[ ‘SHARE’ May-Jun 2013 – Seeing It with Our Eyes ] FOCUS ~ AN EXPOSURE TRIP
Writer> Sandy LAM, Education and Promotion Officer
In January this year, thirteen of us (two staff with eleven team members) spent twelve days in Ethiopia. During this trip, fresh-faced and friendly children welcomed us, the women’s situations shocked us, family struggles for survival moved us, farmers’ abundant harvest delighted us, and the churches’ loving ministry filled our hearts with joy… All these were beyond our understanding and expectations.
Jessica’s sharing leads us to ponder: ‘This trip has made me reconsider why we go on exposure trips. Is it for something to boast about, or to gain travelling experience, or just to be there and have an easy holiday? I thank God for making me think from the start so that the trip would not be taken in vain.’
Yes, the 12-day-trip took us out of our comfort zone, but bit by bit changed our outlook.
Beyond our imagination…
Like many people in Hong Kong, we thought of Ethiopia as impoverished and undeveloped. When friends and families heard of our trip, they worried that we might suffer hunger amidst harsh conditions.
But when we arrived we saw a different scene. Wendy tells us: ‘I was wrong to think that Ethiopia was lagging behind; I was surprised to see that the country has a modern airport and new cars driving on wide streets.’
Similarly Ah Wai observes: ‘There might still be starvation in Ethiopia but on the whole it has moved from “relief” to “development”… The locals commented on the capital’s speedy development in recent years and Ethiopia appears to be undergoing a “China-like” development…’
We were impressed by the airport, streets, buildings and motorcars, but how about the everyday life of the people?
Poor people may seem isolated and helpless and need outside help to improve their livelihood, but we who think we are ‘rich’ are also very ‘poor’.
One day, as we walked up a hill to a rural church at the project point for an hour, Ah Ting said self-mockingly: ‘None of my knowledge was useful in the situation. I even needed a child to help me walk down a slope, and I was breathless after a short while. To the locals I must be the “backward” one.’
On our way up, Milly walked with a 10-year old boy. During that half-hour she learnt that although material life was meagre, their internal resources, wealth and strength was superior to ours. ‘In all situations, all lives are equal and that is the same with the relationship between donors and beneficiaries. The poor do not need things which you might see as lacking but then everyone has equal value and status.’
The villagers’ self-sufficiency and simple lifestyle impressed us city-dwellers.
Beyond our souls…
We witnessed how a local church acts as God’s channel in the cities and villages, serving with love to help improve lives. ‘I thank God for the work done by Addis Ababa Guenet Church (AAGC, CEDAR’s partner). It does not simply preach the gospel but actually cares for the poor outside the church building, giving them practical assistance and services. I saw a community who walks with the poor in Christ-like love and care,’ says Celia.
The church actively responds to social issues and practises mercy and justice. When we visited a programme on stopping female genital mutilation (FGM) we heard tales of suffering from the church and women that shocked us.
Ah Wai says thoughtfully: ‘FGM is obviously oppressive to women and girls, causing them grave physical and psychological damage. The church organises volunteer teams and small groups for young girls to oppose female circumcision, combining bible teaching to change social values (or the society’s unreasonable system/traditions). The church is not only concerned with religious faith but also [heavenly] values that the gospel represents. The church is bold in objecting to the society’s existing inhumane traditions.’
We will always remember the testimonies, lives and faces of the church, families, villagers, women and children we met.
This exposure trip not only helped us understand more about Ethiopia’s development and needs, but also challenged our faith as we heard impoverished families speak and saw how they continued to rely on God in their difficulties.
Viola reflected deeply on the matter: ‘The family we visited wrestled between daily living and their faith but they were serious and persevering believers. Their child drew a picture entitled “Jesus is Lord” – a very familiar statement and yet so powerful and difficult to grasp. I searched my heart: What would I do if I were in their situation? Would I choose security in life or my faith? Do I really know Whom I believe? How real is my confession in the Lord? Who is rich and who is poor?’
‘None of the people we visited cried; on the contrary they spoke in the power of their faith. Suffering remains but their faith is also very real, as if life could not be lived without God. I may sit in an air-conditioned room contemplating the theology of suffering, but these people dance with God in their daily suffering, supported by hope – and they themselves live out hope.’ Ah Wai shares with us.
Through real life accounts God speaks to us, changes our mentality and renews our lives.
After our return…
We left Ethiopia with precious memories which have brought much reflection into our lives.
Some members have resolved to re-examine their lifestyles to reduce unnecessary consumption; some have joined CEDAR’s Carbon Fast 2013 and are learning to live an environmentally friendly low-carbon life.
As Agnes says, ‘Living a stable life and enjoying religious freedom in Hong Kong makes me think of poverty as a faraway matter. But through this trip God has taught me that He has not forgotten the world and that His blessings are global. He will raise us up to work together and learn to love others as we love ourselves, and through the ministry of caring for society His mighty kingdom will be revealed, that people may practise integral mission.’
Ethiopia may be distant and unfamiliar, but at least we have taken the first step to bridge the chasm.