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  • Writer's pictureSamantha McCandless

Goederts in Ethiopia Week 3: Our Second Christmas

This is the second year we have had the joy of celebrating Christmas twice. The first is December 25 and the second is the Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas on January 7. The Ethiopian Orthodox take Christmas very seriously. They prepare by fasting for Advent six weeks. Fasting includes no animal products and no non-fasting foods or drink until 3:00 in the afternoon. A few days before Christmas there are a lot of animals like these unsuspecting oxen being herded to market. Families join in buying one ox, butchering it early Christmas day and splitting evenly the meat.

This may be a matter of economics but also may be that few have refrigeration in their homes. The entire day of Christmas Eve is a fasting day from the night before until Christmas morning so the animals are herded to the church grounds where early on Christmas Day (3 am) ceremonial and actual sacrificing of the animals on the church grounds starts after prayers. Participants then take their portions home to prepare the meal for a morning feast. Others don’t bother going to the church and simply split the parts between families right along the side of the road.

We have been reuniting with friends, neighbors and colleagues for the last couple of weeks. We attended a Catholic service that was English speaking last year. Last year, quite a number of Sudanese students from the university attended that service because English was their second language (or third or fourth). Most of the ones we adopted last year returned to Sudan after graduation, but one leader of the group will not complete his courses until next year. Despite having few English language speakers in the congregation, we had a reunion with our church friends with tea and cake after service, ‘sweet’! Ethiopian greetings are always welcoming, their singing tells of the dearness of their faith and the community support they offer each other. See a short segment at . I do have to admit that Martha filmed this sideways, her idea of scanning the crowd. 😊

An electrical engineering faculty was especially helpful to us that Sunday, guiding us as we all walked home together. Around the corner of our neighborhood we were greeted by 30 Sudanese students having just attended a ‘Great Commission’ young adult group in a nearby home. We hope we are ‘young’ enough to be included, as this will also be in English with the multinational group attending (German, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Canadian, American). This past year, Bahir Dar University admitted 40 South Sudanese students under scholarship to attend Bahir Dar University while their country rebuilds from 30 years of civil war. We are missing last year’s group but when we saw the new group, including one leader from last year, there was a ground swell of greetings “Come to Christmas service with us!”. We have found welcoming church homes, literally, adding to the missionary group time of singing and rotating homes and messages. It always holds true, wherever two or more gather, we have our church community.

The main road nearest us is called church road and the next major road is Catholic road. It is called Catholic road because a large Catholic school occupies several acres. It houses a small number of nuns, a couple of priests and has a small church in the back. Another mile north of the Catholic church is an Ethiopian Orthodox church. The scene on Sunday morning tells the story of faith in Ethiopia. The streets are full of women and men, little children and the elders in their white ‘nutella’ and umbrellas, headed to worship.

Last year I shared a story (Week 21) about “Jack” our angel dog that protected us when we needed protection and guided us when we needed guiding. He connected me to others needing my help in a way that is other-worldly. We saw “Jack” the other day across the street and tried to get his attention. He eventually acknowledged our call but was less than impressed with our return. We expected a warm reunion resulting in him following us everywhere but instead he acted as if he hadn’t a care in the world, and none for us! He looks healthier and happier than any of the street dogs, so we suspect that he has moved on to another ‘firinge’ (Anglo). We thought too, maybe we no longer need protection and that he has adopted ones who do! Or, perhaps, 10 months is too long to leave anyone we love! Martha says so!

One of our favorite Ethiopian families is Melesse’s and Turungu’s. They invited us for lunch last Sunday to welcome us back. Melesse’s wife is the beautiful Turungu (which means grapefruit!) and they have two-year-old, Nathaniel. Melesse (which means eternal) has many jobs including driving a bajaj, being a guard for an English couple, running a business making and delivering 1000 injera each

day to restaurants and trying to be a father. He is one of the kindest human beings I have known and his wife is even more so. They invited us to their home for a Christmas colorful and impressive Ethiopian meal. See the traditional presentation with fasting foods and injera facilitating a tasty way to eat with your hands and stay on your side of the tray! Turungu makes the shiro sauce less spicy than the locals enjoy, for our benefit; they think of everything. Melesse and Turungu are the same ages as our own children and Nathaniel is the same age as Emilia, so it gives us some feeling of ‘home’. We feel as if we have family on both sides of the pond. We are fortunate to have the inspiration of those who are in the tough business of raising young kids. We do remember!

We had a lovely morning coffee ceremony early Christmas morning, just part of the ritual and routine of welcoming guests. The Ethiopian people are beautiful, their food is beautiful, their customs and traditions are beautiful, and their spirit is beautiful. Theirs is a life of lived experience and faith; we just watch the whole drama like a constant Christmas pageant!

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