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.
Apparently, even though it was only 7 am or so, I made it just in time because they ended the service about ten minutes later (they start around 4 am). Immediately, the leaders surrounded me and asked questions. It was all very friendly, but they kept asking, “What do you like?” They asked this again and again, because no one really spoke English and I had no idea how to answer. Finally, my taxi driver, who barely could translate, stepped inside and explained they wanted to know why I liked their church, and why I wanted to visit it of all the large and beautiful ones available (this one was a bit ramshackled.) I told them I believed the Holy Spirit is especially present in small churches, because the struggle there is much harder than in large, established churches. (I was probably preaching to myself).
They took me on a 200 yard walk down the hill to a building under construction, maybe 25 percent complete with foundation and beams only.
This is their new church to be. They asked me for a donation. I gave them 800 birr ($40) and I may as well have been Bill Gates giving $1 million. They were thrilled. I was given a prayer of special blessing by the priest and we exchanged information.
I asked to take pictures inside the sanctuary, so we went back in. Just as I was leaving I asked if I could buy one of those church prayer sticks. They said they could not sell it but would ask the church authorities.
So two men and I hopped in the cab, drove a mile to another church on a hill, walked up the hill and through a courtyard full of people (who are always stunned by the farange) and stepped into a meeting room with about 10 clergy and leaders. I was presented to this panel and formally introduced into what became an amazing (and rather comical) great and holy council deciding what to do with this American’s request for a holy walking stick. They asked questions, my name, my father’s name and grandfather’s name, and eventually I was told that the stick was a gift. I took pictures, we exchanged info, and I left.
It was no small feat to get that prayer stick through customs and shipped as checked luggage back to the U.S. Now I use it several times a week while standing during our services in Chattanooga, and even while I’m leading the choir. It really is quite helpful.
For more info and to support this effort, see here.