Ernie and Martha McWilliams accompanied executive director Susanne Wilson on this fall vision trip to celebrate completed water projects and learn more about the culture and history of Ethiopia. Martha wrote this blog entry after a day spent at the World Heritage Site in Lalibela.

Today we had a short flight to Lalibela in the northern part of Ethiopia, with a stop in Gondar. The flight to Gondar was 50 minutes and then 35 minutes more to Lalibela. According to Google Maps, the trip in a car would take 13 hours. The road infrastructure in Ethiopia is not there yet, but Ethiopian Airlines does a great job of getting people around.

We had lunch at one of the quirkiest restaurants I have seen — Scottish-Ethiopian cuisine in a building that looked like something out of Dr. Seuss. A delightful older Scottish lady runs the place.

After lunch our guide Johannes (who we affectionately call Johnny) took us to the monolithic churches of Lalibela. I had seen a monolithic church in St. Emilion in France, but the scope of these churches in Lalibela was amazing. Lalibela was a king/priest born in 1101 who visited Jerusalem and had the vision to carve churches out of solid rock as in Jerusalem. They are carved top to bottom and the architectural details are very uniform. 

Today was a special holiday honoring the Virgin Mary so we were privileged to see some of the worship and hear Ethiopian Orthodox chanting. As a musician, I could see a tradition right before my eyes going back to the earliest churches who were influenced by Hebrew chant. I was very touched to see young and old people worshipping. Our guide Johnny is Ethiopian Orthodox and knew the scriptures and traditions.

Our time was extra special and Johnny had some of the priests show us crosses that are very holy in the Ethiopian Orthodox faith. One was from the 12th century. The picture is in front of St. George’s church, another incredible monolithic church.