It’s good to be home! We take for granted so many things here in America. Things like good roads, hot water, dependable electricity, drinkable water, common language, wide variety of wholesome food, medical care, Bibles, TV and radio and of course, the microwave oven. The list could go on. I missed those things but got along quite well without them. To me it was a lot like visiting my grandfather’s farm in the 1950’s.
There are a few things I found in abundance in Ethiopia that are somewhat rare here. The most notable is the singing. Each morning the students are required to attend a 30-minute chapel gathering before classes begin. Chapel starts at 8:30 am officially, but the students start singing 30-45 minutes early, just because they love to sing praises to God. The same is true of the Sunday morning worship which begins at 8:30. A large number of Christians are already gathered and singing by 8:00 am. You can hear them singing even above the neighboring churches and their loudspeakers.
Another thing apparent is the desire to know the scriptures better. Those of you who took part in the VBS last July understand this. I suppose many here assume that VBS is just a babysitting job that happens each summer with no lasting results. Not so in Gambella. My first Sunday worship was attended by 78 adults and 20 or so children. When visitors were asked to stand to be welcomed, 6 teenage boys stood, all wearing their VBS tee shirts. There were also 9 women who were visiting because their children had been in VBS. Their children were in the Sunday class.
My class consisted of ten men, most in their 20’s, two in their 50’s, about to finish the 2-year program earning a certificate in the Sunset International Bible Institute. I had taught these same students last year as they began their studies. Only 2 had dropped out. This session consisted of the book of Isaiah, all the “minor” prophets and Jeremiah. We were in class 6 hours each day, 5 days per week. The afternoon session usually got very warm in our little classroom. About 2:30-4 pm the temperature would get up to about 90° and the humidity about the same. The sun was coming through the window and the fans in the room were mildly effective. Invariably, the power would go off about then, sometimes for 1/2 hour or more. We sweat a lot but then a breeze would pop up from a nearby thundershower and cool us off. Then it would sprinkle or rain off and on until 9 or 10 pm.
For the exams, I prepared a test for each portion of the course -- Isaiah, minor prophets and Jeremiah. For the final exam, each student was to choose a passage from one of the prophets we studied and use it as a basis for a sermon. They were to preach Jesus from that passage. Each sermon was to be minimum of 10 minutes. Most were 30+ minutes. They did GREAT! No two were from the same passage. We had 2 from Isaiah, 3 from Jeremiah, 1 from Malachi, 1 from Joel, 1 from Amos, 1 from Nahum, and 1 from Hosea.
Last Friday was graduation for my “boys”. They all dressed in their best and each was given a necktie. Neckties are very much favored. They are somewhat of a status symbol for preachers. All the first-year students received a tie and a certificate of promotion. David (the main teacher) and I had to tie about 25 neckties.
The last Sunday I was there, we had 90 adults and 38 children. That little building was packed. One of the things I missed was being able to sing in English. I knew very few of their songs and even of those I knew it was very difficult to sing along.
It was a very rewarding experience. The weather was good and cool compared to last year. Friday night just before I left for home, Simon, my top student and Daniel, one of the older men, came to my house and spent the evening just visiting. As they go on their way, I may never see them again and they just wanted to spend time together. I have grown close to several of the people in Gambella and hope to go back again.