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FAQs from our Summer 2020 Visit

One of the unexpected blessings of being back in the U.S. this summer has been the opportunity to connect in person with family, friends and supporters. Here are some of the most common questions we have heard since being back:

What do you eat in Ethiopia? 

The main food in Ethiopia is wat (sauces) served on injera (spongy, sour flatbread made from a grain called teff). Than eats traditional Ethiopian food for lunch at EGST several times per week and we eat it for dinner about 1x per week. On a typical night we will make western food at home for dinner. We consistently have access to pasta, basmati rice, potatoes, cabbage, green beans, carrots, tomatoes, red onions, chicken and many other things. Breakfast is Charlotte’s favorite meal when it comes to Ethiopian food. While on school mornings you’ll find her quickly eating a bowl of oatmeal or toast, on the weekends we love to get fetira: fried flat bread cut into triangles and dipped in honey at the local cafe (Charlotte skips the honey). 

What’s your favorite thing about Ethiopia? 

Charlotte: That we have 2 levels in our house and I have a loft bed.

Ruthina: The kindness and hospitality of Ethiopians. And of course the coffee.

Than: The slower pace of life and the openness and welcome of everyone we meet.

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What do you miss about Ethiopia while you’re in the US? 

Charlotte: My friends.

Ruthina: People and our church.

Than: The interactions with my colleagues at EGST. And my daily 30-cent macchiato.

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What do you miss most about the US when you’re in Ethiopia? 

Charlotte: Grandma and Cheerios.

Ruthina: Convenience and efficiency. The ease of transportation.

Than: Cereal (the milk tastes different).

What’s the most challenging part of your ministry? 

Learning a new culture is not limited to language and what we might consider normal day-to-day activities of grocery shopping, trying new foods, and engaging our neighbors. It also affects teaching and administration. While Than has lived in Ethiopia before, it was only for two years and learning a new culture can take a lifetime. It requires new ways of thinking and a lot of patience in slowing down and asking important questions when something doesn’t make sense (or seems wrong). It sometimes even requires unlearning or shedding automatic ways of thinking and doing. There is much to still learn about Ethiopian culture, and especially so in terms of how it all relates to teaching and administration at EGST. We’re certain we have something to offer, but we’re equally certain that our Ethiopian colleagues have much to teach us. It can be challenging to slow down and take the time to process and reflect on the nuances of living, teaching and ministering cross-culturally.

What’s the most rewarding part of your ministry? 

The most challenging aspect of our ministry is also the most rewarding. Engaging a new culture opens us up to diversity and new possibilities we hadn’t considered before. It also means deeper relationships with Ethiopian students and colleagues, as well as our neighbors. Not only we get to experience Ethiopian hospitality, but we also are afforded opportunities for hearing their stories. This expands our understanding of the world and further broadens our vision of God’s mission in the world.

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The Return

Less than two weeks ago we were safely “home” in Ethiopia. Reports of the growth of Covid-19 were flowing in and we started to seriously weigh the impact of our presence in Ethiopia. The safety and well-being of our family, as well as the impact of our presence there (i.e. potentially using limited resources in our host country), presented an urgent question: do we stay or go back to the US? For days we wavered back and forth between the two options.

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As a family living and working overseas, things aren’t black and white. What’s right for one family is not the right choice for another family. And the decision to come back to the U.S. was not an easy one.

Thankfully we had the support of wise advisors from our mission agency and supporters to help us navigate and weigh out the options which ultimately led to us returning (for a time) to the U.S.

Because it all happened quickly (the travel window was rapidly closing as borders closed and airlines shut down certain routes) we did little to prepare, aside from packing a few necessities, giving away perishable food items and doing what we could to provide a little extra to some friends who we knew would need it.

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We weren’t prepared to return (even for a visit) so soon into our new life in Ethiopia. Didn’t we just spend months and months preparing to go?! We weren’t prepared for the grief and guilt of leaving, though inklings of these surfaced as we weighed the options and in the final hours before our departure. The anxiety that comes with the unknown. Feelings of displacement. And perhaps weighing us down most of all is how quickly the world around us is changing and knowing that we will return to a different Ethiopia than we left – the place we were just starting to really know and love.

We are eager for our return – though at this point timing isn’t even something we can fully think through yet. There’s too much changing each day to even begin to speculate. Until then, we pray, we keep up with friends and colleagues in Ethiopia (as much as we are able) and continue to contribute as we can (from a distance) to our shared ministry at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology and among our neighbors.

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A Day in the Life

Our alarm buzzes right as the sun begins to rise. But our “first alarm” happens about 20 minutes prior to our actual alarm as the chanting and singing begins at the local churches. While the days are warm, the nights are chilly and we all want to stay cozy in bed for “just 5 more minutes.” We dress is layers, knowing that the walk to carpool will be cold, but by the time Charlotte returns from school her sweater and socks will be in her backpack and the legs of her leggings will be pulled as high as she can get them. And yes, as you can imagine, returning sweaty and sockless makes for some very stinky shoes. 

After a quick breakfast (usually toast or oatmeal), while listening to Keys for Kids and our current favorite Cedarmont Kids playlist on Spotify, Charlotte and Than are out the door at 7:05 am to get to the carpool meet up spot.

On his way home from carpool Than often stops to buy bonbolino. Bonbolino is basically fried dough – like a savory donut. A LARGE savory donut I should add. We limit ourselves to having it about once a week and coming in at only 7 birr each (around 20 cents) it’s a nice break from our usual bowl of oatmeal. Fried dough comes in various, delicious forms here. Our other favorite is called “fetira.” It’s served with honey and we often will eat it on Saturday mornings at a local cafe. 

While Than and Charlotte are on their way to carpool, I try to get some exercise. I go for a walk around our compound (well, a few times around) while listening to my Amharic recordings. I return home and  throw a load of laundry in, make coffee and get ready for the day.

Amharic tutoring begins at 8 am for me. Thankfully it’s just about a 5 minute walk from our home. Than heads out around the same time for his office at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology. More on his days coming in a future post!

When I return home from tutoring, I hang our laundry out to dry (this is SO much easier during the dry season which we’re in right now), catch up on emails and projects, tidy up, work on my Bible study, listen to my Amharic recordings (yes, again) and do food prep. I could write a whole post on food prep and cooking here (and perhaps someday I will) but let’s just say it consumes significantly more time than it did in the US. Thankfully I (mostly) enjoy cooking.

Charlotte arrives home from school between 1-1:30 pm (KG1 is only half days) and we have lunch together. We fill our afternoons with playdates, trips to the Zoma Museum (very near our home), rest, reading, grocery shopping and baking. On Mondays we have lunch with friends which is great fun for the Moms and kids. We take turns hosting – I’m so grateful for the friendship of the women I’ve been able to meet through these lunches. 

On Friday’s I attend a women’s Bible study – mostly with other expat women who live here in Ethiopia.

Of course, many days are far from ordinary. Sometimes the water goes when you’ve just shampoo’d your hair, while other days a monkey will come into your kitchen and knock your pizza dough off the counter. Inevitably things take longer than planned but we are getting used to that.

On the weekends we enjoy time together as a family. We are getting more and more involved in our church – Ruthina helps teach Sunday School to the younger kids and Than occasionally preaches and helps lead the service.

Every month we settle more and more into our life here. Our responsibilities and relationships continue to increase. We grow in our understanding of the culture and the needs here. The things that were once so unusual to us are becoming more normal. On the best of days and the worst of days and all the in between ones, we end the day writing in our family gratitude journal, an exercise grounds us, changes our perspective and points our eyes back to our Provider.

6 Months of Calling Addis Home

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Today marks 6 months since we landed in Addis. It’s amazing to think back on the years of dreaming, planning and preparation and here we are. Our new normal. 

We still have so much to learn (looking at you Amharic). And of course there’s always something new to navigate – from processes to relationships and expectations to living in the tension of being surrounded by so many needs and wisdom to know where to invest our time and resources. 

I sense the change that inevitably happens in yourself when you build a life in a new culture. Ethiopia has left a mark on us, but no doubt we’ll only see this more fully when we return for a visit to our home country. There are days when frustration is high. Days when culture shock threatens to bowl us over and makes us want to hide in our house eating Doritos (which we amazingly found at the grocery store recently for an obscene price – and yes, we splurged). But there are also days where this all feels perfectly normal and at times even better than life at “home.”

One certainty we have here is the uncertainty, unexpected, and unknown. But that’s all part of the new normal. We have far more “good” days than “bad” days and even on the bad days we have so much to be thankful for. Slowly but surely our hearts are getting more and more entangled with this country and the beautiful people here as we continue on this journey of participating in what God is doing here.

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Our home here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We are very  blessed to have some grass to enjoy in a city full of concrete! Charlotte especially loves that we have an upstairs.

 

The Call

If you’re like me, there’s probably been a time or two (ok, or 10!) in your life when you just wish that God would tell you loud and clear what He wanted you to do next. I’m thinking about a Samuel moment where God calls out your name and you respond, “Speak for your servant is listening.”

Spoiler alert – there are no audible voices of God in the story you’re about to read.

The fact that God chooses to use His people to participate in His mission and redemptive work in the world is a beautiful thing. Kind of hard to wrap my mind around really.

A call doesn’t look the same for everyone. Sometimes it stops you in your tracks – a defining moment that alters the course of things forever. Like Paul on the road to Damascus. Sometimes it feels like everywhere you look there’s something confirming it. Sometimes it’s more gradual – something deep in your heart you know. Sometimes it’s abundantly clear and sometimes you have just enough to take next faithful step.

For Than and me, our call into missions wasn’t some mystical moment. For both of us, it started many, many years ago.

As a young child I (Ruthina) was always captivated when missionaries came to speak at our church or when missionary stories were shared in children’s church. Right before high school I had a turning point in my walk with the Lord – a real point of surrender where I said I would go where He wanted me to go and do what He wanted me to do. Serving overseas was on my mind – even though I knew it might be many years away. My passion for missions continued to grow as I went to college and I participated in several short term mission trips. I remember thinking to myself, how could you be a Christian and not be willing to go?! I also spent 1 year teaching English in Asia upon graduating from college. While I believe that any city you live in is a mission field, my heart has always been drawn to other cultures.

Than also felt the call to mission since a very young age. His father’s church supported a missionary to Nigeria whom he wanted to follow. His siblings recall that he wanted to be a missionary pilot, but he only remembers the desire to be a missionary to Nigeria. All the way through high school he had a passion for geography and cultures and wanted to learn more about others. While in college, his visions of mission work in Nigeria was broadened to consider Africa as a whole. This led to two semesters abroad: one in Ghana, Africa, and the second in Malawi. These two semesters also refocused his vision for mission involvement on issues of poverty and the poor.

After pursuing a Master degree in International Development, he pursued his calling to mission with two years of mission service in Ethiopia, Africa. While there, Than was asked to teach theology and development, but felt ill-equipped and discerned the need for formal theological training. He returned to the United States to do just that, leading to his current studies in the PhD program at Fuller Theological Seminary.

When Than and I met, our shared interest in missions was one of the topics that initially drew us together. As we dreamed about our future together, serving overseas was something that was always part of our plans and conversations.

And here we are. Time to take the next faithful step. In the nearly 5 years we’ve been married we’ve been taking lots of little steps. And now it’s time to take some bigger steps of obedience to be faithful to the call God has given us.