After four months in the country

Four months ago, Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, became the new home for me, my husband and our then 10-month-old baby boy. We’ve spent our first months here in the city learning the Oromo language, after which the plan is to move to the countryside. Thankfully, we’ve been feeling this is the right place for us to be, giving thanks to God for His providence and goodness.

After four months of building new routines here, our everyday life has now suddenly been shaken by the corona outbreak. As a response to the country’s first reported cases, Ethiopia was quick to close all primary and secondary schools, banning public gatherings. Consequently, our language school, too, has been closed for the time being. At the moment, we are mostly staying at home to wait and see, what will happen next. Now we have more time to be together, revise Oromo, pray and read the Bible.

Before the incident, however, we were feeling pretty settled. Importantly, our efforts to learn the language had been steadily paying off, allowing us to have small conversations with some Oromo speakers. It is truly enjoyable to be able to connect with some local people, being welcomed with a big smile and maybe a surprised giggle as well. At the same time, I must admit that not speaking Amharic has been somewhat frustrating for me, for it’s the language almost all people in the city speak while the Oromo speakers are a minority.

We’ve become pretty settled in many other ways, too. We’ve gotten to know the places where to buy groceries, a church where to attend the Sunday worship, a clinic where to bring our son when he’s ill, and the swimming pools and tennis courts to get some exercise done. We have some friends to spend time with, and our home feels like a place of rest. Further, driving a car in the city doesn’t feel like a major adventure anymore like it did in the beginning, giving us the freedom to move around. Finally, though some people need time to get used to the local food, injera, we’ve enjoyed it right from the beginning.

Through our local contacts, we’ve been able to get a glimpse of some of the everyday joys and struggles commonly encountered in this country. I know it’s a cliché, but this is a people-centered culture, and the locals enjoy interacting with each other wherever they are. This is something I’ve been eager to learn from the people, a Nordic person I am.

On the other hand, to earn one’s daily bread here is often quite a struggle as most jobs don’t pay too well and there’s a lot of joblessness, too. It’s heart breaking to see mothers with small children beg on the streets, or families spending their days on the grass between the lanes. Moreover, the sick don’t necessarily have access to high-quality care, and private schools with a good level of teaching are often very expensive.

How to live in this context as a materially privileged foreigner in a way that glorifies the Lord is something that has been puzzling me and my husband a lot. How absurd it is that in our country of origin buying a gift to a family member or a friend tends to be a challenge because people already have everything, while here people often can’t even afford the things they really need. At the same time, I must remind myself of the fact that I’m here in the first place because material reality isn’t all there is. We all are also spiritual creatures, and in front of Jesus, we’re called to confess our sins and spiritual poverty, thirsting for His grace and righteousness. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” as well as “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt. 5: 3&6) My prayer is that God would use us to bring forth this message here in Ethiopia and wherever we go.

We as Finns have really been enjoying the Christian fellowship with our international and Ethiopian colleagues. It’s always a big source of encouragement to experience how Jesus binds together His followers from different nations. His Spirit makes us one family in Christ.

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