Urban Mission-Ethiopian style

Simon Haile
Simon Haile

Simon Haile is the head of Kale Heywet Church’s department which encourages congregations to become more missional, its Church and Community Mobilisation for Development department (CCMD). The Kale Heywet Church was originally established in southern Ethiopia in the early 1920s following the pioneering missionary work of the former Sudan Interior Mission (SIM). The church now has a membership of over 6 million people and more than 6,000 congregations.

From the moment we met, it was clear that Simon understood the issues involved in moving churches from maintenance to mission, and especially in helping them understand their calling to be salt and light in their local community.

Simon and his colleagues have developed a well-organised programme that begins with raising the awareness of the need for mission within a local congregation, and then proceeds to envision both the leaders and members of a local church so that they can work to transform their local community. All of this is underpinned by a commitment to a few basic biblical concepts such as Christ’s call to add flavour to a tasteless society by being salt, and to challenge and drive back the darkness of society by being light. Simon also talked about “yeast theology” whereby the church, although small in number, is a catalyst for transformation.

Of the twenty-eight Kale Heywet congregations in Addis Ababa, nine are committed to the programme developed by CCMD. The particular challenge is to move the people from a mindset of dependency to one where they embrace the challenge of making a difference through their own efforts depending on the grace and strength of Christ.

In the local congregation of Mekinessa, they have taken up the challenge, and altogether 100 people in their neighbourhood have been organised into self-help groups (SHG). The facilitators of each group began by encouraging the members to save a small amount of money each week (about 5 pence). Some members were unsure that they could even make this contribution, but they were shown that by cutting down on their coffee consumption by one cup per day they could save that amount.

One woman told us that her husband was unemployed and she had no job, and they were drinking coffee four times a day. But by cutting down on her coffee, she had a little money to save , was able to join the SHG, and was eventually able to borrow from her SHG’s fund. With that loan she bought some goods which she sold in the local market for a small profit. Soon the message got around that if you join the SHG you won’t be poor nor will you have to use the loansharks who chargeĀ  huge interest rates.

Some have borrowed money to buy the raw materials for handcrafts, while others have sold charcoal and vegetables, and some have baked and sold injeera, the local bread.

Thhuy making injeera with her SHG facilitator

We visited in the home of Thhuy, a member of one of the SHGs, who borrowed some money so that she would have the stove for baking injeera. She is now able to earn some money for her family through this small enterprise and with the support of her SHG.

In this way, the Mekinessa church believe that they are modeling Christ in their corporate life, and it has created “street cred” for their work and mission. Local people have told them, “Your God is the real God” because of their willingness to demonstrate a compassion for people who have struggled to survive as they have battled against poverty. They believe that by showing the love of Christ, not only will the lives of individuals be changed, but the whole community will improve. Their vision is to see the whole community transformed.

Some time ago I asked the question “What is a missional church?” I believe that Simon Haile and his colleagues in KHC have an understanding of what it means for them to be missional in their situation. There is scope here for a longer conversation so that we in Ireland have a clearer picture of what it means for us to be missional. Simon and his colleagues have given us some clues as to how we might proceed.