firmly convinced that the most important question that Christians must be able to answer is that one that Jesus asks his disciples in the Gospels: “Who do you say that I am?” Understanding who Jesus is, is a necessary prerequisite to understanding what he has done, and what we are to do in response. The answer to this question is the foundation of “mere” Christianity.

This question predominated the first few centuries of Christian history, and was most significantly addressed in what are known as ecumenical councils. In these councils, bishops (and others) met to discuss debates about who Jesus is, as well as any number of other issues. Essentially all Christians agree with the fundamental conclusions of the first three ecumenical councils, which were held between 325 and 431 A.D. The most significant statement to come from those councils was the Nicene Creed (which we highly suggest you take the time to read, if you’re not familiar with it).

The fourth council, held in Chalcedon in 451, produced the first split of lasting significance in Christianity. The Chalcedonian Definition (another good read) contained the statement that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, that he was one person in two natures (i.e., human and divine), and that this occurs “without confusion, change, division, or separation.” What is commonly known as the Oriental Orthodox Church disagreed with this statement, believing that the concept of two natures was unacceptable (however, recent dialogue has indicated that this may be largely an issue of wording, rather than actual Christology). Essentially all Protestants, Roman Catholics, as well as Eastern Orthodox Christians, hold to the Chalcedonian Definition.

Thus, mere Christianity agrees that God has revealed himself as Trinity: three Persons, one in essence, and undivided; that Jesus is the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity; and that Jesus is one in essence with us according to his humanity, and one in essence with God according to his divinity. In addition, we agree that the Son became human “for us men and for our salvation.” Salvation is a purpose and result of God becoming human, often referred to as the Incarnation.

Unique Aspects of the Orthodox Tradition

This section will be brief (there are much better treatments of all these topics in the resources listed in last week’s post). Our goal here is to address some of the most common questions people have about the Orthodox Church. Most of these arise because of differences in Catholic and Protestant thought – issues that have only come up as the Orthodox Church has had to interact with the debates of Western Christianity.

Scripture in Tradition

While Protestants hold to the doctrine that the authority of the Bible outranks tradition (Sola Scriptura; the Bible is the spring, and traditions are rivers that stream from it), and Catholics speak of two sources of authority in Scripture and Tradition (two rivers that weave together), Orthodox Christians tend to speak of Scripture in Tradition. Here, Tradition is the river, and the Scriptures are the current that drives the river.

For the Orthodox Church, authority comes from Jesus, and from what he taught his disciples, which they handed down to us. The Scriptures are the primary source for these teachings, but not the only source. One Orthodox bishop produced a helpful list (pp. 205-08) for prioritizing sources of apostolic teachings, such as councils, hymns, and the writings of the Church Fathers. Note that no teaching will contradict Scripture, but that these teachings are the means by which we correctly interpret Scripture.

Salvation

Salvation as typically presented by the Orthodox Church has two emphases: rescue, and theosis, or deification. The idea of rescue is manifested by the hymn we sing over and over at Easter: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

Theosis is the idea that as we become increasingly more like Jesus, we become increasingly more like God (since Jesus is God). Thus salvation is being rescued from death by Christ’s death and resurrection, and subsequently becoming increasingly like him for eternity, because he became like us first. It is not becoming God; just as we cannot become Jesus by becoming more and more like him (or anyone else, for that matter), we cannot become God by becoming more and more like him.

This is one of my favorite Orthodox prayers, asking God to save us.

The Sanctification of Matter

The sanctification of matter is the fundamental explanation for a number of unique teachings and practices in the Orthodox Church. When the immaterial God became a human being (i.e., matter), it changed what it means to be matter. Matter became a vehicle that God uses to bless us, and we can experience his grace through material things. This includes the matter that comprises the sacraments (e.g., water, oil, bread, wine, etc.), visual depictions of Christ and his saints (typically called icons), even the bodies of devout believers who have died (called relics).

It also ties into why we honor the saints in the Orthodox Church. What we’re doing when we honor the saints is drawing attention to the myriad ways that individuals throughout history have allowed Christ to shine through them. The golden circle that surrounds a saint (their halo) in an icon is meant to represent the uncreated light of Christ shining through that person.

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We realize that this is barely skimming the surface of this immense topic. Please feel free to contact us if you have questions or concerns; we’re glad to talk, and aren’t easily offended. I (John) plan to discuss the concept of the sanctification of matter, along with humanity’s role in creation (especially as that pertains to veterinarians and their patients), in future posts.

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What is the Orthodox Church (and Why Did We Join It)?

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The Coatneys at Pascha 2017.

I’m writing today’s post in response to a handful of inquiries from friends who have expressed a desire to come alongside us in support of our work, but aren’t sure what it means for us to have joined the Orthodox Church. In some cases, friends (understandably) want to know where we (and the Orthodox Church) stand in terms of our Christian faith before they can make the decision as to whether to support us.

This is much too large a topic to cover adequately in a (relatively) brief blog post. I’ve decided to cover this in two posts; in this post, my goal is to explain how I (John) learned about the Orthodox Church, why it appealed to me, and how Kristen came on board, after some hesitation. Next week I’ll discuss what the Orthodox Church shares in common with other Christian churches, as well as some of the things that members of other traditions identify as being unique to the Orthodox tradition.

Again, my purpose here is to introduce the Orthodox Church to our (potential) supporters. Thus it is a contextual introduction, written from our unique experience of the Orthodox Church, to those in their own contexts, which tend to be evangelical and/or Church of Christ, or agnostic/atheist/none. It is not an encyclopedic, comprehensive introduction, nor is it meant to disparage other Christian traditions. I will provide links at the end of the post to resources for those interested in learning more.

How We Discovered the Orthodox Church

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Charlie at our home’s prayer corner.

When I was in Iraq in 2008-09, I would attend Sunday worship services based on my schedule, the location of the service, and how I was feeling. On a whim, I decided to attend the Orthodox Liturgy. It was led by Fr. Stephan, an Air Force Chaplain, with three Iraqi women who worked on base as translators and one service member (besides me) in attendance. Even in its simplicity (e.g., a folding table and two chairs on which sat two small icons), two things struck me: the beauty of the service, and the Scriptural foundation of the prayers. I was intrigued, and Fr. Stephan was gracious enough to spend the next few months teaching me about the Orthodox Church.

I learned that the Orthodox Church claims apostolic succession, as do the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church (the Orthodox and Roman churches split in 1054 for reasons I’ll discuss next time). This means that the bishops of the church were ordained (by the laying on of hands) by earlier bishops that go all the way back to the laying on of hands by the Apostles in the first century. The claim is also meant to affirm that these bishops have consistently maintained the same faith held by the apostles (I will discuss what that means in the subsequent post).

I also learned that the Orthodox Church is conciliar; i.e., decisions are made by groups of bishops in council, and then approved or rejected by the entire Church following these councils. Because decisions are preferably made at the most local level, the Church has developed along ethnic and linguistic lines, such that the Greek Church, the Russian Church, the Antiochian (e.g., Syrian and Lebanese) Church, etc., come together to make up the (Eastern) Orthodox Church. In the U.S. and other countries in which the Orthodox Church is not native, the situation is further complicated: as Orthodox Christians have immigrated to these areas, they have brought their own priests and bishops who speak their own native language and are accustomed to their native traditions (which are not necessarily part of the greater Orthodox Tradition).

Thus in the U.S., for example, we might have Greek, Serbian, and Romanian churches under the jurisdiction of three different bishops in the same city. Efforts are being made to determine how the Orthodox Church might be unified in these areas, so that there might one day be an American Orthodox Church, an Australian Orthodox Church, etc. However, this is likely still a very long way from being realized.

Now, I had learned about the Roman Catholic Church in a similar manner when I lived in Vicenza, Italy, and while that had given me a much greater and more nuanced appreciation for Catholicism, I had not been compelled to consider membership in the Catholic Church. Like many people, I sort of (mis)understood the Orthodox Church to be the eastern version of the Roman Catholic Church, so I was quite surprised when I found certain Orthodox practices appealing, especially as I struggled with being in Iraq, and being away from my wife during our first year of marriage. I began to adopt some Orthodox practices, such as praying from an Orthodox prayer book (and primarily from the book of Psalms), incorporating icons into my prayers, and routine fasting.

I felt a profound connection to Christians throughout history, and learned a great deal about Christians who had been killed as a result of their faith (something particularly compelling as I met a number of Iraqi Christians who had friends and family members in this group). I began to realize that being part of this body would likely have profound effects in terms of knowing Christ better and becoming more like Him.

Unfortunately, Kristen was back in Chicago, hearing me talk about what I was learning and experiencing, but unable to relate to what I was going through, and especially how Orthodox worship and practices were helping me cope. When I got back to Chicago, we began to attend All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church. Kristen was (understandably) uncomfortable with many of the unique aspects of the Orthodox Church (to be discussed in next week’s post), and was hesitant about joining. After about two years of observing these practices, and getting to know many who observe them, she acknowledged that these people loved Jesus and worshipped God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit alone. At this point, she recognized, along with me, that the Orthodox Church offered the most compelling means by which we could follow Christ, and become increasingly more like Him. As I had already joined the Church on September 14, 2010, she followed on Pascha (Easter), 2012.

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Charles Maximus (the screaming one) and two others being presented following their baptisms. (Photo by Steve Kellar)

Again, I’ll discuss my understanding of similarities and differences between the Orthodox Church and other churches in our next post; in the meantime, here are some potentially helpful resources for those interested:

Additional References

Be the Bee

This is a fantastic series of 5-10 minute videos, put out by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s Department of Youth & Young Adult Ministries, about how Orthodox Christians are to live out our faith. There is also a playlist of selected videos specifically curated to act as an introduction to the Orthodox Church.

If you’re going to watch just one of these videos, watch this one.

Books

Welcome to the Orthodox Church, by Frederica Mathewes-Green

My favorite introduction, but perhaps a little long. There is another that is a little shorter, and considered the classic introduction.

A Journey of Fear and Joy, by Oswin Craton

Written by a former member of the Restoration movement, this does a very good job of showing where the Orthodox Church is similar, and where it differs from the churches of Christ. It is written from the perspective of someone who has decided that the Orthodox Church fulfills many of the goals that the Restoration movement sought to achieve, so it’s worded somewhat strongly in some places.

Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick (also a podcast)

This book is intended to show similarities and differences (from an Orthodox perspective) between the Orthodox Church and other traditions (both Christian and non-Christian).

Podcasts, Etc.

Ancient Faith Radio

Part of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, there are a plethora of great (free) resources here.

Who Do We Think We Are?

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Kristen and John at Niagara Falls in October 2009, when John was on leave after returning from Iraq (and after having dragged Kristen to a monastery for their first week together).

This entry will be shorter than previous ones, because we don’t really want to talk about ourselves all that much (at least on the blog; I (John) could talk about myself all day). However, we do want to explain how we came to desire to work overseas, and why we’ve decided to pursue this goal.

Kristen’s Story

When I was 17, an evangelist came to the Stillwater Church of Christ and shared his experience as a long-term missionary in China.  I was so moved and impressed by the work he was doing, I contemplated packing my bags and moving to China the next day.  Years later (in 2011), I went on a short-term trip to Haiti.  It was my first experience with extreme poverty and I really didn’t know what to expect, but by the time my trip came to an end I didn’t want to leave.  Many of the people I met were still displaced from the effects of the 2010 earthquake but the amount of love and joy they had for each other and for me was inspiring and overwhelming.

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Kristen in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2010.

As Christians, we are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps, to care for and love the sick and the suffering, to try to live a life worthy of His sacrifice.  While that can, and should, be lived out in our own communities and neighborhoods, there is also a need in communities that don’t have the resources we have been blessed with here.  God calls each of us in different ways and John and I feel there has been a desire and a willingness placed on our hearts for Ethiopia.

John’s Story

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John at the ziggurat in Ur (of the Chaldees) in southern Iraq, the birthplace of Abraham (2009).

My first encounter with some sort of development work involved two short-term spring break trips with the Church of Christ University Center in Stillwater, OK (also, by the way, where Kristen and I met). One trip was to Impact Houston Church of Christ, which has an amazing inner city ministry; the other was a work project in Saltillo, Mexico. These trips made me aware of the possibility of development work as ministry.

At the same time, I was able to attend one of Christian Veterinary Fellowship’s Real Life Real Impact weekends, where I learned about the kind of work that Christian Veterinary Mission did around the world. At the time, I recognized that I wasn’t mature enough (both in my faith, and simply as a person) to pursue development work long term. However, my decision to join the Army Veterinary Corps was heavily influenced by my desire to use the skills and knowledge I had obtained to serve others. I was seeking to share Christ’s love through veterinary medicine in whatever capacity I could at the time.

While in the Army, I did some work in Bosnia, the Congo, Liberia, Tanzania, and Uganda, which served to strengthen my resolve to find some way to pursue development work in the future.  I was deployed to Iraq in 2008-09, and it was there that my life changed drastically. I can say that in hindsight, but at the time, I would have said that Iraq was inconsequential: I wasn’t a combatant, and because the Army had become so risk-averse by 2008, I really didn’t have that much to do. I had a lot of time to read, though; and (much more importantly), I had a lot of time to pray. This is where I discovered the Orthodox Church (something we plan to write about in more detail in a future post), but in many ways, it’s where I discovered my absolute dependence on Christ, and where my desire to drop everything to serve him really sprang to life.

Everything since then has been an effort to discern how Kristen and I can use what we’ve been given to know Christ and to love others in such a way that we can look back and know that we made the most of what we were given.

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John and Kristen on their wedding day (May 29, 2008) in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Why Christian Veterinary Mission?

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I’m a little behind on posting this week, because Charles Maximus’s godmother got married in Chicago this weekend, and Charlie was the ring bearer. Congratulations to Jen and Garrett Ledesma; many years!

Thanks to all who have been showing their support as we prepare for next year: those who have been praying, those who have made very generous contributions, and those who have contacted us to encourage us, followed us, and provided us with their contact information!

Today, I want to write about our sending agency (I’ll explain this term below): Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM). I want to explain who they are, what they do, and why we chose to partner with them.

What is Christian Veterinary Mission?

Christian Veterinary Mission was founded in 1976 by Dr. Leroy Dorminy, a veterinarian from Georgia. At the Baptist World Alliance in Stockholm, Sweden in July 1975, Dr. Dorminy met a woman from Africa who, when asked how Christians in the developed world can help in developing countries, responded, “what we need is for you to come and teach us your skills that we might do for ourselves.”

Dr. Dorminy then approached his denomination’s foreign mission board, but was turned away, in part because they simply didn’t know what to do with a veterinarian! As a result, he became convinced that there was a real need for an organization that understood the veterinary profession and what veterinarians can offer in the way of sharing Christ’s love in developing countries.

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Dr. Leroy Dorminy (photo courtesy of cvmusa.org).

Due to the need for experienced, professional guidance in terms of supporting those placed overseas, CVM became a part of CRISTA ministries in 1978. CRISTA’s mission is “to love God by serving people – meeting practical and spiritual needs—so that those we serve will be built up in love, united in faith and maturing in Christ.”

What Does CVM Do?

As they explain on their website, “CVM’s mission is to challenge, empower and facilitate veterinary professionals to serve others by living out their Christian faith.” Another way that CVM states its mission is “to share the love of Christ through veterinary medicine.”

CVM thus functions as a sending agency for those in the veterinary profession. One website describes a sending agency as one that “specializes in the care and service of ‘people on mission’ . . . experts in all the challenges and details of a person going into itinerant ministry, and can provide excellent financial services, mailing and database services, fund raising training, donor communication training and support, connections and resources from many other related people and organizations, and more.”

Today, CVM functions as the sending agency for more than fifty veterinarians (and their families) in North, Central, and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia; all of whom raise their own support, as we are doing. In addition, CVM has student and professional ministries in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. I (John) was introduced to CVM through its student ministry while in vet school.

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A map showing the location of many current CVM field staff. The map is interactive here.

Why We’re Raising Support

Before I explain why we chose CVM, I want to explain some of the reasons why we decided to raise support rather than find other funding options.

  • We want to create a community of supporters, who will come alongside us in our work through prayer, financial contributions, and interaction (both on social media and through visits). Raising financial support requires us to do the work of connecting with our supporters by keeping you up updated and involved. It also allows you, when you contribute your time to our work (and money counts here, because you have spent time earning that money) to truly be a part of the work we’re doing.
  • We don’t want to take salaries away from other potential employees. Were I to take a salary from the veterinary school, for example, that’s one less Ethiopian veterinarian or microbiologist that the vet school can hire.
  • We would like to do this work for as long as we’re able, without interruption. I intend to explore a number of funding opportunities, such as grants, once we’re in Mekelle and I’m able to help people determine their priorities and goals. Those sorts of opportunities will fund projects to benefit the groups I’m working with. But grants are typically short term, and if we were dependent on them for our continual funding, we would have to spend valuable time identifying, applying for, and being subject to the terms and conditions of the grants (assuming we’re awarded them).
  • We want our work to be sustainable, and to endure after we leave. If we’re taking a salary, we’re obliged to do the work required by those paying us. Our intention, however, is to come alongside those already doing that work, and offer our experience, knowledge, and skills, to enable them to excel long after we’re gone.

Why We Chose CVM

There are three basic reasons that we chose to work with CVM: their history of financial accountability, their experience with veterinarians and with Ethiopia, and their reputation for caring for their field staff.

CVM and CRISTA Ministries have an outstanding reputation for financial accountability. They have a four-star rating on Charity Navigator (which rates them according to financial health, accountability, and transparency), and are accredited by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. It was important to us that our supporters have peace of mind that your donations are being used appropriately and effectively at all levels. All donations to CVM are tax deductible.

CVM has a 40+ year history of supporting veterinarians, especially those seeking to share their expertise in developing countries. By working with CVM, we have access to a community that knows the pitfalls to avoid as a vet in a developing country, as well as what works.

The same can be said about living as a veterinarian in Ethiopia. CVM’s Africa Regional Director and his family spent nearly three decades in Ethiopia; other veterinarians have worked there, or work there currently. They understand the unique cultural and logistical challenges associated with navigating Ethiopia.

Finally, CVM has a reputation for caring for its field staff. This has been a constant refrain as I’ve gotten to know current and former members of CVM’s team. We’ve even experienced it ourselves, as we had some medical issues that required I leave the first CVM event we attended a couple of days early; the prayer, expressions of concern and support, and follow-up were incredible. We feel comfortable knowing that CVM’s members take care of one another, and live out the call to function as brothers and sisters in Christ.

There are a number of organizations with whom we considered partnering, and of course, other groups have a number of skill sets offered by CVM (and in a few cases, advantages that CVM is not able to offer). However, we are confident that we are in good hands with CVM, and we look forward to a fruitful partnership.

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Charles Maximus at the rehearsal for his nouna’s wedding at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago.

Why Ethiopia?

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The highlands of northern Ethiopia.

Thanks to everyone who has contacted us with words of encouragement and contact information, as we work to get our name out there! We’re very grateful for all of you!

The train has left the station, and we’re in full swing now in terms of being functioning candidates with Christian Veterinary Mission. We’re compiling our mailing list for our monthly newsletters (contact us if you’re interested in being added to that list!), and we’re determining out topics for our weekly blog post over the next few months, based on questions we’re getting from our supporters.

There are three main ways that folks can help us with this process. The first, and most important, is prayer. Our prayer requests can be found here. The second is through financial contributions. We’ll write more about this topic in the next few weeks, but the gist is that CVM requires that its field staff be receiving monthly contributions equivalent to our monthly budget before allowing us to move to Ethiopia and start working. That is to say, we need enough people giving on-going monthly gifts to meet our monthly expenses. On-going gifts that have started before we move over will go towards our one-time expenses, like plane tickets, visas, furniture, a vehicle, etc.

The third way to help out is to connect with us via social media (this blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), and to encourage others who might be interested in our work to check us out!

For the rest of this post, I’m going to talk about why and how Ethiopia has become our intended destination.

Hearing About Ethiopia

When I came back from Iraq in 2009, Kristen and I decided to look into the possibility of working long term in developing countries. I had worked in a number of developing countries as part of the Army Veterinary Corps, and Kristen traveled to Haiti in 2010 and 2011, where she worked short-term with a couple of ministries.

In the spring of 2012, I contacted Christian Veterinary Mission (I’ll explain more on why we chose to work with CVM in a future post), and started a months-long conversation with Fred Van Gorkom, CVM’s Africa Regional Director. When Fred heard about our background, he began to urge us to consider Mekelle, Ethiopia, as a potential destination. For one thing, my time in the Army had taught me that one of my greatest strengths and joys is in training others, and encouraging them to develop their understanding and skills. This led us to talk about the possibility of teaching at a veterinary school in a developing country. Fred, who had served in Ethiopia for nearly three decades, had a number of connections at the veterinary school in Mekelle, and knew that this school had expressed a need and desire for improvements in both pedagogy and its research programs.

In addition, the fact that I was well-versed in both evangelical and Orthodox expressions of Christianity led Fred to urge us to consider Ethiopia; more on this below.

With Fred urging us to consider Ethiopia, we began to learn more about the country, and in particular, about its livestock and veterinary infrastructure, and about the history and status of Christianity and other religions in the country. I plan on writing in greater detail in future posts on both of these topics, but here’s an overview:

Veterinary Medicine in Ethiopia

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Goats in the pastoral Afar Region of eastern Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is a landlocked country located in the Horn of Africa. It has over 100 million inhabitants, and occupies 420,000 square miles (about 1.5 times the size of Texas). The terrain varies from mountain to savanna to desert; and livestock are abundant throughout all areas of the country.

Ethiopia is said to have the highest population of livestock in Africa, with over 150 million animals, made up primarily of cattle, sheep, goats, and camels. This number omits the livestock population in the Afar and Somali regions, where most people are pastoralists (that is, herders), because it is extremely difficult to get accurate counts. Suffice it to say that the numbers are very high. Many of these animals are ultimately exported, often to the Arabian Peninsula via Djibouti, Somalia, or Kenya. Livestock plays a significant economic role in the country.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of veterinary infrastructure, debilitating diseases are common in many herds. This adversely affects Ethiopians in at least two ways; first, it decreases the number of animals born, the number that are brought to slaughter and/or milked, and it drastically decreases the amount of milk and/or meat produced. This is the economic and nutritional impact. It also predisposes people to zoonotic disease – diseases spread from animals to humans, often when animal products are consumed.

A key step toward improving veterinary infrastructure is improving both veterinary medical education and improving the research capacity of those institutions. As research capacity improves, veterinarians and livestock owners will have better information about animal disease in the Ethiopian context, and will be able to make informed decisions regarding animal health.

Christianity in Ethiopia

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The roof of Kidus Giorgis (St. George’s Church), an 11th century stone-carved church in Lalibela.

Ethiopia embraced Christianity by the early fourth century, at the latest, when the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church received her first bishop, St. Frumentius, from Alexandria, Egypt. Today, the EOTC has between 40 and 46 million members. In addition, over the last 200 years, various Protestant churches have appeared and grown throughout the country, so that there are approximately 14 million Protestant Christians of various denominations in Ethiopia.

The relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Protestant Churches has been tense at times, for a number of often complicated reasons. Recently, members of the EOTC and a number of Protestant churches gathered in Addis Ababa, at the first ever regional consultation of the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative, to discuss the relationship between Orthodox and Protestant churches and Christians.

Ultimately, for there to be peace between Orthodox and Protestant Christians, there must be increased understanding in where the true and important differences lie, as well as what is genuinely shared in common (indeed, 20 years of communism went a long way in teaching Ethiopia that in many cases the commonalities far outweigh the differences). People who are able to understand both the Orthodox and Protestant perspective could be very helpful in this regard.

In addition, there is currently a need at the local Orthodox seminary for teachers of biblical languages, biblical studies, and patristics.

Why Ethiopia?

We are going to Ethiopia (God willing) because we believe that’s where we can best share Christ’s love in terms of the gifts, skills, and experiences that he has given us. We remain unspeakably grateful for your support as we pursue this goal.

Why “Hands Outstretched”?

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“…let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out her hands to God.” (Psalm 68:31)

What an adventure this has been!

In July 2017, a few days before our second child Judah was born, we received an email from the Africa Regional Director at Christian Veterinary Mission, informing us that we had been formally approved as Candidates with CVM. A new and significant step has been made in what has already been a long and prayerful journey! After working through some of the necessary logistics, not to mention having baby #2 and John starting the last semester of coursework for his PhD, we are ready to introduce you to “Hands Outstretched,” our vision for where we hope to go, and how we hope to share Christ’s love along the way.

This blog is intended to serve as an invitation to our readers to come alongside us as we continue this journey, one that will lead us, shortly, to Mekelle, Ethiopia. It is our intention to post here regularly as we begin to prepare for our long-term relocation to Mekelle. In doing so, we hope 1) to keep everyone informed as to our status and our progress as we pursue this goal; 2) to share what we’re learning about the history and status of Christianity, as well as of veterinary medicine and public health, in Ethiopia; and 3) to ask for your support as we pursue this goal.

There are three ways that you can help us: through prayer, through financial contributions, and through interacting with us via social media (including this blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), as well as sharing our updates with anyone and everyone you think might be interested. We welcome any questions about what we’re doing; please feel free to contact us!

So here we are. We plan on sharing more over the next few weeks about who we are, where we’re coming from, how we got here, and how (and why) we intend to get where we’re going. But first, I want to talk about the name we’ve chosen for this ministry, “Hands Outstretched,” and what that means to us.

In Ethiopia, there is one half-verse of Scripture that is more widely quoted, written, and scrawled across walls and billboards than probably any other text: Psalm 68:31 – “…let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out her hands to God.” If you look this up in an English version of the Bible, there’s a fair chance that “Cush” will be mentioned rather than Ethiopia; this is simply a translational issue.

For at least the last 1,700 years, and probably for much longer, Ethiopia has been stretching out her hands to God. It is our joy and privilege to join her in doing so as we seek to share our gifts and blessings with the people of Mekelle, of Tigray, and with the rest of Ethiopia. This is first and foremost what we mean by “Hands Outstretched”: that we long to seek God alongside those with whom we’ve chosen to live.

However, there are other nuances involved with “Hands Outstretched” that have led us to choose this image for our ministry. In the Orthodox Church, Psalm 141 has been considered the psalm of evening prayer since at least the third century (and almost certainly earlier than that). In 141:2, the psalmist prays: “Let my prayer arise as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Thus, “Hands Outstretched” also represents the orans, a common posture for prayer in the early Church:

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In addition, John Cassian, in commenting on Psalm 141, makes a powerful observation:

Here the true evening sacrifice can be understood in a more spiritual way as . . . that evening sacrifice that he offered to the Father on the last day – namely, at the end of the ages – by the raising of his hands for the salvation of the world” (Institutes, 3.3.8-10).

Thus, as Cassian points out, the “Hands Outstretched” are the hands of Christ, allowing himself to serve as the true and final evening sacrifice. And we who are called to take up our crosses and follow him are called to stretch out our hands alongside him, thereby participating in his sacrifice.

“Hands Outstretched” also refers to our love for one another, in that we stretch out our hands as a sign of peace (in a handshake), of love and acceptance (in a hug), and in giving and receiving in community (via the exchange of goods). We hope to be peacemakers, sharers in Christ’s love, and to give what we have to those who may need it, as well as to receive what is offered in return (i.e., knowledge and understanding about other cultures, faiths, and worldviews).

Finally, as we wrap up this introduction, I’d like to talk a little more about the Psalm from which we take our name, Psalm 68. Psalms are numbered differently in certain versions of the  Bible and in certain translations, because when the Psalms were translated from Hebrew to Greek in the centuries before Christ, the numbering was changed, and so Orthodox Bibles and liturgical texts will number this Psalm 67. This psalm is an extremely significant one in the Orthodox tradition; Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon describes its use well in his excellent book, Christ in the Psalms:

The Christian sense of this psalm is abundantly clear in its traditional liturgical use, the best example being the rush procession of Holy Saturday night. In front of the church doors, after we have thrice marched around the building, we stand and listen to St. Mark’s account of the myrrhbearing women coming to the empty tomb of the Risen Christ. Then, after that Gospel, we repeatedly chant the triumphant troparion of Pascha: ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.’ Between chantings of that great troparion we sing lines from Psalm 67: ‘Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let those also who hate Him flee before Him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.’

Here we have the deeper, more authentic sense of the psalm: Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, arising from the dead (‘Let God arise’), triumphant over sin and death (‘Let His enemies be scattered’), bringing His saints from the demonic depths of Hades (‘I will bring back from Bashan, I will bring them back from the depths of the sea’), leading the Church in her journey through history (‘O God, when You went out before Your people’).

Thus, with Hands Outstretched, we proclaim his death, we confess his resurrection. We thank you for joining with us on this journey. Please consider helping, in one or more of the ways described above. Welcome!

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