Do They Know It’s Christmastime?

December 20, 2016

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Advent is upon us in the West. Beginning Saturday night, we will focus in on the birth of our Lord and how his coming changed the course of history. Most people in Ethiopia won’t be celebrating Christmas on Sunday. A well-known Christmas song from 1984 implies Africans won’t even “know it’s Christmastime at all”. The Band-Aid hit performed by Sting, Bono, Phil Collins, and many more was released to raise money in response to news of famine in Ethiopia during the early 80’s. Routine reports of food shortages were made from 1983 on, represented by pictures of children with sunken bellies and desperate looks in their eyes. The noble effort to help a hopeless population has since been rightly criticized for having a paternalistic and misinformed understanding of Ethiopia.

While the celebrations in 1984 and even today may look different from ours here in the U.S., Ethiopia’s millions of Christians definitely know it’s Christmastime even though their festivities come a few weeks later. Jesus’ birth is celebrated on January 7 based on the traditional Orthodox calendar used throughout the country. The lessons from Band-Aid have helped shaped Discovering Light and many more organizations seeking to empower Ethiopians in the development of their nation and communities. Of course, there is snow in parts of Africa. And even if there isn’t, lack of snow hasn’t stopped Florida or Southern California, or London where “Do they Know” was recorded for that matter, from having wonderful holiday seasons. And there’s plenty of rain and flowing rivers in Africa. In fact, Ethiopia’s water table has enough for the entire continent. The lessons from that era of international development are beyond the factual inaccuracies of the catchy song. Instead of feeding the world, the greater gift we have to share is the truth that each Ethiopian is made in God’s image with a tremendous capacity to learn, create, and produce. In addition, their family, neighbors, and fellow countrymen were created to help one another thrive.

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This is the essential message of the West Arsi savings group program we have sponsored since 2011. Over 400 groups with 6,000 members, representing 30,000 plus family members, with nearly $70,000 in total capital tell a much different story than the wires coming across throughout the early 80’s. And now, we approach an exciting milestone for this powerful initiative that is planting a wildfire of hope throughout the region. In 2017, our partners Water is Life International and the Ethiopia Kale Hewot Church will be training leaders in the Savings Group program to maintain and multiply the movement without any outside financial support. By the end of next year, the groups will be completely self-sustainable, and capable of funding facilitators to oversee new group formation. Not only this, but in 2016, savings group leaders were trained to help their groups with Disaster Relief response and prevention so that in the event of low rainfall or other natural crises, communities are prepared to respond using their own resources.

We understand this ‘graduation’ of the West Arsi savings group program to be one of the few of its kind in Ethiopia. Our partners have worked hard to develop the process and we are excited to watch it unfold this year.

Last month we shared about the political turmoil gripping Ethiopia the last year and especially this fall. As the sun sets on 2016, we are thankful that the upheaval has only minimally affected our initiatives. Our greatest concern is for the Arsi Oromo families and communities. Hearing of the savings group program and disciple making movement successes despite restricted travel for the last 6 months during the state of emergency has affirmed our strategy to have as small a footprint as possible. We look forward to returning to Ethiopia this year to celebrate all God is doing there.

We wish all of our Discovering Light friends a merry, merry Christmas. Let us pray that those who don’t know the one whose birth we honor would know it’s Christmastime this year.

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