Generally revered by many of the people, Zenawi was credited with enabling the nation to weather drought and war and economic downturn to become a fairly stable republic with a growing economy. Poverty, still starkly evident, was not so pervasive as I had seen 10 years ago. Roads and infrastructure were clearly improved.
I also know that God is working in amazing ways in Ethiopia. Students are boldly going, at risk of their lives, to share the gospel where it has not been welcome. Churches are growing and spreading—and cooperating. Leaders have sensed that women are key to reaching families, neighborhoods and workplaces.
A few women, brought together by Martha Hilawe of GCM, began to pray–for 40 days, then 30 days, then 21 days. Participation multiplied. The vision and interest spread. The intial plan to reach hundreds of women expanded to equip thousands.
Women: Key to Transformation
So for the 8,000 women I was with last week, the primary topic was how God could use them to bring transformation to their country. The Rise and Shine National Women’s Conference was sponsored by the Great Commission Ministry (GCM) and many churches. Coming from churches throughout the country to Addis Ababa for five days of inspirational speakers, practical training and lively worship, the women were tireless and enthusiastic.
As one of the “inspirational” speakers, I was surely the one who was inspired.
An amazing worship group opened and closed the conference. Twenty minutes of non-stop singing, dancing, rhythm, with props and percussions. I was almost as exhausted as they were as they concluded.
The beautiful women, quite distinct in features and coloring from other parts of Africa, sang, swayed and danced to the frequent worship interludes. They frequently, in unison, bent over and swung their arms back and forth in shib sheba—dancing as David danced—with palms open to the Lord’s plans for them. From that they moved to clapping, then hands raised above their heads, swaying side to side.
The distinctive Ethiopian trill repeatedly punctuated the worship and the messages, signifying enthusiastic agreement.
Amens and Hallelujahs
As a speaker, I appreciated the encouraging Amens and Hallelujahs! I was awed as I surveyed the crowds spreading in three directions, protected from the rainy season by the church’s tin roof, with sides open to the elements. They squeezed together on hard benches, breaking only for lunch and waiting in long lines for the few toilets.
I loved sharing with them about God’s intentions in making them women: in His image, as ezers—strong warrior helpers called to serve alongside their brothers in blessed alliance. The Lord had me change my next two messages. We talked about giving all to Him—and seeing what He will do with it. And we ended with an emphasis on grace.
My friend Elizabeth Schenkel spoke three times about God using these women to make significant differences where they lived as they ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit. Erick Schenkel enabled us to soar with the eagles and run in the Olympics with his devotional.
Inspiration transitioned to application. Sessions on leadership, family and the use of Magdalena, a moving version of the Jesus Film told by Mary Magdalene, for sharing the love of Christ helped to equip them to return home with effective ministry.
Probably the most powerful session, though, addressed issues concerning women in Ethiopia. A young professional woman presented staggering statistics concerning forced child marriage, abuse, abductions and female circumcision. Then she made her point vividly by showing an horrific video of a young girl undergoing female genital cutting. I can still hear her screams.
Conference leaders felt that, although many women in the audience would have experienced that procedure, most had no idea how widespread it still is. Hopefully the shocking video will cause many to rise up against such practices.
GCM director Damtew Kifelew gave the closing challenge, exhorting them to pray, to plant thousands of churches–so that there was a church in walking distance of every person. To reach children and students and families. To transform Ethiopia with the love of God.
My purpose was to open their eyes to their value in the sight of God. I hope I did that to some degree. But truly my eyes were opened to a passion and oneness in the Lord that touched me deeply. I was reminded once again of my privilege—of the comfort I live in, of the relative ease of almost every aspect of my life. And of the incredible privilege to be friends with such women.
I hope I encouraged them as they walk with God. I know they challenged and encouraged me.
What about you? Who challenges the comfort of your life?
C2012 Judy Douglass