Archive for September 2012

Mount Tabor and Around Hawassa

After I chased a monkey out of my hotel room (at first I thought it was a cat), we visited Mount Tabor and then visited congregations around Hawassa, which is a part of the South Central Ethiopian Synod.

The South Central Ethiopian Synod is one of six synods that used to compose the Southern Ethiopian Synod. Approximately, 1.7 million people are a part of these six synods, over 500,000 people are in the South Central Ethiopian Synod. These statistics are important because the Tabor Evangelical College provides the majority of the training for pastors and evangelists in these six synods.

Tabor Evangelical College was formed by the Norwegian Lutheran Mission (NLM) in 1968. About 63 pastors were trained at Tabor between 1968 and 1977. In 1983, the communist Ethiopian Socialist Government confiscated the school’s property. In 2001, the government returned then property to the EECMY and the school was reopened as a church operated high school in 2003. Today the high school serves about 700 children. In 2005, a Bible school to train evangelists was opened on the site. In 2008, a certificate / diploma program in Missions was started. Finally, in 2012, a Bachelors in Theology (B.Th) program began.

Of the 3436 congregations in the six synods that comprise southern Ethiopia, there are only 415 pastors. This means each pastor serves on average six to eight congregations. Practically, this means a congregation receives Holy Communion every 6 to 8 weeks. In the EECMY, only pastors can perform sacramental acts such as Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. The evangelists are not ordained and therefore cannot administer the sacrament. In a church body that adds approximately 500 congregations a year and that has a significant shortage of pastors, the EECMY did not “declare” an emergency and allow or license the evangelists or other lay leaders to perform the Sacrament. Instead, the focus and desire is to train more pastors to meet the demand. This is very commendable and shows faithfulness the the Lutheran Confession concerning the office of pastor.

The meager library at Tabor Evangelic College had a copy of Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics, Preus’ The Fire and the Staff, and Koehler’s Christian Doctrine. After a tour of the campus, we departed to see examples of a small, medium, and large congregation — as well as rural and urban.

As we left Tabor Evangelical College, we ran into Aklilu Ameje, the father-in-law to Dr. Tilahun Mekonnen, the President of Concordia College, Selma, Alabama. A small world indeed…

After leaving the college, we visited a small (more than 350 members) congregation in an urban setting. The church is poor in comparison to other congregations… So poor, that concrete or brick walls cannot be afforded. Neither can the congregation afford a pastor. The congregation is served by an evangelist and other lay leaders. When possible, the congregation borrows a nearby pastor to celebrate Holy Communion. When we arrived unannounced, people were gathered in the congregation for prayer. The Ethiopian New Year is approaching. EECMY congregations have the custom of praying the week before the New Year. The synod office gathers prayer requests from across the synod, the country and the world. Each day before the New Year, members of the congregation gather to pray. Every congregation that we visited today held prayer services. Some congregations had 5 people while others had 100 or more.

At a larger congregation, people gather for prayer before the New Year.

Next we visited Tabor Congregation, which only can be described as a “mega” church with over 6,500 members. Tabor Congregation started just 16 years ago with 250 members from the mother church in Hawassa. This congregation sends evangelists through out southern Ethiopia. We asked the congregation leaders and the Synod President if there was ever conflict between the evangelists sent by Tabor Congregation and other congregations or the synod. Both answered no. They told us that the work was done “systematically”‘and in coordination with the Synod’s strategic plan. After the evangelists start a congregation, they turn it over to the Synod.

We visited the Ambosa Congregation outside of the city. This congregation would represent a rural, middle class church. The congregation has about 600 communicant members, and about 1100 total members (500 unconfirmed children). Notice the building style is similar to the church’s built by the Norwegians. Similar style churches can be found in Madagascar, where the NLM also was active.

All the congregations we visited were very hospitable. While we saw only a fraction if the 1,100 or so congregations in the South Central Ethiopian Synod, we have an overview of small, medium, and large congregations in both rural and urban environments. We also saw the tremendous need to train more pastors, as well as the resilience of God’s people.

As we bid farewell to our hosts this past evening, we were given a gift of traditional Sidamo clothing. Thank you President Hailu Yohannes Bullka, and all the pastors, evangelists, church leaders and people of the South Central Ethiopian Synod, who showed us wonderful hospitality.

We leave Hawassa in a few hours to return to Addis Ababa so we can catch our return flight.

– Posted on 8 September 2012 by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations.
– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


To Awasa

Yesterday, we rose early and drove south from Addis Ababa to Hawassa. Along the way, we stopped at various places.

After leaving Addis Ababa at dawn, we stopped for breakfast at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant in Ziway. This restaurant featured the delicacy of raw meat, which we avoided. We did take part in other traditional Ethiopian food such as tibs and the traditional coffee ceremony.

Raw meat being prepared to be serve to restaurant guests.

We stopped at Langano Lake for lunch and coffee. There are many lakes along the rift valley. The lake above is known for its brown water and for not being infested with parasites.

Before reaching the Awassa, we visited the Arsii-Negle congregation of the Central Rift Valley Parish. This congregation is rapidly growing in a Muslim area. Currently, there are about 500 members. After last Sunday’s service, the congregation tore down their old building and began construction on a new building to better accommodate the people. Next to this congregation is a missionary training center that was initially funded by the LCMS. The LCMS has in the past assisted congregations such as the Arsii-Negle congregation with tin roofs to complete the construction.

As we drive closer to Awassa, President Hailu mentioned to us that we were entering a Rastafarian area. He said do yo want to see the temple? We said sure and stopped to see the Rastafarian Temple in Shashemane, Ethiopia. Many people from Jamaica have come to Zion (Shashemane, Ethiopia).

Finally we arrived at the headquarters of the South Central Ethiopian Synod. In the SCES, there are more than 500,000 members, 1310 congregations, and 140 pastors. One of the greatest needs is for the training of new pastors. Today, we will visit Mount Tabor Regional Seminary to better understand the training needs of the SCES.

The Athanasian Creed is posted in several places in the South Center Ethiopian Synod’s headquarters.

A page from the EECMY hymnal. This is the beginning of Sunday worship and is very similar to what the LCMS uses.

Teaching the next generation how to use an iPhone.

Our time here has been good and we have been received well.

– Posted on 7 September 2012 by Rev Dr Albert Collver.
– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Trip to Ambo

This morning we left Addis Ababa for Ambo in the second hour of the morning (8 AM). In Ethiopia, time is reckoned much like the Bible — twelve hours of night and twelve hours of day. The sun rises at 6 am. The third hour of the morning is 9 am. Shortly after departing from Addis Ababa, our rear tire went flat.

While waiting for the tire to be replaced, Drs. Collver and Lehenbauer had their shoes shined after President Abraham first had his shoes shined. The cost of each shoe shine was equivalent to about 15 cents in US currency. As meager as that sounds, the boys were thrilled to shine our shoes and to receive our wages. In fact, our Ethiopian hosts would not allow us to over pay the boys. So we paid the going rate.

The land between Addis Ababa and Ambo is primarily farm land. The land is farmed in the traditional way with ox drawn plows. Today was the day to plow as many, many farmers were plowing their fields.

When we arrived in Ambo, we attended the graduation ceremony for seven evangelists.

President Abraham of the Central Ethiopian Synod (EECMY) spoke to the graduating class and passed out the certificates. Twenty-three other students are half way through the two year, summer intensive program. An evangelist has the responsibility to preach to the non-believers near their assigned congregation, to visit congregation members, and to teach the catechism. They cannot celebrate the Lord’s Supper, as that is reserved for the ordained pastors in the EECMY. Female evangelists have a very similar role to deaconesses in the LCMS — teaching Sunday school, visiting the sick, and teaching adults.

We ate lunch in Ambo, which is famous for its natural, sparkling mineral water. Over lunch we had a fascinating conversation regarding communion practice, casuistry items such as how to handle divorce in a congregation and when remarriage is permitted, and fellowship issues. President Abraham explained how during the communists years non-Lutheran protestants such as Presbyterians, Baptists, and Pentecostals merged into the EECMY as a fellowship union. This was a pragmatic move during the communist years, not unlike other Protestant groups calling themselves Lutheran during the Reformation. President Abraham explained how the EECMY recently broke this fellowship union with the other Protestants because they did not hold Lutheran doctrine. He also explained that only Lutherans commune at Lutheran altars. He said in fact the Baptists and Pentecostals consider the EECMY too close to the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics because the Lutherans believe that in Holy Communion Christ gives his body and blood to eat and to drink. The conversation was very helpful. After lunch we visited some congregations in the Ambo region.

The Ambo Parish has 32 congregations and 12 preaching stations. It is one of the fastest growing areas inside the EECMY. In fact, it seems that the church buildings cannot keep up with the number of people attending church on a Sunday. The congregation pictured above is 4 years old and has 1,300 communicant members with 1,800 members total. Last year, the congregation added 357 members.

The congregation pictured above in the Ambo Parish has a regular Sunday attendance of 4,000 people. The pastor explained that they are adding a second story to the building to accommodate more people. This congregation is near a university and has an active outreach to college students.

The final congregation that we visited Olo Nkomi was burned down in 2009 (the commemorative marker says 2002 because the Julian Calendar is 7 years behind the Gregorian calendar used in the West) by Ethiopian Orthodox zealots. The evangelist at this parish was stoned by the zeolites. Although he survived the attack, he has been permanently damaged. President Abraham explained that several EECMY congregations have been burned to the ground by Orthodox and Islamic radicals in recent years. He noted that the persecution has actually caused more people to flock to the EECMY… As Tertullian wrote in the 2nd century, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

After we visited the EECMY congregation that had been burned down, we visited the nearby Ethiopian Orthodox monastery.

A Ethiopian Orthodox Monastery sits on top of the small mountain pictured above. We returned to our hotel after dark to prepare for an early departure at sunrise to the southern part of Ethiopia.

– Posted on 5 September 2012 by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Dejazmach Belay Zeleke St,,Ethiopia