This past Wednesday night, I had the blessing of interviewing Behailu Abebe, a great man of God who has served the Lord in Ethiopia for more than 40 years. God has used him to help in leading thousands to Christ, saving hundreds of thousands of lives through clean water development projects, planting of dozens of churches, and the beginning of more than a dozen formidable schools–that either train preachers or educate for the destitute and handicapped. The preacher training schools are graduating 120 preachers per year, and the schools for the deaf and poor educate more than 800 deaf children and hundreds of destitute Ethiopian children each year. Since 2002, Behailu's ministry has participated in digging 263 water wells that now provide fresh water to 1.5 million Ethiopians. I could go on, but will just leave it at that and say that I am amazed at how God has worked in Ethiopia over the past 40 years.
Bahailu is adamant that a significant reason that ministry has flourished in Ethiopia is because from the time the Churches of Christ landed on the ground those early missionaries emphasized raising up indigenous leaders and funding ministry with indigenous money. He believes that Ethiopians have begun taking ownership in what God wants to do through them, and that is why the church is taking off in Ethiopia. He remains adamant that Ethiopians need to fund and lead their own churches rather than remaining dependent on American missionaries and support. And, with God's help, they are doing so.
It makes me wonder to what extent we can learn from this example. We seem to be in a regressive process right now in society, and this may be infecting the theology of the church. As we seek to do better by the less fortunate than we have in the past, let's not give in to thinking that dependency is good for people–or that it's God's desire for them. Let's seek wellness and blessing for one another. This will require more time, energy, and money. It will likely mean owning up to mistakes that we've made as churches, as well as the mistakes made by those who are in need of help. This is the hard path to healing. There is rarely an easy one.
Thomas Sowell said in a column recently, "We (America) seem to be moving steadily in the direction of a society where no
one is responsible for what he himself did but we are all responsible
for what somebody else did, either in the present or in the past." I agree with his assessment. Ethiopians, of all people, have good reason to be dependent on
whomever, and no one could blame them. They suffered immensely through
Communist takeover/persecution and the most severe famine the earth has
ever seen. Nevertheless, they understood that dependency is not God's preferred future for them, and are now doing things in their own land what we Americans can't seem to do in our own.
Perhaps we can take a cue from our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia, and strive to be a society in which we all understand that we are owed nothing, but given much. What we do with what has been entrusted to us is something we will be held accountable for some day. This shouldn't scare us, but rather inspire us to do whatever we can with the time, talent, and treasure that's been entrusted to us by God. And, this reality should shape how we minister to and from among the poor.