Update 15th March 2012
We're still suffering in 37 degree heat every day which for the "ferengis" (or 'white people' as we are known round here) is quite difficult!! The days and weeks are flying in and it's hard to believe that we've been here for two and a half months already. So far, we've had 3 bouts of food poisoning and one trip to the local doctors (an experience in itself and one hopefully not to be repeated anytime soon) but we hope that we might now be adjusting to life in Ethiopia!
We have also moved out of the church accommodation last week and are now living in the new Christian Training Centre, which was a very welcome move especially since we had a furry visitor, in the form of a rat, in our previous bedroom. I think you could have heard me squealing in NI when it ran over my feet trying to escape out the door...!
We started a youth club on Saturday 18th February and approximately 150 young people turned up. The following week an additional 50 arrived and, due to the wide range of ages attending, we have now split them into two groups. The children aged between 6 and 11 play games, sing songs, watch Christian films and cartoons and then a short bible story is taught at the end of the meeting.
We even showed a few episodes from 'The Blue Planet' which completely fascinated the kids as many of them had never seen sharks and fish before. We have also purchased various types of sports equipment including table tennis, basketball, badminton, darts, indoor games and volleyball. As you can imagine, these facilities are proving very popular and are certainly attracting many of the local children into the compound. The older children, up to the age of 18, have a short gospel meeting at the beginning and then they can make full use of all the sports equipment. The majority of these young people are from conservative Greek Orthodox or Muslim families so we have a fantastic opportunity to reach them with the gospel through this youth programme.
It's still early days for the youth programme and it will take a couple of months to get it running smoothly but there is so much potential in these young people and we believe that this is only the start of what will be a huge youth programme reaching out to the local community.
Church 3-day gospel mission
We had a 3 day mission in the church from 2nd-4th March and it was certainly a lively few days - James remarked that he never thought he would be part of a dancing church! We had approximately 1200 people through the doors over the 3 days and the programme involved guest speakers, guest singers and our own choirs. All the church members were involved in outreach in advance of the mission, giving out invites, open air rallies and even taking loud speakers around the villages to announce the forthcoming rally! It was a fantastic few days and we hope to make this a more regular feature in the church calendar.
A personal note...
We've also had the privilege of visiting the homes of some of our church members and our schoolchildren, this has been a humbling experience when you see the conditions in which these people are living and yet they are always smiling. It had made us appreciate just how fortunate we are in the Western world and we plan, over the next few months, to visit each of our church members individually as well as our school families. Most of the children are from single parent families or are orphans living with distant relatives. These families face so many problems and hardships and we want to show them that we care and that this project is here to help them in any way that we can.
We've also had the opportunity to work with some of the children from the Joshua orphanage next door, particularly the older children aged between 15 and 17. James was invited to work with their choir and teach them some English songs, which they performed in church last Sunday!
We have been so well received by the people here and we've had plenty of dinner invitations. We are thoroughly enjoying our time here although there have been a few times when we've found ourselves missing our home comforts. James has lost over 2 stone already due to the lack of chip shops etc in Ethiopia!
We've also had to adjust to a few cultural differences, for example, when you visit someone's home you're expected to drink 3 cups of coffee before you leave and for non-coffee drinkers this has proved quite a challenge. Coffee has now become part of our daily diet and we've have been invited to a few of the school coffee ceremonies where the children prepare the coffee for all the staff.
We've also been taking Amharic lessons each week although I do think that the teacher has his work cut out! The language has 33 letters and each letter has 7 different sounds so you can imagine how easy it is to mix words up and be totally misunderstood! I've been completing an English language teaching course and over the next few months, I will be helping to teach Engllish to Grades 5-8. This will be a great opportunity to get to know the children better, to build relationships with them and also to encourage them in their studies. We recently had the school prize day where James was honoured with presenting prizes to the top achievers! Some of the children have performed exceptionally well throughout the school year, with some even achieving 98% average in all their subjects. We have high hopes for these children as they are growing up and believe that many, with God’s help, will reach the highest positions in Ethiopia.
We appreciate all your prayers, support, Skype calls and emails of encouragement!
Keep in touch and God Bless
James & Lauren
Update 11th January 2012
Since our last blog update, we’ve been busy helping to get the new Senior School & Christian Training Centre ready for the opening at the beginning of February.
James has been involved in everything from plumbing and wiring to gardening and I can say that we’re finding skills we never thought we had!
We enjoyed having our group of friends from Whitewell Belfast last week for the children’s Gift Day and the opening of the new Senior School and Christian Training Centre. We had a great week of fun and fellowship and it was great to have everyone here for such an exciting week. I know that there were quite a few tears from the children as the “ferengis” (white people) were leaving again for Northern Ireland. The children enjoy getting some attention and spending time with the visitors.
Now that the building work is completed, we are looking forward to concentrating on developing the youth activities at the site here. We are hoping to start youth programmes for all ages, from kindergarten to teenagers. This will include Sunday schools, youth clubs, evangelism teams and youth rallies so please remember us in prayer as we try to build relationships with the local young people and influence them to follow Christ.
On a personal note, we’re still getting settled into our new surroundings and after two bouts of food poisoning and a trip to the local doctors (an experience in itself!), we’re hopeful that our bodies are now adjusting to the local food! We’ve now discovered that we have to soak all fruit and vegetables in bleach and water for half an hour before eating them so we’re learning little tricks which will hopefully keep us away from the local doctor for a while!
We’ve also been trying to learn some of the local language but it is proving quite difficult, particularly since James was recently trying out his skills on a group of locals and informed them that I was his father! You can imagine the roars of laughter which followed!
Every day is a new experience here and we appreciate all your prayers and words of encouragement.
Update 11th January 2012
We have arrived safely in Ethiopia!
We arrived on Thursday 5th January and were warmly greeted by Pastor Bezabih and a few friends from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Ethiopia. We arrived just in time to celebrate Christmas all over again as the Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on 7th January.
Part of the church, approximately 150 members, gathered on Christmas Eve for an all-night prayer and worship service which lasted from 8pm until sunrise. Needless to say, after our travels, we didn't manage to stay until the morning but could only keep awake until midnight!At the Sunday morning service, we were warmly greeted by all the church and James was invited to address the congregation.
After the church service had finished, James asked Pastor Bezabih what the people thought of his words to the church (looking for a little encouragement) and Bezabih informed him that all the members were amazed at how much weight he had put on since his last visit!!
[1st picture - one of the lecture rooms in the new Bible College]
With regards to the building project, the Senior School extension and Bible College is well underway and we're looking forward to our friends from Belfast coming for the official opening at the beginning of February.
We're settling well but still finding our feet when it comes to the food - I don't think we've ever eaten so much rice and pasta in one week!
[2nd picture - the new building almost complete]
We've really appreciated the warmth from Pastor Bezabih, his wife Merci and all the church members, they have welcomed us with open arms and we thank God for this opportunity to serve Him in Ethiopian and are looking forward to becoming a part of this church and community over the next few months.
[3rd picture - a view from the new Senior School and Bible College alongside the original Primary School]
Thanks again to everyone for their support and continued encouragement & prayers.
James & Lauren
Monday morning at Whitewell Ethiopia School...
The week beginning Monday 23rd January is exam week for all the children at Whitewell Ethiopia school.
The day starts as normal with the children lining up for Morning Assembly at the front of the school where they sing the National Anthem and then recite the Lord’s Prayer. Then, it’s off to school to get started into the exams! The children are particularly noisy on a day like this as they discuss the possible exam questions and do some last minute revision!
We wish the best for all the students in their exams!!
The dreaded exam timetable - note the date… it is still 2004 in Ethiopia!
Update by Pastor John McCreedy January 2012
James and Lauren Christie this week travel to a new life as missionaries in Ethiopia and, naturally, our richest blessings go with them both.
It’s a bold, but exciting step, for the Ballymena based couple, who are leaving familiar paths and their home town of Cullybackey for pastures new and a place they will call home for at least a year – the little village of Kuriftu.
Having said this, neither of them are strangers to the place, especially James, who has been travelling back and forwards to Ethiopia 3 times a year for the past 6 years.
The arrival of the couple is a huge relief for the man who started the project in Ethiopia, Jim McClelland. Sadly ill health has prevented Jim from being able to spend as much time as he would like there recently – hence why James and Lauren’s arrival is a huge boost to the man who had the original vision for helping the children in Africa.
Our thoughts and prayers are with both our young missionaries who are believing the words of scripture in Proverbs chapter 3, verses 5 and 6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding, in all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths.”
Previous Update from James and Lauren as they make final preparations before leaving for Ethiopia
Since our last update, time has flown! It is now only 11 weeks until we leave for Ethiopia - the flights have now been booked (ONE WAY!) for the beginning of January.
We travelled to Ethiopia just before the summer to spend time with Pastor Bezabih and Merci to share how we felt God had been leading us to Ethiopia and they have been very encouraging and are looking forward to having extra help with their workload.
Currently, they are in charge of the school with 600 pupils plus teachers, the medical centre and staff, the church complete with choirs, bible studies, youth groups and Sunday schools. On top of this, they have project managed the construction of the four-story Senior School and Bible College. We hope to be able to share their workload and help out in every aspect of the project.
A photo taken at the Sunday service in church in May 2011 - Pastor Bezabih
We also made some enquiries about the practical requirements for us being able to work and live in Ethiopia, covering everything from re-sitting driving tests to malarial medication.
Pastor David McClure, Jim McClelland and James also travelled to the Ethiopian Embassy in Dublin at the beginning of October to arrange our visas and work permits and these will be finalised in December.
To allow us some time to get organised before we leave, we both hope to finish our jobs at the end of November. There are so many items still on our 'To-do list' from selling our car to clearing out the house, all of which we seem to keep putting off until another day!
Pastor Bezabih and Merci are also making preparations for our arrival in Ethiopia. We will be living on the top floor of the new School and Bible College.
This photo of the building was taken in May 2011 but it gives a good idea of the standard of our accommodation. Our new home will be the top floor right side of the building. The amenities are basic but in comparison to the mud hut villages surrounding us, we feel very privileged to be setting up home within the complex.
The official opening of the new Senior School and Bible College is scheduled for January 2012 and a group from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Belfast will be joining us in the third week of January for this event. At the same time, we will also be distributing the shoe-box presents to the school children. This is something which has been happening now for 4 years and is a source of great excitement for all the children.
The excitement is building for us as well as we prepare for our big move! Please keep us in your prayers and we'll keep you updated on our progress.
James & Lauren
Previous thoughts from James and Lauren as they prepare to leave for Ethiopia
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
Proverbs 3 v 5-6
Just over a month ago, the decision was made that we, James & Lauren Christie, a young couple from outside Ballymena, would head to Ethiopia to work in the Metropolitan Tabernacle project there.
As a couple, we believe that this is a step in which God is directing our lives - from Cullybackey to Kuriftu!
It's certainly going to be a change in lifestyle but having travelled to Ethiopia 3 times a year for the past 6 years, we've seen the project progress and have made many friends from the local area.
The project is situated in Kuriftu village, just outside the town of Debre Zeit. It was started in 2003 by another Tabernacle member, Jim McClelland, who had a vision for helping the children of Ethiopia.
With the support of Pastor James McConnell and the church, the project has developed and now consists of 2 schools, catering for 1400 children, a church, a medical centre and a feeding centre. The latest addition to this is the Whitewell Senior School and Bible College with its first intake September 2011.
The project has been managed by local man, Bezabih Tolossa and his wife Mercy and we would see our role as helping Bezabih to establish the Bible College as well as developing youth evangelism and Sunday Schools in the surrounding rural areas. Having been involved in youth work at the Tabernacle for many years, we hope to adapt some of this expereince and use it amongst the young people in Ethiopia in spite of the language barrier!
Having trusted God and made up our own minds to go, the next step was to break the news to family and friends...
Despite the natural concerns and worries from parents and grandparents, everyone has been very encouraging. We can assure you that this first hurdle has been crossed with much prayer!
The next stage is making all the preparations for heading away. We're intending to leave in the first week of January 2012 on a 1 year visa but before that we'll have plenty to organise. We're travelling to Ethiopia for 1 week at the end of May to sort out the living accommodation and other necessities.
We'll keep you updated on how the plans are progressing and would like to thank everyone for their continued prayer and support.
The countdown begins..... 8 months to go!
James & Lauren