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  • Writer's pictureSamantha McCandless

Goederts in Ethiopia Week 1: Christmas with the Goederts

We really enjoyed spending the Christmas season at home before heading back to Ethiopia on December 29th. Martha’s family hosted us for Christmas and received the same lovely, always energetic welcome from that Missouri group. They created small miracles amidst moving home, even taking in a young PhD student we brought from UNMC who had ‘no home’ for the holidays. Thanks family for always accommodating!

Two weeks preceding Christmas we hosted parties to bring together people we think ‘will become friends’. The first party was a bit challenging, required ‘fasting foods’ and the introduction of four priests from three different countries representing two faith traditions. It all worked out well, and the conversation was inspiring.


Abba (Father) Tekle Haymanot (in the yellow hat) is one of the Ethiopian Orthodox priests from Bahir Dar (our Ethiopian home), who was called to Omaha to lead a new congregation. In his short time here, he has managed to ‘awe’ Omahan’s with his full robes, shawls, hat and crosses, blessing the merchants of the Old Market.

A few days after this party he was dedicating a new church, one that was gifted to this Omaha Ethiopian community. Who gets gifted a church for Christmas? Apparently the congregation has been praying and expecting just this. As his mentor (in the blue hat), the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Bahir Dar Region applied for and received a Visa in advance of the news. He came to bless the church. Although all of the priests have roots in Africa, you might be able to identify the Austrian Priest, who is a medical anthropologist, working with HIV in Zimbabwe and now department head at Creighton University. He will be a major support for Abba and was so entertained by how hungry the Ethiopians were the minute the sun set!

Father Michael Mukasa is at the end of the table. He is an Ugandan who spent a decade working in Omaha getting his graduate degree and preparing for a return to Uganda. He has dozens of children (not literally) whom he educates and pays tuition for their degrees including beyond secondary school. He ‘farms’ when he is not teaching at the seminary in Kampala, or counseling the many youth who come his way. You might remember that his niece Caroline stayed with us as she started her undergraduate degree at Creighton. Father Michael has linked us with partnerships for Engineers Without Borders for rainwater harvesting, water storage, and sanitation projects in rural regions of Uganda. He is salt and light, and if we could get a hardy variety of the Missouri sweet corn to grow in Uganda, we would be his favorites!


The Engineers Without Borders group was the second party that we hosted. Martha is probably the only member of EWB who is a midwife. She joined several years ago as we traveled with this remarkable group of professionals to Uganda for the rainwater harvesting systems installation on a medical clinic and a school. During that time Martha taught ultrasound skills with a machine that was then donated by EWB to the clinic. This amazing team comes in all ages, levels of experience and disciplines, and each has a heart for caring and serving the least served populations in our world. We witnessed a miracle when our friends Dwight and Mary Hanson were present. They are a constant support to these young engineers who are on fire for making an impact by serving with their engineering abilities. Having the Hansons there, and seeing the group together made me think that the ‘old ones’ are sometimes the mortar that hold it all together. The youth are definitely the heavy-lifters in this group: water, environmental, structural, Army Corps of Engineers, computer engineering; they are gifted beyond belief! Three of the engineers just had new babies!


The last party was a family celebration with my three sons, getting together for the first time in a couple of years. My sister from Iowa, along with her daughter and two children were able to join our group. It was a delight to get to know the little ones and reconnect with our grandbaby from Michigan. We witnessed the ‘bromance’ continuing (at a more mature level?) between Mead, James and Jacob.


To use a phrase, often heard by our parents, “happy to see them come, and happy to see them leave”, as we had a marathon to prepare for our Ethiopian departure. Between readying the house, packing, saying good-bye to friends, and trying to maximize the supplies we knew we would need in Ethiopia, we were fairly frayed! We looked a bit like the exhausted pair on our couch, James and Maxon, bonding with a nap.

We had several last-minute requests, used laptops, supplies, cloth, transporting goods, and more. We always scramble before international flights to make sure that every bag weighs 50 pounds exactly (engineering)! We prioritized the night before departure, meeting with Dr. Coleen Stice and a young surgical resident, Dr. Yang, concerning a mid-January planning trip for surgical outreach to Ethiopia. It is a huge gift to Bahir Dar University to have these experts come and partner with in-country health care providers, teaching and working elbow to elbow with updates and encouragement for the work in Ethiopia. And during this mildly ‘frantic’ time, the phone kept ringing, wanting us to take packages here and there, until 2:30 in the morning (yes, Martha was still up)! Two hours before our departure, we were standing in the airport coffee line, greeting our Ethiopian cashier in Amharic. She said to us after taking the order, “Abba has some packages for you to take!” Are you laughing yet? Probably just the Peace Corps alumni and missionaries! Once we remember shipping a car part to Togo for Laura (Peace Corps daughter) who did not, of course, have a car! We put on our check list for the next venture a note to call the Ethiopians a week before departure!

We arrived on the 29th of December, just in time to defend our international dance competition title. Some of you may recall that last New Years Eve Martha and I won a dance competition at a pretty fancy resort. We attended the celebration this year, taking guests, and originally were intent on defending our title. This year was a Zumba competition and we decided it was time to pass our legacy to another. We could see the competition was stiff. John Travolta appeared from nowhere (One Acre Fund we found out, originally from Ohio, really!). We also saw that the 2nd place winners from 2018 were there, and our invited guests were not the type to add applause to our twirls and fancy moves to influence judges. So we went home, happy to be on day three, or at least 9 hours ahead of Omaha and knowing that it was midnight somewhere!

We feel very fortunate, and will keep up the communication. More next time…rats, cockroaches, and Martha’s mild reaction.

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