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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