Sometimes you just have to marvel at God’s blessing in difficult circumstances.
For the best part of a decade, the evangelical Kale Heywet Church in Ethiopia, under the banner Heading North, has served people in the Amhara region north of the capital – training church leaders, teaching farming techniques to improve yield and reverse erosion, providing clean water, supporting schools and challenging the local vengeance-based culture with one of forgiveness.
“The peace and reconciliation work they do is fantastic, because they’re based in a region that is known for its violence – vengeance killings are normal,” says Anglican Aid project officer Hannah Grant.
Heading North arranges reconciliation training for entire communities, and also supports the appointment of mediators to help decrease the rates of revenge killing. Statistics from the work are extraordinary: previously there would be 20 vengeance killings every year; now there is only one.
What is more, in an area where Bible-believing Christians make up less than 0.2 per cent of the population, they comprise 50 per cent of those appointed by the community as local peacemakers.
“People ask, ‘Why do you love us?’, because it’s so counter cultural and almost confusing that Christians should show great love to them, when Christians haven’t been shown that love by others,” Ms Grant says. “And the answer to that is, it’s because of Jesus. They want to show Jesus’ love and teach Jesus’ love and that’s how everything changes.
“Previously, the name of Jesus was spat at – no one wanted to associate with Christians. But now people have seen that Christians love their neighbours and want to care for their community, so they are now accepted and respected. It’s such a transformation.
“People also hear about Jesus as the ultimate example of reconciliation. They learn biblical examples of love and forgiveness, which is so important in a culture like this.”
In addition to the reconciliation work, the area where the Anglican Aid-supported project is located has seen a 95 per cent drop in waterborne diseases (84 per cent of the district now has access to clean water), while new farming techniques and the provision of seedlings for farmers has resulted in up to 10 times the volume of crops for harvest. In the past year, training has also been provided to 350 church leaders, and 500 students have been given school supplies.
“The reason this is such a good development model is because it’s really big on community participation and ownership, which basically means it’s not a Western organisation like Anglican Aid coming in to provide aid,” Ms Grant explains. “Heading North goes in and asks the community, ‘What do you need most?’
“There was one community where they went in and even though the school had only 30 books, when the community met and talked about what was needed, they decided to build a fence. That might seem strange, but they decided that, if a fence was built, the local oxen couldn’t walk in and destroy the mud buildings, so they wouldn’t have to keep paying to fix them... and they could also grow crops inside the fence.
“So, what has happened is that they have been able to use the money they have saved on repairs to buy their library resources... whereas we might go in and think, ‘Let’s just buy books’. It really shows that the community knows best.”
Ms Grant particularly notes God’s protection over the whole project. Despite locust swarms, rebel attacks, the burning of churches and Heading North’s need to care for many thousands of displaced people as well as the locals, “God has worked miracles in protection and provision... In human terms it wouldn’t have been possible to keep going but God is sustaining and blessing the ministry in a really hard environment.”
To support the work of Kale Heywet Church in Ethiopia, visit the Anglican Aid website and search for “Heading North”.