Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A different type of wealth....

It is hard to imagine that, at the beginning of the last century, Gambela – considered by most at the time to be “pestilential” and a “cesspool” to be avoided because of fever – was a place three countries were willing to fight for. The British in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Menelik, the Emperor of Ethiopia, and the Italians towards the outbreak of the Second Great War, all wanted it for badly needed revenue. Yes, at the time the trade was rich, mostly in coffee, and accounted for 70%  of the annual value of all Sudan trade with Ethiopia from the end of the First Great War until the Italian occupation of Ethiopia.

For instance, in 1936 a record 4,500 tons of coffee passed through Gambella downriver into the Sudan! Except for the disastrous depression years of 1931 and 1932, when the value of the Gambella trade dropped to less than E£100,000, the normal annual value of trade through the Enclave during these interwar years averaged between E£250,000 and E£300,000, that generated between E£15,000 and E£18,000 in customs duties alone, not to mention the profits from haulage by the steamers, one of the largest single sources of revenue for the Sudan government.[1]

On 3 October 1935, the Italians crossed the Eritrean border and took over control of Ethiopia. Soon, they were in Gambella and the British presence was peacefully removed. But the British recaptured Gambela on 22 March 1941. A war grave of a Captain Lesslie, the ruins of the Italian Fort, and the skeleton of the old Port on the Baro River can still be seen today.

But that is all that remains of the thriving Gambela port of yesteryear. Soon, the roads built by the occupying Italian forces rendered the steamer transport on the Baro River obsolete. One can still take a stroll past the place where the steamers used to dock, but it is hard to imagine that this was ever a place of high financial value.

But there is still a type of wealth to be sought in the Gambela People’s Region today…not something world powers may want to fight over, but certainly something the principalities and powers of the heavenly realms are very aware of…namely, the precious souls of the men, women, and children that live here.  This is the reason why we often tell our supporters and partners in this vital ministry that they are investors…laying up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. But for your prayers and support, things might be very different for the people in Gambela.

It comes as no surprise then that this would be an area of intense spiritual battles as the accuser of the brethren seeks to steal what is so precious to our Lord.  Besides the obvious curses and demonic activity all around us, there is the seemingly endless strife between family members, friends and foes. A harmless statement can quickly dissolve into an all out argument that sometimes comes to blows and police involvement. And, of course, there is still no peace in South Sudan.

And then there is the weather…maximum temperatures have hovered between 100 and 130 F + (about 45 to 55 C +) all through February and into March!

On the positive side, things are moving forward steadily at the Gambela Anglican Centre. We have completed the library renovations and Louise is very busy cataloguing the theological books so that our prospective students will be able to use them in September! The date for registration is the last week in August. We now have most of the funds needed to build two classrooms as well as renovate the existing one, creating office space at one end of the building for future lecturers.

The College Chapel is presently under construction. This structure will also serve as the building for St Barnabas Church as well as the venue for future Area Assemblies. Please pray for the necessary funds to complete this project as well as the funds necessary to built a much needed security wall around the compound.

We continue to receive request for the opening of churches in new areas, including areas in other parts of the Horn of Africa. We currently have 87 churches in the Gambela People’s Region alone. St. Matthew Addis Ababa is thriving, keeping their rector, Roger, and his wife Lynn (who works for ReTrack – an organization working with street children) very busy indeed! Pray for our church northern Ethiopia…Bishop Grant was very pleased with their progress when he visited them last week. Pray for possibilities in the southern part of Ethiopia as well. Exciting stuff!

We have shown the Jesus Film to thousands of people since December. Our youth sports coordinator showed the film three times in three different languages to over 1500 football participants at a recent sports gathering during the first week in March in Abobo alone. For many, this was the very first time ever to see anything like a movie and that in their own language! Pray for the ministry of the Jesus Film.

I have been studying the history, culture, and language of the Anyuak, but finding books and articles about them, especially on the Ethiopia side of the border has been a challenge. A dear friend, who is a reference librarian, has agreed to help locate more material for this project. There is quite a bit written about the Nuer and Dinka, but little about the Shilluk and Anyuak and nothing about the Opo.

Prayers Requests:
Please pray for all the prospective students of St Frumentius Anglican Theological College, that those whom the Lord has called into the ministry would come.

Please pray for an uneventful opening of the College in August/September. We have been told we do not need government approval to start the College, but we want to be sure we have this in writing, just in case.

Please pray for Bishop Grant and Doctor Wendy who have yet to recover from some lingering upper-respiratory illness.

Please pray for our South Sudan brethren who suffer so many things each and every day. An uncle of our grounds manager died recently leaving two widows and their children…their homes were destroyed in South Sudan, but they have nowhere else to go. Many refugees are being re-displaced as the original camps proved to be situated on flood plains.

Please pray for our Anyuak church in Abobo as they have recently come under fire from another protestant denomination for apparently crossing into their turf. In my opinion, as long as there are lost souls in the area (especially an unreached people group!), such an accusation is hardly valid, but it has been a rather unpleasant experience for us.

Please pray for continued health for Louise and myself. We have both had a touch of malaria and the heat can be rather oppressive from time to time, especially when the power goes off for long periods of time and robs us of our fans!

Much love and tons of blessings.

Johann and Louise

[1] Facts and figures are taken from an article by Robert O Collins, A Brief Historical Summary of Anuak and Gambella

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