Introducing New Links in Ethiopia...

Posted by Colin Corbridge on Thu, 20 Nov 2008 | Bookmark: digg this Post this to del.icio.us Post this to Facebook

For many of us, our perceptions of Ethiopia are inextricably linked to the iconic images of the mid-1980s – graphic depictions of drought, famine and hunger. But more than 20 years later, what does Ethiopia look like today?

To find out, we speak to Bishop Andrew Proud – the Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa.

“The first thing to say is that Ethiopia is a huge, diverse and beautiful country, with stunning scenery and people. Somewhere between 50% and 60% of the population are practising Christians, and Islam, which has existed side-by-side with Christianity for four hundred years, is growing fast”, says Bishop Andrew.

“Ethiopia may be poor,” he comments, “but it is not a country in despair. The people are highly motivated and work hard to find pathways out of poverty. We want to help them because we believe that Christ came so that they may have life – and life in all its fullness.”

Poverty remains a major challenge however and when it’s compounded by food shortages many people find themselves in positions of great need.

In recent months the UN has reported on a range of crises in Ethiopia: critical food and water shortages in south-eastern Ethiopia where many families are eating only one meal a day; food insecurity in the Sidama zone where thousands of children can no longer go to school; flash floods in Gambella that have displaced more that 20,000 people.

These issues affect the whole region and hunger, says Bishop Andrew, is “not limited to the countryside."

Peter Smerdon, a senior public affairs officer for the UN World Food Programme, explains: “The urban poor in the Horn of Africa are the new face of hunger in a region where up to 14.6 million people now require humanitarian assistance due to poor rains, high food and fuel prices, conflict, animal disease, inflation and poverty.”

"The situation of the urban poor has worsened; they are now getting more vulnerable; it is no longer just the old caseload of drought-affected people. In Ethiopia,” he says, “some 4.6 million people will need emergency food aid for the rest of the year.”

It’s in the context of this challenging and constantly changing situation that the local church is trying to make a difference. But the church wants to provide more than quick-fix solutions to these current crises; they are committed to widespread transformation through long-term development.

Ethiopia may be poor but it is not a country in despair…

“The Anglican Church is really very small, by most standards”, says Bishop Andrew. “First established in the 1920s, St. Matthew’s, the city centre church in Addis, ministered to British and Commonwealth expatriates. Twelve years ago, at the request of refugees from Southern Sudan, St. Matthew’s established a daughter church in Gambella town, on the Sudanese border, to establish a ministry in the refugee camps.”

As Bishop Andrew explains, it’s in Gambella that CMS Ireland’s new links are beginning to take shape.

“Gambella, two days hard-driving by 4 wheel drive vehicle, is the capital of the regional state named after it. It is hot, humid, swampy, rich in resources – including oil – and severely under-developed.”

“In recent years the Anglican Church has grown substantially. There are now 43 churches in all, mostly outside the refugee camps, amongst indigenous peoples. They are clustered into 10 Mission Centres and we now number some 6,000 Christians.”

As the area develops, “Gambella town is going to be an important place and the Anglican Church is well placed to make a substantial contribution to its development, thanks to our partnership with CMS Ireland”, explains the Bishop.

“We have just started to build a new training centre on two hectares of land given by the government, which will comprise library and seminar facilities, an inter-tribal church, offices and guest accommodation.”

“We already have a hugely successful TEE (Theological Education by Extension) programme which will share this site and we’re about to launch two new major development programmes from this site, with CMS Ireland’s help. These programmes focus on school support & adult literacy and peace development.”

In the face of significant challenges and profound difficulties across the whole region, the local church is investing in education, reconciliation and evangelism as it tries to live out its mission calling. While many of Ethiopia’s historic difficulties remain, God’s people there are committed to following His example. This is a church that’s prepared to get its hands dirty, to bring hope, peace and transformation. That’s mission.

Irish Aid’s €500,000 grant represents 75% of the necessary funding for the project and we are now looking to raise the remainder from churches and individuals in Ireland. If you would be interested in learning more about this work or would like to get involved then please contact David Gough through our Dublin or Belfast offices.

Bishop Andrew Proud is a USPG Mission Companion.

Keep your eyes on the Where we Work section of our website for more information about Ethiopia in the coming weeks.