By John Grap
Why would anyone want to go to Ethiopia? It’s a country that offers experiences without rival. Ethiopia has a rich cultural heritage mixing Christians, Muslims and Jews that goes back 3,000 years. Ethiopians believe that the Queen of Sheba came from Ethiopia and that she had a son from King Solomon of Judah. Ethiopian Christians celebrate the finding of the true cross of Christ in the country. Many believe that the Ark of the Covenant from Old Testament times is housed in St. Mary’s Church in the ancient city of Axum.
Europeans throughout the middle Ages believed in the legend of Prester John, a Christian king who lived somewhere in northeast Africa. Rastafarians, like Bob Marley, traced much of what they believe to their veneration of the last Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie. The central plateau, with an elevation ranging from 5,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level, contains much of what is historically known as Abyssinia. The Blue Nile River, the source of most of the Nile’s water, springs from the plateau. Amharic, the country’s, is a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Arabic.
One of humankind’s oldest ancestors, “Lucy” or “Dinknesh,” of the species Australopithecus afarensis, was discovered in the Afar region in the mid-1970s. Sports fans may know that Ethiopia is home to world-class distance runners, dating back to Olympic gold medal marathon winner Abebe Bikila in 1960 and ’64. Ethiopia is a beautiful country to visit, but that is
not why I traveled there with my son Matt, 22, earlier this month. Instead, we were there to witness the work of my friend Pat Bradley and his organization, International Crisis Aid, (ICA – www.crisisaid.org/). Matt and I joined a mission team of medical personnel with Joyce Meyer Ministries Hand of Hope (www.joycemeyer.org/HandOfHope/Default.aspx) to work in vastly underserved areas. Team members included a cardiologist, pediatricians, OB/GYNs, internists, physician assistants, nurses, dentists and others from throughout the U.S., Canada, Norway and Ethiopia. Matt worked in the pharmacy, while I wandered around, taking pictures, speaking Amharic and trying to stay out of the way.
The clinics we opened were in rural Angatcha and in the heart of the capital city, Addis Abeba. During the five days of the operations the teams provided acute care to more than 2,000 patients, while the pharmacy filled 7,500 prescriptions. Progress is being made. Ethiopian medical personnel staff the clinic in Angatcha with support from doctors throughout their country. And, very importantly, the region’s first hospital is under construction. In Addis Abeba, we set up a clinic in the city’s red light district, where an estimated 50,000 women are
caught up in the sex trade. ICA operates several group homes for girls and young women who were former sex trade workers. One evening we listened as several young women told us the stories about their lives. Many of our team members were moved to tears.
I spent two days interviewing 17 girls living in a group home, outside of Addis, whose parents had died due to HIV/AIDS. Malnourishment, nightmarish conditions and heartbreaking situations are common for too many people in Ethiopia. Greater than the heartache is hope. Prayerful hope. More Ethiopians than ever are involved in work to alleviate the suffering of their countrymen. ICA’s staff in Ethiopia is very dedicated and they are led by two incredible people, Dr. Henok and Betty Gebre Hiwot. My friend, Pat Bradley, continues to dream big and to put plans into place. As for Matt and me, it was 10 days that will last a lifetime.
John Grap is the Battle Creek Enquirer’s visual desk editor. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia and has participated in three missions to Ethiopia. Matt Grap is a student and works at Target. This was his first mission experience.