In His Distressing Disguise
Reflections on our Ethiopia Mission
No matter how long we have been practising our faith, God still has surprises in store for us. In my recent missionary trip to Ethiopia, I was able to discover the Lord’s heart in a new way – in the poorest of the poor. As Michael Card’s song of the same title goes, ‘In His distressing disguise, He hopes that we’ll realise, that when we take care of the poorest of them, we’ve really done it to Him’.
It’s hard to describe what you feel when you first drive through the beautiful countryside and various towns, a feast to the eyes and all the senses. Its like you are almost walking back in time: a sea of people going here, there and nowhere; loads of cattle, goats and donkeys who have no sense of road-crossing fear; hapless chickens being held up for sale by little boys on the pavements; food, furniture and various other “shops” incongruously situated side by side; poor beggars and other men sleeping by the roadside, horses drinking by streams. And bright colours dot the landscape everywhere: blue tuc-tucs, young people dressed in purple, red, yellow, brown huts, green fields and so on.
In Arramo, the Catholic centre where we were staying, a temperamental braying donkey, a crowing rooster with no respect for time when humans are resting, monkeys who occasionally peer at you from a safe distance, some beautiful yellow breasted birds, unwelcome and invading insects of all sorts –and our Team of 8 people –all shared the same plot of land for the duration of our stay.
When we visited one the parishes in the village in the vicinity to celebrate Easter Sunday mass, it was so touching – the melodious singing, the rhythmic dancing, the humble prayers, the warm welcome, the sight of the people smiling at you. We felt privileged to be there. After communion, as we invited the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of all those present, the whole church raised their hands to heaven as they prayed. Furthermore it was such a joy to see 89 people of all ages being baptised –teens, youth, middle aged people and a very old woman. We loved praying with her and hugging her –the joy in her heart was overwhelming.
If the Land of Israel I so much love to visit is the closest you can get to the places and customs that the incarnate Son of God lived, then Ethiopia and similar places are the closest you can get to the type of people Jesus reached out to. You really get to experience first-hand the biblical realities of crowds following on foot. You could feel and understand the Lord’s words ‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ Matt. 9:36. These are the anawim, the poor, the ones for whom the Lord has a special place in His heart. This is another way of meeting Jesus in his ‘distressing disguise’and of whom He says, ‘whatever you did with the least of my brothers, you did to me.’ (Matt 25).
As we arrived in another of the villages where ‘Living Waters’, the Missionary Team of our Community, has funded a project to provide clean water, (one of the many) we were greeted by countless children who followed us singing, clasping hands and running in front and behind us. We were like the Pied Piper – but it was a joy to be able to share the Good News of God’s love with them.
One of the highlights in Arramo was our day retreat with the catechists and church elders of the surrounding area. After giving them some teachings, we invited those who wanted prayer to come forward –without exception they call came to be prayed with. One could not but notice with what fervour and humility they prayed even as they waited in line. You could see the Lord touching their hearts as we prayed with them. The girls on our team told us how some women cried when they were hugged. We were in awe of God. What a privilege to be able to invoke the Holy Spirit and to see Him come upon these most humble of people.
This same experience was repeated in the two day retreat, ‘Come and See, where about 50 young people attended. We had times of prayer, teaching and a Q&A session. When we gave them time for personal prayer, it was such a joy to see them scattered around the compound with their Bibles (which Living Waters bought for them) and some of them literally praying on their knees.
Our mission in Ethiopia came to an end after a few weeks. The priest and nuns who minister to the people however remain there, and they a true inspiration and witness of the love and compassion of the Lord. However even from here it is possible to continue reaching out to these wonderful people. Together with Living Waters, it will continue to be my privilege to serve the Lord by ensuring that this mission gets all the prayers, and material and spiritual support it need. It was indeed a humbling and enriching experience to meet the Lord in His ‘distressing disguise’