Most of our time in Ethiopia was spent working with the church in Alaba, Ethiopia. Primarily, we were working with churches that were part of the Kale Heywet (Word of Life) denomination. However, we found out that various denominations (as well as individual churches) often work closely together in Alaba. In fact, the Ethiopians were surprised at the amount of division between churches in America.
The picture at the right shows a map of Alaba Special Wereda (sorta like a county). The pink area in the lower part of the map is the city of Kulito, where we stayed. All of the crosses represent churches, both in the city of Kulito and in the villages areas of Alaba.
The churches that we worked with had a group of leaders called Evangelists. These people are primarily educated and given responsibility over several churches in the Alaba area. Also, each Evangelist would have a specific ministry responsibility, such as men’s ministry, women’s ministry, youth programs, etc. Most (perhaps all?) of the Evangelists were paid full-time by the church. (The picture at the left shows Danny with some of the Evangelists. I’ll explain why this is one of my favorite pics at the bottom of this post.)
Each church would also have a designated person that they called Pastor. (However, the main church in Alaba did not have a Pastor. One of the Evangelists carried out this role as well.) This person would be given responsibility for the spiritual leadership of each church. (The church could be small or large, with a building or no building, city or rural.)
Each church would also recognize or appoint Elders. These are older men in the congregation who have both organizational and spiritual leadership roles in the church. They are all volunteers and are not paid for their service to the church. A group of older women would oversee various women’s ministries and prayer ministries. (I don’t know if there was a specific title for this group of women.)
The picture at the left shows two of the Elders. The man on the left is Gurach. He started the Alaba church in his home in the 60’s and faced much persecution because of it. They had land taken away from them several times, and often had to take people out to the villages to meet. The man on the right is Desta, the head elder.
In their culture, it was very important for the churches to have a building, although all churches did not have buildings. The ones that did were recognized as an official organization by their local government (which means that they have certain rights). We talked with them alot about their buildings and the significance. It was great that we could disagree about some things (such as buildings) and yet continue to work together.
They did understand the difficulty of trying to build fellowship and community with such a large group of people. As I understand it, over 2000 people are part of the main church in Alaba. They try to make up for this by having Zonal Churches – small groups of 20 or so that meet weekly in homes. However, they continue to struggle with problems due to their large size. I think the fact that Danny and I were able to come to Ethiopia and minister with them even though we are part of a small church helped dispel some myths about smaller churches.
Not all the churches in Alaba are huge like the main church. In fact, we also spent time in the Zobechame Church in Alaba. This is a small group of believers who rent a house in Alaba. Because the Ethiopian sit so closely together, they are able to pack many more people in this house than we would in America. But, because of the similarities with our church back home, Danny and I both felt more comfortable in this setting than in the main church. (The video below shows some of the singing during the Zobechame Church meeting.)
Church meetings in Alaba, Ethiopia were very similar to traditional western church meetings. The main difference would be the length of the meeting. The meetings start early in theÂ morning (as early as 7:00 a.m.) with prayer and singing. During this time, different people will lead in prayer and singing, and the congregation will also pray to themselves at times.
At some point, one or two people will lead in additional singing. Sometimes this will be accompanied by a choir. The main church in Alaba has several choirs. Usually, this time of singing is accompanied by a keyboard or guitar (or perhaps no instruments).
After about an hour of singing, someone will preach. While we were there, we preached. I also learned that normally different people will preach. The evangelists may preach – or the pastor – or one of the elders – or even a member of the church who is not an official leader. I like this change to the traditional western style of only one person preaching week after week. Since we are always the ones preaching, I do not know what style of preaching/teaching they use.
As in Western churches, the people sit in rows and participate by singing together and praying (usually to themselves). Only the person designated to speak on that day is allowed to speak. They do have some tongues speaking, but it is usually more like praying or singing and done quietly.
There was one youth meeting on a Sunday afternoon where I made the teenagers sit in a circle instead of in rows. I know it was easier for the teach that way. I also encouraged them to participate by asking them questions. However, they were not always quick to respond, since they’re not accustomed to taking part in their church meetings. Plus, I told them, we are family, and this is the way we sit with our families. (It just so happened that our church in America was getting ready to meet at exactly the same time, and they would also be sitting in a circle like this.)
(Now… as to why I like the picture of Danny with the Evangelists above. In Ethiopian culture, people will often share chairs or sofas. If there’s not a place to sit, a person will walk up between two people and start sitting. The two people will shift to give the new person room to sit between them. That’s exactly what Danny did just before this picture was taken, and the two men on either side of him shifted. So, the three of them are actually sitting on two chairs.)
The video below shows a short clip of singing in the Zobechame Church in Alaba.