Soaring with the Turks (pre-day 1/2 – Dean in Ethiopia)


During our flight tonight, Levi could have been getting his first experience with Ethiopia. I’ve flown Ethiopian airlines several times, once or twice overseas. Great airline. Great people. Great experience.

Our last chance for an egg mcmuffin and mclatte before Turkish and Ethiopian cuisine.

But tonight we are on Turkish Airlines. It’s Turks for Levi, and our assessment for this cultural experience will have to come in a later post. 

It’s been a stormy road with the Turks over the centuries. Our great Orthodox Byzantine empire fell after 1000 years of Roman greatness when the Ottoman Turks sacked Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453.

Martyrs at the fall of Byzantium

We have a lot of saints who are honored for being martyrs, for being tortured and impaled for the cause of Christ. Perhaps the greatest cathedral ever built, Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, was taken over and turned into a mosque. 

Hagia Sophia

Today, things aren’t so swell with the Turks either. They used to be a solid NATO ally, but their leader has been dancing too much lately with the Russians. Then an attempted coup happened there about a year ago and President Erdogan blamed it on U.S. intelligence operatives. He purged the place of Western intelligence, and American did something bad back in return. I can’t remember what it was, but now Turkey doesn’t honor U.S. passports. 

Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan

Too bad, because Levi and I have an eight hour layover in Istanbul on the way back (it’s one of the reasons we booked this particular flight and accepted the idea of a Turkish cultural experience). We had hoped to visit the Hagia Sophia, which has now been turned into a museum, some of the Christian icons recovered from being painted over centuries ago, and available for tourists to visit. 

However … just a few weeks ago there was some news about Trump and Erdogan having some nice nice talk. I’ve been watching the Turkish and U.S. state department sites like a hawk, hoping something thaws for us just in time. 

If nothing else, we’ll learn more about Turks. 

The time is now (pre-day 1 – Dean in Ethiopia)

One day away. Sort of.

Yes, tomorrow Levi and I fly out of Dulles airport in D.C. toward Ethiopia. We leave Monday night but don’t arrive until early Wednesday morning. So it’s pre-day one for leaving but still three days from actually arriving. Whatever. I’ll try to get you a blog every day regardless. Maybe I’ll start using fractions.

It’s only a 20 hour flight. But when you add in the time zones, it takes over 48 hours by the clock. The good news is, it will take about one hour by the clock on the way back. I wonder if you just flew that direction non-stop, could you defy time and never age? 

Anyway, regarding times and dates: the Ethiopian Church is on the old calendar. They celebrated Christmas just a week ago. Our Orthodox Church in Chattanooga celebrated Theophany (sometimes called Epiphany—the celebration of Jesus’s baptism by John the Forerunner) just last week. But The Ethiopians celebrate it 13 days later, which is this coming Friday. They call it Timkat, and it’s their biggest celebration of the year for the entire country. Pics definitely coming your way.


Ethiopians have a different year count as well. They say it’s the year 2010. And they keep daily hours the way they did in the Bible. The “first hour” is around 7 am, when you might first wake up and care about hours. The third hour is closer to noon. 

So, the long and short of all this is that we’re entering into a bit of a time warp, for all sorts of reasons. And when time stops, good things usually happen. Pray for us.


Angels I met in Ethiopia (pre-day 2 – Dean in Ethiopia)

First encounter with angels: Tadu and Tsega

My last trip to Ethiopia, several “angels” crossed my path.

Firstly, on my way to Axum, the Northern ancient capital (where the Ark of the Covenant is preserved), I was going by myself, with no translator or guide, with no place booked to stay that night.

A lot of people there do speak English, but I’d say about 90 percent of them speak broken English. The ones who don’t have such a thick accent you can only decipher about half of it. It’s not easy.

So while I was in the airport admiring some paintings on the wall, I heard someone talking like they lived in Chattanooga. Not just English. Not just an American. Not even African-American. A homie.

Tsega, the perfect Atlanta-dialect English speaker

I turned to see Tadu and Tsega, two women traveling as tourists to Axum from North America. Tadu has lived in Toronto for several years, with a thick Ethiopian accent. Her niece, Tsega, has lived in Atlanta most of her life. That was the oh-so-recognizable accent.

The three of us chatted for a few minutes. By the time we landed in Axum, they offered to help me find a taxi and drive together from the Airport into Axum. There were a bunch of huckster cab drivers/hotel reps/potential tour guides types pitching us as we approached. I would have had a tough time navigating all those very pesky but hard to understand accents. Tadu and Tsega got me to a very nice hotel in Axum that cost about $25 bucks a night and would cost $150 a night in America.

My chance to get a glimpse of Patriarch Matthias (in black turban).

Because I had befriended them, I learned that the next day, the Patriarch of Ethiopia himself was in town from Addis Ababa. They are both devout Orthodox Christians, and they donned their white headcoverings early the next morning for the services. I hopped into a bus with them and we went to the liturgy feast. Without these two angels, I would not have known about this golden opportunity.

Second angel: Climbing up the cliffs of Debra Damo Monastery was one thing. I barely made it, but I did. I figured coming back down was much easier. I was wrong.

The cliffs one must climb to reach Debra Damo monastery. On the way down, I got into a lot of trouble. 

About halfway down, I knew I was in trouble. But a young man down below scurried up the rope (no safety rope tied to him like I had), and proceeded to put me on his shoulders and slowly lower me down the cliff to the ground. In my mind, he risked his life for me. (In his mind, he probably assisted another dumb American.) I gave this angel a $5 tip, which is like $100 there. I would have given him five times that much if he’d asked.

(Below is by far the most popular video I’ve ever posted on Ethiopia.)

Third angel: I was hanging out in a coffee shop. The guy across from me had this cool little note pad. Soft leather cover, large lines inside. Just what I needed. I told him I really liked it, and asked where I could get one.

“Here, you have this one,” he immediately responded. “I haven’t written in it yet.”

I flat out refused. But he would not take no for an answer. At some point, you have to accept the kindness.

I have been using this notebook a lot for very important projects, and I’m taking it with me on Trip #3. I guess the Lord blesses items that are given with such a pure heart.

Fourth angel: Upon returning from Axum to Addis Ababa, I was once again trying to figure out the complexities of a non-fraudulent taxi ride at a decent rate to my next destination.  I had a little chit chat with a white Australian guy at the baggage claim area. He’s worked in Ethiopia for three years, helping Eritrean refugees (a troubled country just north). He’s married to a Yemeni woman. As we approached the exits, he offered for me to skip a cab and join them in their car to the big city.

Heck yeah, I replied. He and his wife were wonderfully kind. I needed to stop by the ATM and they made that happen. Then, instead of going straight to my hotel, they suggested we have lunch together at a nearby Arabic food restaurant (the Yemen connection). So I did. And the food was great.

When it was over, they demanded to pay for my lunch. What? Wow.

But these angels threw me for a loop. His wife is Muslim. And this Australian converted to Islam. They were married in Ethiopia (some kind of compromise for the parents) and they love the country. He said the Ethiopians are incredibly compassionate to the refugees and they have a wonderful peacemakers. This was a paradigm stretcher for me, but I am very grateful for it.

For more info and to support this effort, see here.

I didn’t get pics of my Muslim angels, but here’s some Yemeni food.

Ethiopians are beautiful people (pre-day 4 – Dean in Ethiopia)

Today’s blog post will focus on the average Ethiopian.

In terms of appearance:
– They are beautiful people. Truly striking.
– They are generally tall and thin, with sharp features.
– They are a bit lighter skinned, more resembling their Egyptian neighbors.
– They have large families
– They wear western clothing (actually Chinese made), although in church they are more traditional. Old people in the country may sometimes wear traditional garb—something you are likely to see in Western reporting, because what’s so interesting about a guy in jeans and a polo shirt?
Continue reading “Ethiopians are beautiful people (pre-day 4 – Dean in Ethiopia)”

Life without technology (pre-day 5 – Dean in Ethiopia)

Ethiopians believe they have been doing civilization without electricity since Adam and Eve. (I took this pic of Ethiopian Eden on a church wall.)

One goal for this trip next week—and I don’t know if I’ll pull it off—is to spend a half a day or so at a town in Ethiopia that has no electricity and no cell phone coverage, and never has had it. In the small and large cities, power and Western amenities are generally available. But I’m told there are many of these unplugged towns, easy to find and access. We’ll see. 

Continue reading “Life without technology (pre-day 5 – Dean in Ethiopia)”

The Great Council to approve my cane (pre-day 6 – Dean in Ethiopia)

Some moments in Ethiopia can be surreal.

Such was my experience the day I decided to visit a small church and laid my eyes on a cool walking stick-like cane the men use to help stay standing for hours during the services.

They were of course stunned that a “farange” (white man) even walked in to their humble church. The building only held 30 people or so. About 100 were outside. Unfortunately I could not capture the service on video (didn’t want to be disrespectful having not met anyone yet), but it was by far my best worship experience. No microphones, and the singing was loud, powerful, and quite melodic. They invited me up right near the priests next to the action. Continue reading “The Great Council to approve my cane (pre-day 6 – Dean in Ethiopia)”

Bare feet in church (pre-day 7 – Dean in Ethiopia)

Ethiopian saints depicted in bare feet.

In Ethiopia, you don’t wear shoes in church. Period.

You take them off just outside the building. Why? I haven’t had that actual discussion yet, but I assume it is part of the package of Old Testament regulations Ethiopians still practice, which includes eating no shellfish and pork.

The Israelites took off their shoes for the same reason they didn’t eat animals “with the pads on their feet.” They would eat cows and goats and other hoofed creatures, because the “dust of the ground” which had been cursed by God in Genesis 3 didn’t come in to direct contact with those animals. They were separated from the cursed ground by their hooves. Continue reading “Bare feet in church (pre-day 7 – Dean in Ethiopia)”

Miracle food (pre-day 8 – Dean in Ethiopia)

In a travel-oriented blog, people like to talk about food. 

The food in Ethiopia is interesting. It’s okay. I wouldn’t call it great. I don’t go to Ethiopia for the food. 

If I was going somewhere for the food, I’d head back to Italy, where I’ve already been twice. The food there is beyond compare. And yet, as Jesus reminds us, “there is more to life than food.” And so my money and effort has been focused on Ethiopia, where things are happening spiritually that are more important than food.  Continue reading “Miracle food (pre-day 8 – Dean in Ethiopia)”