Trees of Glory
Even though we were with a large group most of whom were Ethiopian, the small children seemed to gravitate to white faces. As I walked to the cowshed to see how Simret’s herd had grown, I found myself with one small child hanging off each hand. The smallest one was probably four or so. Either rejected by their family or orphaned at a young age we don’t know, but we do know that here they will be cared for , loved, fed and educated. And they will hear the Gospel, in an area of the country spiritually struggling under the dark grip of animism and witchcraft.
Our church bible study group had decided to do this trip several weeks ago. The organisation, planning and execution of the day became an education in how Ethiopians handle what Western developed countries regard as a most precious commodity – time. You may be one of those that makes, wastes, redeems, buys and accurately measures time. Woe betide you if you’re five minutes late for a meeting! Here, they’re all in close agreement with Albert Einstein – time is relative, and it’s definitely not a commodity. The date had changed several times, largely revolving around the fact that Chris and I had expressed a strong desire to tag along but had several Sundays out due to both holiday and the imminent arrival of a new grandchild. Eventually November 30th was settled on. Initially we had been told we would leave at 7am (on a Sunday – yuk) but the week before the trip Tariku told everyone to arrive at 6am. Double yuk! We quizzed him about this, and out of earshot of any Ethiopians he whispered to us that if he said we were leaving at 7am no-one would arrive until 7:30 – 8:00. Aha! A ruse to get people here on time. Would it work? No, it didn’t. Despite a text received a couple of days before imploring everyone to “please be punctual”.
Dutifully and with our Western cultural addiction to time management we arrived at the church at 6:30. We were the first, apart from the bus driver and conductor. The person who had sent the text arrived at 7:10 with a clipboard and lists that he began ticking off. Somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00 we set off, but not everyone was there. The church is on a dual carriageway. We drove south to the big roundabout, round we went and back up the other side until we were opposite the church – where we stopped. “Does anyone want water?” we were asked. I suddenly thought it might be necessary to carry a safe supply of water, so along with several others from the bus we wandered off into the back streets and found a small shop (think mud walls, tin roof and lots of tarpaulin) that had a supply of new bottles of water. it took a while for the people in the shop to find someone who knew what to charge us (25p per litre bottle) and we headed back to the bus. Past some of our fellow travellers who had decided to sit down for breakfast in a cafe and eat deep fried something-or-others and bananas. Eventually clutching their something-or-others they made it back to the bus, where a couple of women who had arrived at church an hour or so after we should have departed expecting us to be there still had crossed the dual carriageway and joined us. The bus now full we departed well after 8:30. A few seconds later “stop! stop!” echoed out from the back. The bus lurched to a halt. The two people we hadn’t noticed weren’t on the bus were sprinting down the road from the breakfast cafe. We found two seats for them and this time off we genuinely went.
While on the bus we were handed a programme for the day. Three consecutive items were listed as: “10am – welcome”; “10:15am Thanksgiving prayer by Dr Phil” (first I’d heard of it), then “10am - Talk - What is Mission?” So 10am comes both before and after 10:15am. I told you time was relative. Manage time like this and you can fit much more into a day… By the end of the day several things on the programme hadn’t happened and several things not on it had.
The “Trees of Glory” orphanage and school is 70 km north of Addis Ababa near the town of Duber. It’s 27 acres of land with several buildings built by the Japanese donated by the Ethiopian government to an enterprising and vivacious woman called Simret. 5 years ago she felt God was leading her to give up her well paid government job in Addis Ababa in order to start an orphanage. This she did, and it has grown and developed so that now she has 40 or so resident orphans 4 years old and up, and a school that attracts 180 students during the week –all of whom attend either because they have only one parent , or they cannot afford school fees, or both. They all eat at the school 3 days a week. Many have special needs, and there are eight deaf children for whom Simret signs, and one albino. On the land around she has started to get self-sufficient. Her five cows have become a herd of thirty, there are many chickens, goats and donkeys. The cow and chicken dung is used to produce biogas to help with the cooking. Maize and apple trees are growing.
As it was Sunday the children were taking part in a church service which we joined and they sang to us. We had a traditional Ethiopian lunch, and a full coffee ceremony, starting with roasting green beans. We talked, prayed and looked around the site. Chris was fascinated by the reception classrooms – tiny, but used by 45 children per class. Trees of Glory is testimony to what one highly motivated Christian can do for many needy people. Simret’s impact on the children and the area around is immense. It was a moving, uplifting and challenging visit.
I should tell you about the bus. it was probably older than me, and I wondered if any bits were original. Tatty dirty cloth curtains were draped from steel rods (one of which had broken and been welded) all down both sides. Labels from tyres and bottles had been stuck over the holes in the ceiling presumably to keep out the rain. The interior was cramped – our knees pressed onto the metal frame of the seat in front. The seat cushions had been bolted on, and in front of our faces were two protuberant bolts clearly designed to take out our eyes in the event of sudden braking. The aisle was so narrow most people had to go down it sideways. Chris and I aren’t big – but we only just fitted. And people travel for hours and hours on such transport. 70 km was enough for us!
We had been told we would be back by 4pm. We boarded the bus about 4pm and arrived home around 7pm. Shortly after we waved goodbye to the kids, one old chap sitting in front of us and across the aisle (so almost on our laps) started playing Ethiopian worship songs on his phone (loudly) and singing along (loudly). Big grin on his aged face, no-one minded. After all, he had been a church pastor for decades, right through the communist days and several times had nearly lost his life. Chris and I smiled at each other – he can do what he likes; we don’t mind. then we tried to learn how to doze off on a lurching bus whilst sitting bolt upright with metal pressing on our knees. Tricky.
“What!” Chris exclaimed from the kitchen, “the milk has fish in it!” We’d taken the risk buying a couple of 500 ml bags of “fresh” milk and clearly something was amiss. Curious, I went into the kitchen. The milk was in the jug, and the plastic bag was on the worktop. See what you think – click the picture. Chris misread “ash” for “fish”. However, milk with 0.8% ash in it is only slightly less disturbing than 0.8% fish. At least they’re honest.