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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.