MARSHALL—Nine students from an African Christian history class at East Texas Baptist University class recently spent four weeks in Ethiopia, where they worshipped, studied and ministered alongside African believers.
During their first two weeks in Addis Ababa, they lived in the homes of host families and attended classes three hours a day at Bright Hope Theological College.
“Every day was a new cultural experience,” said ETBU religion major Krystin Jurries of Burleson. “By staying with Ethiopian families, we were able to see the way they live daily, ride public transit, and how they minister in their context.”
Jurries enjoyed learning about specific prayer needs of African Christians from her Ethiopian host family, and she marveled at the “surreal” experience of studying the history of Christianity in Africa alongside Africans.
“It was incredible to study side-by-side with Ethiopians—truly an engaging and humbling time learning of Africans who devoted their lives to the gospel, spreading Christianity across their continent and shaping our faith even to this day,” she said.
Classes at Bright Hope Theological College covered the rise and fall of Christianity in North Africa and the emergence of contemporary sub-Saharan African Christianity as one of the most important developments in world Christianity, said Elijah Brown, assistant professor of religion.
“The American and Ethiopian students also had times for daily prayer sessions focusing on different African countries and joint class presentations over a key African Christian leader, in addition to lectures and a final exam,” Brown said.
Jonathan Manon, a sophomore religion student from Henderson, observed: “I went with an open mind because I did not know what to expect. Everything I experienced grew me in a whole new way.”
Struggling with poverty
One unexpected opportunity to minister came during the students’ time in Addis Ababa. “Almost all students struggle with how we as Christians ought to respond to the endemic poverty found in Ethiopia,” Brown said. “One of the most moving moments of the trip was when several students began inviting street children, who happened to be passing by, to join our group.”
The students purchased food and shoes for some of the children. Then the ETBU group invited the children to a meal the next day, prepared especially for them. A dozen street children attended the evening celebration, where they ate, played games and heard about the love of Jesus.
“Some of these street children asked for a Bible and for an opportunity to attend church. This meal was unplanned prior to the trip and was a direct outgrowth of our students’ desire to respond and live like Christ in the midst of the challenging situation found in Addis Ababa,” Brown noted.
During their third week in Ethiopia, the ETBU team went to Bichena, a predominantly Muslim community of 30,000 people, where only about 1 percent are evangelical Christians.
The team partnered with Miskana Yesu (Praise Jesus) Church to host a weeklong Kids Club that about 250 children attended. The Kids Club included singing, a Bible study, crafts, recreation and health education, all led by ETBU students.
“The most rewarding experience for me was getting to love on the little ones and share with them the love that Christ has showed me,” Manon said. “The children of Ethiopia are super precious.”
Students responded well to the rugged conditions in Binchena, Brown reported.
“Though it was challenging to spend a week in an environment where there was no shower and where several students experienced a 36-hour virus, in the end, it was a blessing to partner with a local church in sharing the love of Jesus to several hundred children,” he said.
During their last week in Ethiopia, students visited three sites of historical importance— the Blue Niles Waterfall, near the source of the Nile River; a complex at Gonder that included six castles; and the ancient city of Lalibela, where they saw 11 rock-hewn churches built in the 12th century.
“Spiritually, a number of our students reflected that this trip confirmed God’s call on their life to serve in missions,” Brown said. “Many, including myself, also reflected on how our prayer lives had been challenged and reinvigorated by the commitment to prayer expressed by many Ethiopian Christians.
“For example, on each of the three Sundays we were present, members of the local church would arrive at the church an hour before the service began to spend time in joint prayer for the church and the community.”