Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The inaugural Ethiopia post

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
It seems strange to me that I'm just now posting this on the blog. Many who know me personally will have already heard a variation of this story, but it seems right to get some record of it on here. But for those who haven't heard yet, here's what I'm talking about...

All the way back in my first semester at EMU, in the fall of 2008, one of my fellow students at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding planted a seed in my imagination: Go to Ethiopia and be a teacher for the Church. At first it was a suggestion but by the time my friend, Solomon - who hails from the capital of Addis Ababa, graduated last spring it had become an insistent proclamation. You will go to Ethiopia and be a teacher for the church. In fact, this is how he introduced me to some of his family who had come to Virginia to celebrate his graduation. I'll always remember his mother's response, a matter-of-fact nod, saying "Yes, you will come to Ethiopia."

So last summer when one of my CJP professors taught a course at Meserete Kristos College in Debre Zeit, 40 minutes from Addis, I asked him to check into the possibility of my teaching a class there to fulfill my practicum requirement for my MA program. Within three weeks, at the end of August, my name was on the schedule for the following summer's rainy season semester, teaching "Intro to Conflict Transformation." So just a few weeks from now, my family and I will be on our way to Ethiopia for a month-long adventure in a totally new context for us all. The rest of this post is a bit on the back-story of how this exciting adventure came to be...

About fifteen years ago a dear, sweet recently-departed saint in my home congregation in Prairie City, Iowa, called me into the ministry. Not in the formal sense, but she is the first person whom I remember taking me aside and saying clearly and unapologetically (which was her custom) , “You’re going into the ministry...I just know it.” The first time I felt God’s presence in a very up-close and personal way was a few years before this, at Church of the Brethren's National Youth Conference in 1994. The first person I ran to was my pastor, Tim. After coming back home, Tim encouraged me to stand in front of the congregation on Sunday morning and give my testimony. A handful of people in the congregation approached me afterwords with warm words of affirmation and encouragement for the hard road of faith that lay ahead.

What does this have to do with my family's upcoming trip to Ethiopia? I tell these stories to illustrate that God’s work in my life began in my home congregation with ordinary, rural Midwestern Christians. And isn't it amazing that the wisdom of the God's Spirit was at work in the gathered body of believers here. The work of God in the gathered body is an important aspect of my Brethren heritage and faith practices, and in the broader Anabaptist tradition. At work in both this story and my "call to Ethiopia" story above is the discipline of communal discernment, and I take it very seriously. So "my call" is really not mine at all. It's God's calling to me, being voiced and tested by the faith communities in which I've been embedded, local expressions of the body of Christ, the Church. Listening to this call has produced some radical changes across my early adulthood and in my family's life together, and will no doubt continue to do so until I draw my last breath. That's why I love the title of one of Stanley Hauerwas' essays: "Christianity: It's Not a Religion, It's an Adventure."

Over the coming weeks, I'll continue to drop another back-story or two on here as we approach our departure date of July 2nd. I don't have a strong sense for what kind of internet connectivity to expect once we're in Ethiopia but I do hope to issue a few posts while we're there. I'll be journaling every day so even after we come back on July 30th, there will be plenty more to say.

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