the weblog of Alan Knox

Thinking About Culture – Ethiopia Report 3

Posted by on Aug 4, 2010 in discipleship, personal, service | 2 comments

Thinking About Culture – Ethiopia Report 3

While thinking about our recent trip to Ethiopia, I have to write a post about culture. But, hopefully, this post will help you understand more than the food and living conditions. Instead, I hope it helps you think about your own culture better.

You see, there are good things and bad things about any human culture. There are good aspects of American culture and there are bad aspects of American culture. This is true of Ethiopian culture as well.

I learned alot from the Ethiopians and their culture. I learned about service. I learned about hospitality. I learned about being content working within the roles of your society. I learned about the importance of greetings and welcoming people.

While we were in Ethiopia (Alaba, especially), we were served as if we were kings. While this was often disconcerting, it was also necessary to give them opportunities to serve. We also looked for opportunities to serve them, but we had to allow them to serve us as well. This service often took the form of hospitality, with various people offering us food, coffee, or a place to sleep.

(By the way, Ethiopian food is outstanding! We enjoyed (almost) everything that we ate and drank. One warning… watch out for the long green peppers, especially if they still have the seeds in them. Oh, and the buna (coffee) with salt and butter takes some getting used to.)

I’m glad that most of the songs that we heard were original Ethiopian tunes, and not American tunes with Amharic words. We even met a guy who wrote and recorded music for the church. Of course, this also meant that we didn’t understand the songs that the people were singing. But, I was glad that the Alaba church was creating their own music.

Greetings are very important to the people of Ethiopia. When someone comes into a room, he or she will greet every person that is already there. Often, the people who are in the room will shift seating positions to give the newcomer a place to sit. This creates a very welcoming and accepting atmosphere.

Men and women have specific roles in Ethiopian culture. And, they are content with their roles. Do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am not saying that they accept their roles begrudgingly. I’m saying that they find contentment and joy in working within those roles. The woman who prepared our meals for a week was one of the most joyful people that I saw while in Ethiopia. Work was not a burden, but a blessing.

However, culturally, the people do not confront one another. If there is a problem, they will tend to ignore the problem, even in relationships. Thus, we heard (though did not witness) about sin that was not confronted. This was sin that was obvious to the people involved, and affected the life and ministry of the church involved. (It was not in our area of Ethiopia.)

So, in all cultures, including Ethiopian culture, there are good things and there are bad things. In any culture, the church must learn to operate within the culture, but not to allow the culture to dictate a way of life for believers. Unfortunately, I think the American church lives more according to “the American way” than to the wisdom of God.

I hope this trip to Ethiopia helps me to think about my own culture, and how I live within this culture but do not conform to this culture. I am a citizen of the kingdom of God and must live as his child.

In the video below, you’ll see (kinda) many of the people who gathered on our last night in Alaba. There was a big party and feast. Unfortunately, part of the video is very dark. There was only one light bulb for the whole room. They seem to like things darker than we do.

Get together / party on our last night in Alaba, Ethiopia from Alan Knox on Vimeo.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-4-2010


    Great post! It is interesting to see the cultural issues that the church must face outside of America. I talked about American culture and the church in my post yesterday: Being True to God and Culture. The principle I was driving at was the same you are here: “In any culture, the church must learn to operate within the culture, but not to allow the culture to dictate a way of life for believers.” Obviously, as you point out there will be different issues based on the specific culture, but the overarching principle remains the same! Thanks Alan!


  2. 8-6-2010

    I would add that we don’t have to go far from our own front doors to encounter very different cultures. (Or in many cases, we only have to encounter our spouse and their family, lol).

    Multicultural encounters of course are nothing new. The Bible, Old and New Testaments both, are full of references to the aliens, sojourners, nations, Gentiles living among Israel, and the constant call to reach out to them with the good news of God’s kingdom, while at the same time clearly remaining as holy, called-out ones.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!