On my last visit to Ethiopia, the Academic Vice Dean (basically the head man under the bishop) told me they have great difficulty obtaining theological books for themselves and their students.
Levi and I made a serious effort to bring them books. But our boxing job was pretty lame. (Two boxes, actually.) Would they make the two-leg transnational trip?
The Ethiopians can’t even obtain these theological books online. Ethiopia is treated differently by the Amazons of the world, as the government doesn’t always play ball with the global corporations. (You don’t see Starbucks or McDonalds either, although Levi has scored several bottles of Coke so far.)
Protestant and Catholic books can be obtained, but not Orthodox theological books. They particularly want books by Russian mystical theologians, and more particularly a group of scholars who fled Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution and set up shop in Paris for a generation before landing in St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary 45 minutes north of New York City. Some of you may know the names: Schmemann, Meyendorff, Lossky, Florovsky, and others.
I told them I would work on it.
Some of you reading this donated a couple of books yourselves, as I put out a little cattle call on the issue. That amounted to around 10 or 12 books. Then I got a very generous donation of brand new books from Fr. Chad Hatfield, President of St. Vlad’s seminary, after a few email exchanges and our local priest, Fr. Seth, hauling the box back to Chattanooga for me from New York over Christmas.
For a final grand touch, someone donated to our little church a couple years ago a complete hardback edition of the Early Church Fathers. 37 volumes. It’s a beautiful set. They were hardly being cracked in our humble “library,” and the powers that be granted permission to donate them to the 3,000 hungry theological students in Ethiopia.
I looked into shipping them via UPS or the post office. Cheapest quote I got was $1200. The only realistic way to get these books to our friends was to make them part of our luggage. So Levi and I, who may have just as likely taken only a carry-on, added two large suitcases each totaling about 130 pounds of books.
I prayed throughout the trip to Ethiopia that the books would make it, or perhaps some kind soul would look beyond boring luggage throwing and have compassion on my boxes. And in fact, that’s what happened. Both had been taped up extensively after we had dropped them off. The boxes arrived, not in swell shape, but with the contents intact.