How to Eat an Elephant

foodstoreboricha1The scale of the human need in Ethopia is enormous. One wonders how such massive problems as hunger and HIV infection can be tackled and resolved. And yet today we saw how some progress is being made by taking it one bite at a time.

We visited a food distribution centre and met some people who are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in our world. Initially the food distribution project in Boricha was designed to help 5000 people for four months. But the numbers in desperate need were so large that it has been changed to provide food for 10,000 people for two months.

The government official who accompanied us today did not permit us to take any photos of these hungry people. But the images will live forever in my mind. We talked to several of these hungry people. One woman who missed a meeting where people in need were being registered turned up for food today but was not able to receive any. Officials promised that her name and her family would be included for the next distribution. In the meantime she and her family will try to survive on the roots of false banana plants. Her body and her face bore all the marks of hunger and malnutrition. Another woman, because of the irregularities of the registration system, only received food for 3 people even though there are 6 people in her family. I asked her how she will manage for the next month. She said that she would just have to share it out in dryresevoir1small amounts as far as it would go. There was a note of despair on her voice and a look of hopelessness on het face.

It seems that her food needs could be met at a cost of around four pounds a month (per person). Christian Aid is working hard along with funding from the Irish government, but it is clear that the cuts in Irish Aid will mean that some of these very vulnerable people will simply starve. It is an awful tragedy.

One of the main causes of this crisis is drought. Yet again this year the rains have not come, and for the people of this region climate change is not just an interesting scientific phenomenon; it is a matter of life and death. No rain means no crops and no food.

Christian Aid and Tearfund are taking bites of the elephant. For that we give thanks. But it is a big animal and there is much that still needs to be done.

But that still leaves around 30,000 people in the region who are starving.

Awassa Church

awassa3It was a two and a half hour service that I had to step out of in order to speak to William Crawley on Sunday Sequence this morning. By the time William called, we were already going for 90 minutes. I was sorry that the telephone connection to Belfast was not good, but I was able to rejoin the congregation for the final hour. Maybe William will allow me a chance to share my experiences of Ethiopia when I return home.


This congregation in Awassa in southern Ethiopia is a congregation of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church, a denomination of five million members, which partners with Christian Aid. Tabor congregation was only planted in 1996 but already has 4000 members and is carrying on outreach work in a number of surrounding areas.

As you can see from the pictures, they have already outgrown their building and are overflowing into the area around the building. They have built the first phase of a new sanctuary, but have had to halt the project until they raise more funds.

Continue reading “Awassa Church”

Irish Aid

We met with two officials from the Irish Embassy in Addis Ababa today and had a very good meeting. Jennifer and Laura hold important positions here and they welcomed us very warmly. It was a lively conversation and we were able to discuss how the Irish Government supports both Christian Aid and Tearfund in their work here in Ethiopia. They were interested to hear of the concerns that Irish Presbyterians have in the area of development and support for the poorest people in our world. 

Ireland has been a generous and consistent donor to the developing world in recent years and was one of the first European countries to commit to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income for development by 2012. However over the past year it has cut its overseas aid budget by a huge amount (195 million Euros) and both Christian Aid and Tearfund have had their funding from Irish Aid cut by 20%. Laura and Jennifer acknowledged that this was a serious and significant reduction but both expressed the hope that once the overall economic climate began to improve the funding would begin to rise again.

We recognised that if the issue of poverty is going to be addressed in the world then it will require co-operation and a big concerted effort on the part of governments, relief agencies and concerned people, including Christian churches. But significant advances can be made. As Francis Schaeffer reminded us many years ago, there can be “substantial healing” of the wounds caused by sin in our world. We appreciate the wisdom and the ability of women like Jennifer and Laura as, with them, we try to work for the healing of some of those wounds here in Ethiopia.

Have bag … will travel

My Tearfund driver, Teddy, knowing Ethiopian culture better than me, decided that telephoning the airport to inquire about my lost bag was a waste of time. So he headed off to the airport himself and returned to the hotel to tell me that he had located my lost bag. Both of us went back to the airport, negotiated the security, and Teddy led to the office where my bag was being stored. As I was exiting the airport feeling somewhat elated, a woman called after me. “Sir”, she cried, “where did you find your bag?” We got into conversation and I discovered that she and her 5998French husband and two children had travelled to Addis Ababa from Paris via Amsterdam four days previously, but their baggage with essential medication for their children had gone missing and they were in despair. I sympathised with them, and as the conversation developed discovered that the French husband was a season ticket holder for the French rugby club, Stade Francais. My affection and concern for him and his family suddenly increased several notches as we quickly compared the fortunes of Ulster Rugby and the aristocrats of French rugby during last season. For a moment the lost bags were forgotten. Eventually I bade them a sombre farewell with an encouraging “Alllez les Bleus” as I exited the airport.


Today, as I rendezvoused with my Christian Aid colleagues in a hotel in Addis Ababa, who did I see but my friendly and forlorn French family. We greeted each other like long lost friends and my Stade Francais friend beamed, “I got my bags today!”. Here’s the interesting part. His bags had gone from Paris to Amsterdam to Nairobi to, wait for it, Sao Paulo, and then eventually to Addis Ababa. We shrugged our shoulders at the inefficiencies and creativity of KLM’s baggage handling operation, but rejoiced that he and his bags had been re-united. We wished each other well for the up-coming Heineken Cup season and said goodbye. I was so relieved that I had this second encounter, and thought that while we had been united in a common loss this past week, normal hostilities will be renewed come the autumn. C’mon Ulster!

Blind man has vision

This morning Patricia and I stood in a cabbage field on the slopes of a montain in the highlands of Ethiopia. What made it so special was not the stunning scenery nor the crop of cabbbages, but the fact that it was the work of Chali and his wife. Chali lost his sight in a freak accident in 1981. patriciaphotoWith the help of Tearfund’s partner, the Meserete Kristos Church Integrated Development Programme, Chali was able to borrow some seed from a seed bank funded by Tearfund. In spite of his severe disability, he has developed his garden into a larger area and now grows cabbages, beetroot, onions and peppers. This has been possible through the advice and support of the MKCIDP facilitators who taught Chali how to increase his yield through using compost and helping him secure seed from the seed bank. His annual income has increased from twenty pounds a year to four hundred pounds a year through growing and selling his vegetables, so that he has been able to build a new house for himself, his wife and his three children.

When I asked him about his plans for the future, he said that he had a vision to help others see how their lives can be transformed through participating in such a programme. Chali has already inspired a group of local men to develop their land in a similar way. This remarkably humble Christian man is an outstanding witness to the effectiveness of the development programmes supported by Tearfund.

What struck me as I stood on his cabbage field was that even though Chali has lost his physical sight, he keeps talking about the vision which God has given him. It seemed to me that Jesus’ prophecy in Luke 4 was being fulfilled in front of me: “the poor have the gospel preached to them and the blind receive their sight”.