Our executive director, Susanne Wilson, and outreach and communications coordinator, Jazzy Schwolert, are in Ethiopia for a few weeks, traveling to water projects and meeting with in-country partners. This is Jazzy's first trip to Ethiopia, and on our travel website, she is sending blog posts that capture her experience. We hope you will join us at w2ttrips.wordpress.com as we follow her days.
Our next group of travellers, led by our Executive Director Susanne Wilson, has arrived safely in Ethiopia and has begun their journey to visit some of our wells.
To keep up with their trip as well as other trips in the future, check our new travel site: www.w2ttrips.wordpress.com. You can also subscribe to get email updates when we post something new. Just click on the "follow" button on the bottom right-hand corner of the screen and submit your email. Now you'll get the latest right in your inbox.
On the new blog we will post stories, pictures, and updates for each of our trips. We hope you'll join us in following along on these adventures!
Water to Thrive
Outreach and Communications Coordinator
The morning is filled with sharing the worship service at the first and one of the largest Mekane Yesus congregations in Ethiopia, founded in the early 1950’s. In a beautiful, simple sanctuary that seats about 300, the service started sharply at 10:00 am, and the pews were packed to overflowing by 10:30. The service concluded about noon.
Mekane Yesus Choir
One of the joys of the morning was hearing the congregation’s choir sing 4 songs. Beautiful! We also witnessed a baptism and got to hear a young, enthusiastic intern from the seminary preach the sermon.
Water to Thrive has had a working relationship with Mekane Yesus – Development and Social Services Commission (DASSC) since 2012. This arm of the church does community engagement and support and we have implemented over 100 water projects with this partner. After the service, we met with national leadership of the DASSC as well as representatives of the 3 synod DASSC organizations with whom Water to Thrive is currently working. We continue our discussion over a nice lunch nearby.
During lunch, the skies opened up with heavy rain (and a little hail too!)…..it put a little damper on some last minute shopping before heading to the airport but everyone managed to get everything taken care of.
As you read this, the majority of the group will be winging its way back to Texas…..the Moellers and Kolanders will be heading to Tanzania for another week of adventure.
As we draw a close to this week, it is important to acknowledge those who have helped make this possible….
- The members of Triumphant Love who so generously supported the Celebrating Wells of Love campaign to honor our Pastors and build more wells
- Pastor Norb Firnhaber who authored our wonderful devotions each day
- The staff and leadership of our partners at Relief Society of Tigray and Mekane Yesus-DASSC
- And of course Johannes and Alem with Diversity Tours
Blessings to all who helped make the journey through Ethiopia such a memorable experience!
We said goodbye to our driver team at the Mekele airport to board Ethiopian Air flight for Addis……they have been terrific. Leaving behind some awesome experiences and memories in Tigray. It is a nice 737, so a short flight of about 45 minutes…..same as Austin to Dallas. By noon, we had checked into our hotel and were ready for a leisurely afternoon.
Alem and Pastor Steve sampling the “dark” beer tower
Not far from our hotel is the Beer Garden Inn….a combo German-owned hotel and brew house. We walked over to have lunch……and a few beers!
Enjoying Lunch at Beer Garden Inn
Oh yes…..we had lunch too…..the menu included Bratwurst, Wienerschnitzel, spätzle, Jagerschnitzel……not exactly your typical Ethiopia fare…….enjoyed by all.
This afternoon, we were supposed to visit one of our deep bore hole projects, Gadamba, located on the outskirts of Addis. But the traffic had other plans for us. It was a Saturday afternoon gridlock in Addis, and after sitting in traffic for nearly two hours and not even out of the city yet, we decided to abandon our attempt. Everyone had a free afternoon for naps, walking, and shopping.
The group ready to try the Ethiopian specialties
For the evening, we are entertained at the 2000 Habasha Cultural Restaurant……a great sampling of Ethiopian food and dance from all regions of the country.
Pastor George with St. George, the patron saint of Ethiopia, on both the icon and the bottle
Oh yes, St. George made a surprise visit to our evening!
Finally, we were entertained by some awesomely talented dancers. Then it was off to the hotel for a good night’s sleep before our last day.
After a pretty intense day of walking and driving yesterday visiting our new projects……today is a more leisurely trip from Gheralta Lodge to Mekele over great paved roads.
* You can now also view each blog post on our new travel site located here.
Today we journey to the field to see firsthand the result of Triumphant Love’s campaign over the last 6 months. We set out to visit and bless 5 of the 6 wells funded by TLLC honoring the pastoral leadership of our congregation. Two of the wells are completely finished (Afkarma & Denba Kiremti) and 3 projects (Adi Egam, Hartafa, and Netsa) are in various stages of completion. All 5 of the projects are hand dug wells (HDW). This was actually a nice happenstance because it allowed the group to see various stages of the construction process.
At each of the project sites, the Pastors and Bishop engaged the community members and workers in prayer and blessed the well for the health and prosperity of the community. Each of the wells dedicated today honored Pastors Dan (Denba Kiremti), George (Afkarma), Norb (Adi Egam) and Steve (Hartafa) and Bishop Ray (Netsa) for their pastoral leadership of our congregation and synod.
Celebrating Wells of Love Travel Group
After a pretty challenging walk of about one hour, the group arrived at the first site, Afkarma, honoring Pastor George Reswick. The picture above is the whole group, with our REST support team. Special thanks to our drivers, who keep us safe and comfortable on our journey.
Pastor George collecting water at Afkarma
After prayers and blessing of the well, Pastor George joined the community in pumping and collecting water from Afkarma.
Coffee Ceremony at Afkarma
Our beloved coffee ceremony is never far away…..a great way to keep our energy up!
Construction of Adi Egam
Our next stop was Adi Egam, honoring Pastor Norb Firnhaber. It was at the earliest stage, with the work crew still working to line the well with stone and masonry.
The Plaque Honoring Pastor Norb
The plaque shown above will be affixed to the well head of Adi Egam upon completion. Pastor Steve conducted the dedication and blessing of the well.
Construction of Hartafa
Our next stop on our walking journey was Hartafa, honoring Pastor Steve Troisi. A bit further along in the construction, all of the below ground work had been completed and the above ground preparatory cement work had been finished as well.
Pastor Steve and Weredekal celebrating Dedication of Hartafa
Pastor Steve shared prayers and the blessing of the well with the workers and community members.
Construction of Netsa
As you can see from the picture above, Netsa, honoring Bishop Ray Tiemann, is almost complete. The inside cement work had just been completed, awaiting the placement of the pump head. The beautiful protective stone wall surrounding the project was almost finished.
Bishop Ray with the Plaque for Netsa
Bishop Ray shared prayers and the blessing of the well with the workers and community members….as well as a nice collection of cattle and sheep who also were present!
Pastor Dan collecting water at Denba Kiremti
Our final stop for the day was Denba Kiremti, honoring Pastor Dan Kolander. Before the prayers and blessing of the well, Pastor Dan shared a special message for the members of Triumphant Love, which we will share with the congregation upon our return. Pastor Dan then joined the community in pumping and collecting water from Denba Kremti.
The community members of Denba Kiremti with our travel group
The community members joined in our group photo at Denba Kiremti. Of course, the children love to have their picture taken and then see it on the camera display!
We were a bunch of tired travelers when we returned to Gheratla Lodge to enjoy a delicious St. George's cold one! But it was an exhilarating and motivating day to see projects of the Wells of Love campaign come to life and to share in the hospitality and thankfulness of communities benefiting from God’s great blessing of clean water.
* You can now also view each blog post on our new travel site located here.
Today we make our way south from Axum to the area around Hawzien, where we will stay overnight at the beautiful Gerhalta Lodge. On the way, we will visit two project sites funded by Triumphant Love (TLLC) in 2008, Ketin Serdi and Kontebatib, both hand dug wells (HDW). Also, time permitting, we plan to visit current a project site for 2016, Kuhale, a spring development system nearing completion.
It is about a four hour drive to Hawzien, on good paved road that winds its way through the Adwa Mountains near Adigrat. The road has many switchback turns as it works its way up and down the mountainside, producing many beautiful vistas down into the valley below.
Weredekal with his Father (103 years young)
As we enter Adigrat, we have a nice surprise. Our main contact at REST is Weredekal, who is with us on all the visits to the project sites. As it turns out, many of Weredekal’s family live in Adigrat. We stopped by to meet his father, 103, who greets us with a hearty “Good morning, how are you?” in perfect English. Weredekal is one of 18 of his children! An amazing man.
Time for a break
We managed to work in a coffee break in Adigrat as well!
Ketin Serdi Project Site
A short time later we arrive at our first project site, Ketin Serdi, a HDW constructed in 2008, and then later at Kontebatib, also constructed in 2008. In speaking with the water committee members and guard at each site, we find a similar experience as yesterday. These sites have worked continuously since 2008, serving their surrounding communities, with only a few minor repair issues, handled by the water committee. Both had a bank account for maintenance. We did discover a worn bolt and bushing at Kontebatib, but fortunately, the REST technician had the necessary tools and spare parts, so it was remedied in about 5 minutes.
Signage at Kontebatib
The signage at our early projects were all large paint sheet metal signs, and of course the outdoor elements take their toll on the signs. The one for Kontebatib is shown above with Weredekal, Bishop Ray and Pastors Dan, Steve and George. Weredekal is pointing to the Amharic version of “Triumphant Love Lutheran Church”…..notice the 2000 in the lower right of the sign….the Ethiopian calendar is 8 years different, so it really was 2008 by our calendar.
Women fetching water at Kuhale
We made it to our third site for the day, Kuhale, a spring development project. The project is located about a forty minute walk from the road, up a steep incline. Really spectacular view of the valley below when we reached the project. The project is almost complete, but has progress far enough so that the community can begin using water from the spring reservoir.
Tomorrow is a big day as we will be visiting the 2016 projects that are funded/constructed as part of the “Celebrating Wells of Love” campaign for TLLC!
* You can now also view each blog post on our new travel site located here.
At each community, we witnessed and heard the amazing transforming power of water and its positive effects on the communities. All of these projects have been in continuous operation since they were constructed. The 4 wells represent 24 years of combined operation managed by the community!
- At Adinifas Melhis, there is now a primary school within 5 minutes walking with 350 children that was constructed 3 years ago…..it has 350 students and 7 teachers, grade 1-4
- At several communities, farmers are now constructing their own open wells for irrigation to increase crop yields
- All of the water committees continuously operated since completion with 3 women and 3 men and all had money in the bank for repairs
- We heard firsthand accounts about the impact of reduced illness in the community and increased attendance in schools, especially for girls
- None of the projects had any significant maintenance issues, 2 had none at all and 2 had minor issues that were repaired by the water committee.
When we started W2T, this was the hope and prayers for our communities we serve……today it truly felt like we returned back to the future to witness the results in reality. What a blessing for these communities!
Greeting by the school children at Adinifas
Not only at Adinifas, but in each community we were greeted enthusiastically and gratefully……children singing, men and women clapping, popcorn flying in the air, breaking bread together, sharing God’s blessings with each other.
Community members at Mai Kuha
We had a wonderful opportunity to engage with the community at each site. To hear their personal stories about how the blessing of clean water had changed their lives and the community for the better.
3rd Grade Class at Adinifas Primary School
As usual, the children were everywhere……curious about these visitors, practicing their English, fetching water, singing and helping to guide our way on the walk to and from the Regah project site.
Water committee at Dare Bezy
The water committee members are responsible for the sustainability of the projects……they oversee the operation and maintenance. They are elected by the committee, but volunteer their time. Only the guard is paid a small amount to open and close the water site during collecting times of the day.
Jerry Can Queue at Regah
Our last stop at the end of the day, the gracious people at Regah were awaiting our arrival to express their gratitude for the project. They enthusiastically filled their jerry cans during our visit……more than 20 of them!
Coffee Ceremony at Regah
One of the great experiences with communities……enjoying the coffee ceremony in the field for social time. Oh so good!
More tomorrow……visiting projects constructed in 2008.
This morning we flew from Lalibela to Axum in Northern Tigray. Summer has arrived, so the temperatures were a bit warmer than our time in Addis and Lalibela. The economy in this region is very agrarian and it was obvious flying in that the all the fields had been freshly cultivated. Some regions of Tigray have suffered mightily from a drought over the last two years, creating a significant food shortage for the farmers. The great news is that over the last 2-3 months this area has been blessed by some significant rains. So in the last weeks, farmers have been busy preparing their land and planting. With the recent rains, they are expecting their crop production to return to normal this year to ease the food shortage in the region.
Just like Lalibela, Axum is the home of significant archeological and religious sites. Before heading to the field to visit communities and water projects tomorrow, we take the afternoon to visit the most significant in the area.
The Altar area at St. Mary’s Church
Our first stop is the beautiful church built in 1965 by Haile Selassie in honor of Mary, mother of Jesus. The Church of St. Mary of Zion is one of the largest Ethiopian Orthodox churches, capable of worshiping 3,000 inside and many more surrounding the church on the outside. On entering, we must first remove our shoes. It is not like a typical church that we know. It has a few wooden benches and a large altar. Hundreds of vivid paintings decorate all the walls depicting historical Christian events.
The Book of St. Mary
In addition St. Mary’s of Zion is the home of the Book of St. Mary, known to be more than 500 years old with its art and manuscript written on lamb skin. The priests in attendance at the Church showed us several pages in the book, with most pages illustrated with beautiful hand paintings like the one shown above.
Chapel of the Ark of the Covenant
Adjacent to St. Mary’s is the Chapel of the Ark of the Covenant, which houses the Ark. Tradition has it that the son of Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, Menelik I, grew up in Ethiopia and traveled to Jerusalem and brought the Ark back to Ethiopia. The Ark plays an important role in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, so much so that every Church has a replica of the Ark in its Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the Church. The Chapel is protected by the Guardian Monk, who is elected to serve for life. He is not allowed to leave the Chapel area and no one else is allowed to enter. We were fortunate to briefly see the Guardian on the edge of the Chapel property, as he was counseling a young mother through the border fence. Afterward we toured a small museum that has ancient artifacts including the crowns dating back to 400 A.D. They are made of gold and silver and most of them are huge!
Ruins of Queen of Sheba Palace
As mentioned before, the Queen of Sheba plays an important role in the traditions of the Ark. She ruled large amounts of East Africa, including Ethiopia and Yemen. Near the west side of Axum, they are what archeologists believe to be the ruins of her palace in Ethiopia.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to buy a new piece of luggage… a zipper was broken on the flight in. The photo above shows one of the typical shops along the streets in Axum that sells luggage… and skinny jeans for men! In the cities of Ethiopia, we see traditional attire as well as skinny jeans side by side.
Tomorrow it is off to visit water projects built by Water to Thrive in 2008!
- Joyce and Dick Moeller
Our Water to Thrive travel group boarded a plane early for the city of Lalibela, the destination of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians during their holy holidays.
St. George’s Church
Here are 11 ancient monolithic rock-hewn granite churches, standing majestically awaiting arrival of tourists from many nations. Eighty percent of the tourists coming to Ethiopia visit Lalibela.
Painted Ceiling in Bet Medhane Church
The interiors are so dark that some photos don’t work well, but these are elaborately carved and were constructed in the 13th century. The exteriors are different shapes at ground level, and about 50 ft. in height…but entirely below ground level of mountains. They are protected United Nations ESCO World Heritage sites.
Priest with the Lalibela Cross (est. 800 years old)
Inside the churches are priests who care for the churches and lead worship services. They have been in continuous use as places of worship since then. The population of Lalibela, normally about 15,000, can swell to over 200,000 during the celebration of Christian Festivals.
Ben Abeba Restaurant, Lalibela
Between visits to churches, we enjoyed lunch at a very unique restaurant, Ben Abeba. It is perched high on a hill, overlooking a long valley below. Kind of reminds us of Star Wars. The food was good, and the views awesome!
To learn more about the Lalibela Churches, go to Wikipedia and search for Lalibela.