St Frumentius

To an old cheesemaker it sounds like the perfect name for a boutique Blue.

I am on my way to Ethiopia at the invitation of the Bishop of the Horn of Africa to participate in celebrations surrounding the opening of the St Frumentius’ Anglican Bible College in the South West of Ethiopia.

After a two day stop-over in Johannesburg; to catch up with friends, speak at a dinner and visit an Anglican Aid project in the infamous inner suburb of Hillbrow, it’s on to Addis Ababa and down to Gambella on the Ethiopia/South Sudan border. 

This isolated region of Africa is home to a half million refugees. Many are South Sudanese who have flooded across the border from South Sudan to flee from violence, famine and dangers of which I am a total stranger. 

As I had been a total stranger regarding St Frumentius. But the name Frumentius and the country of Ethiopia are bound together in a wonderful and fascinating history. 

Frumentius, boy slave

I anticipate my journey to be more straight forward than that of the young Frumentius. When he was a small boy, his uncle took him and his young brother, Edesius, on a voyage from their home in the city of Tyre (in the north of today’s Lebanon) to Ethiopia. 

As they sailed down the Red Sea, pirates attacked the ship and the crew and passengers were all slaughtered, except the two small boys who were spared. They were taken as slaves to the King of Axum (Ethiopia today).

As the boys grew, they won the favour and trust of the king and were appointed to positions of responsibility in the king’s court (echoes of Joseph, Moses and even Daniel). Before the king’s death he granted the young men their freedom.

However, the widowed queen prevailed upon them to remain in her court and educate the young heir, Ezana, to the throne. The queen also gave them significant authority in the administration of the affairs of the kingdom. 

Frumentius and Edesius agreed to the queen’s requests and used their freedom and influence to spread Christianity throughout the country. They were helped by many Christian merchants trading throughout the land, whom they encouraged to share their faith openly.

Frumentius, bold evangelism

When Prince Ezana, came of age and assumed responsibility for his kingdom, Edesius returned to Tyre to be ordained. However, Frumentius, eager for the conversion of Ethiopia, travelled as far as Alexandria where he requested Athanasius, the Patriarch of Alexandria to send missionaries back to Ethiopia. 

Working on the ancient premise that he who has the vision gets the gig, Athanasius consecrated Frumentius the Bishop of Axum and sent him back to with a mission team. 

Frumentius baptised King Ezana who encouraged him to spread the gospel throughout the kingdom. All of this took place in the early to mid fourth century. In about 356AD Emperor Constantius 2nd wrote to King Ezana in an attempt to have Frumentius removed as bishop. 

Frumentius was faithful to the Athanasian position on The Trinity whereas Emperor Constantius held to the Arian heresy that denied the integrity of The Trinity. King Ezana stood his ground and Frumentius continued to give leadership to the expansion of Christianity in Ethiopia.

Who said Church History was boring? Piracy, slavery, freedom, intrigue, bravery and the faithful spread of the gospel as the Lord of the Harvest sends out his labourers and gathers his people to himself. 

Frumentius, Bible College

Gospel history continues to unfold. On Tuesday 24th November 2015 the St Frumentius’ Anglican College in Gambella, Ethiopia was officially opened.

I arrived at Gambella from Addis on a commercial flight full of NGO’s and Government officials. Two massive cargo jets adorned the airstrip with the words World Food Programme emblazoned across the fuselage. UNHCR is at breaking point to register and feed the tide of desperate humanity that has flooded in.

We were greeted by Bishop Grant LeMarquand, a Canadian, who, with his wife Dr Wendy, have served at Gambella for the last four years. They were guests of Anglican Aid and Mothers’ Union for the Sydney Diocesan Synod in October 2014. 

The college is the LeMarquands’ vision. Its aim is to provide leadership for the  almost 100 growing congregations mainly made up of different South Sudanese tribes as people have flooded across the border to escape civil war and tribal conflict.

The college opened with 11 full time and 18 part time students under the leadership of Dr Johann and Mrs Louise Vanderbijl. Johann, a graduate of the George Whitefield College (GWC) in Cape Town, is one of the inaugural students of (GWC) under the principalship of Dr Broughton Knox.

What a joy it has been to share with the students of the college, many local pastors and about 200 church members who came for the opening and for their Area Assembly (aka Synod). I am leaving Gambella with memories to last a lifetime. 

If I take up cheesemaking again, perhaps as a hobby, I will call my signature Blue St Frumentius. 

It will be strong, bitey and aromatic - a constant reminder that the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15) is spreading across this region of Africa as God gathers in his precious people through the teaching of his true and life giving Word.



Feature photo: Ulterior Epicure