background

Pressing on, Together

Lifewater staff member Christine Zurbach reports on a recent training in Ethiopia

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 2:3-5

Late last year in Ethiopia, I sat in a circle with twenty amazing individuals from different walks of life: education officers, health officers, community health workers. All had gathered together for one reason — to gain tools to help them more effectively teach about safe water, sanitation and hygiene in communities where people are dying from preventable water-borne diseases.

As they listed the characteristics that they need to have as a development worker in communities, we had someone write them down on a large flip chart: diligent, honest, accepting, committed, positive, listener.

It wasn’t until we continued to the next step in the lesson where the mood in the room somewhat shifted. We began to discuss things that keep them from responding with these attitudes to the communities they travel to and serve in. We also looked at a few difficult situations that Jesus faced: being rejected in his hometown (Luke 4:16-30), his family pressuring him to spend more time with them (Luke 8:19-20), having no time to eat and rest (Mark 6:30-34), and even his disciples (and friends) arguing amongst themselves (Mark 9:33-35). As I described these incidences that Jesus experienced, the very somber faces of our participants began to nod and even a few Ethiopian gasps (for agreement) were let out.

A young woman named Tirunesh boldly shared about how, when she entered a community in which she had been working, one of the families released their dog on her. She spoke about how horrible it was to release a dog on anyone, let alone a woman. She continued to visit that village, however, and teach about sanitation and hygiene. Now they welcome her.

Another woman, Mesaret, shared about how the community members would mock her when she came to teach them about sanitation and hygiene, they called her “Toilet Princess”. She replied, “No. My name is Mesaret.” In Ethiopia where names are given great honor and weight, this was a strong attempt at humiliation for a woman whose name means “Foundation” or “Beginning.”

That afternoon the stories continued. Anaji shared how people avoided her. Negeso spoke about how they had attempted to beat him. Jemal told us about how he had built a latrine in a community, but the people began to live in it instead. There was a deep camaraderie among these committed health workers, sharing experiences of rejection and humiliation met with grace and perseverance.

As I asked the final question about what strategies we employ when facing adversity in the communities they serve, their answers deeply affected me because I knew from hearing just a little about their experiences that they were actually doing this. Don’t give up! Be courageous! Teach them! Reach the Elders of the Community! Seeing is Believing — Arrange experience sharing between communities!

These Ethiopian workers, all committed to seeing their neighbors achieve a healthy and fuller life, endure real adversity, but their knowledge, training, and mutual support help them press on. I am grateful to witness these demonstrations of selfless love, and to pass the encouragement on to you.