Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sinking Roots Deep: Compassionate Christianity in Ethiopia

The latest issue of World has an in-depth article (online paid registration required) on Christian Compassion in Ethiopia. After a brief recap of the recent tragic history of that country, the article takes us on a whirlwind tour of just a few of the evangelical missionaries doing works of compassion there.

Note that this is in the midst of a country roughly equally divided between Islam and Ethiopian Coptic Christianity. And yet, evangelical protestants continue a vibrant witness ... offering compassion and outreach to AIDS victims, offering medical care to traumatized women, offering educational and agricultural aid.

However, it's not a matter of giving handouts. One of the stories is that of Marta Gabre-Tsadick, a 75 year old former member of the Ethiopian senate, and an unabashedly evangelical Christian. She started Project Mercy back in the 1990s....simply by asking local villagers what they needed and then when she figured out it was a school, she started one.

Only the local muslim population didn't like her talking about Jesus. "...when the children of the school started accepting Christ, they no longer wanted us....They threw stones at us. For a year and a half we could not go outside the compound at night."

But the school survived. Now here's the kicker for me. Check out this quotes from the article:
She applies here experience to the training of her students, telling those who only want to evangelize that they should develop a skill that will make people come to them: 'Go to nursing school and become a public health person. Learn medicine, engineering, business management, law.'

So she's actively encouraging her students to get involved in the watching world in a profession that actually meets needs...and then use that profession to tell people about Jesus. This is right in line with Paul's admonition in I Thessalonians 4:11-12: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders, and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."

Meet needs, but also be distinctively Christian about it. In her clinic, Gabre-Tsadick offers to pray for each patient...now over 11,000 ..."because Jesus is the great physician."

The second quote from the article expresses the impact:
The clinic and school still upset some Muslim leaders, one of whom complained about 'brainwashing students with the Bible" -- but Gabre-Tsadick recounts that he also admitted 'There's no use getting rid of you. You have sunk your roots so deep.'

And there is the great lesson for American Christianity. We need to re-learn the old discipline of sinking roots deep in the soil in which God has planted us. We need to re-learn how to be blessings to our community, but unabashedly Christian blessings. It is not sufficient to airdrop some sandwiches to homeless people in the park twice a year and consider our duty done. We need to be about the business of meeting needs, building culture, helping society be better. And in the process, we can also be crazy honest that we're doing it because we love Jesus...that Jesus died for our redemtion...that He rose to conquer evil, darkness and death (especially the evil darkness and death within our own hearts)...and that he rules pouring out the Holy Spirit to work in and through His people. That's really good news.

So let the African Christians challenge us to be salt and light in our own mission field as well...

Read more inspiring stories about Marta Gabre-Tsadick:
from the Deseret Morning News
from the Macneil/Lehrer news hour
from Jazz Musician Karen Cameron

Soli Deo Gloria