Our experience in Yirgalem, Ethiopia was both memorable and life-changing. Traveling from the city of Awassa, we proceeded over rugged dirt roads and traveled through places where there were no roads to reach our destination.
We spent the night in huts and saw exotic birds with enormous white bills and Abyssinian black-and-white monkeys frolicking among the branches of coffee trees. The jungle surrounding our hut was lush and beautiful to behold. Rolling hills completely covered by thick vegetation gave the landscape a rich, intensely green coat.
The morning after our arrival, as the sun began to rise, each of us were provided canes to assist in our hike into the jungle passing hyena dens and an occasional villager along the way.
We finally reached a village with many small huts encircling the area. The villagers primarily lived in mud and bamboo huts with hard mud floors. During our visit we met a lady named Almaz who invited us into her home. Surprisingly, her livestock, a cow and a goat, remained inside the family hut as well. Her cow was positioned so that its droppings would drain out from under the hut to be used in their garden as fertilizer.
Behind the hut Almaz showed us what they call, “false banana plants.” We then proceeded to watch her from beginning to end, as she made a sort of meal from the plants. It was an amazing process! She literally used a type of scraper as well as her feet to scrap the filling from the plants. The filling was then wrapped in the leaves and would be left to ferment for many days. After the initial part of the demonstration, Almaz took a bundle that had already been fermented and unwrapped it. The filling was now much drier and through rubbing and kneading, it was transformed into a kind of meal that was similar to a corn meal. From this substance she made a small bread cake, cooked over a fire, and served it to each of us. It reminded me of a salty corn tortilla and was quite tasty.
This dear lady, Almaz, who had basically nothing to give, was essentially giving all she had to us. The experience was deeply moving. I then asked if we could pray for Almaz and her family and she followed by asking to pray for us as well. I fell to my knees in humility in response to her generous gift of prayer. It was so very humbling. She stated that she was a believer and that she knew Jesus as savior. She said that God had certainly come to visit her house that day through us. Then she prayed that God would give back to us a blessing in return for our prayers for them. She told the Lord that she had nothing to give us in return; no gift to give for the great blessing our presence had brought to her family. She prayed for our safe travels as well using translators to translate from her tribal language to Ahmaric and then to English.
We left Almaz and her family that day, full in spirit, and overwhelmed by the prayers from our visit that morning. As we hiked back to our site, we passed the tallest avocado trees I have ever seen. They truly seemed to reach to the heavens. Surprisingly, at the tops of the trees were children harvesting avocados and tossing them down to the ground for market. Before leaving we bought a few of the avocados from one of the children. Definitely organic! The best I had ever tasted.
We returned to the site for freshly made coffee and an elaborate coffee ceremony traditional for the culture.
That evening we sat around a campfire and actually saw many vultures and hyenas on the other side of a protective fence. We ate from fresh honeycomb and Ethiopian teammates shared childhood stories of hyenas, black mambas and of life in their villages from long ago. My mind was totally aflame with vivid, colorful pictures of days gone by. Beyond the firelight my eyes focused on the jungle, taking in the breadth of it. New revelation settled within me bringing a much deeper appreciation of the culture and the lives of the beautiful people of Ethiopia.
At night in the jungles of Ethiopia, monkeys cry aloud in the darkness and exotic birds shrill throughout the night. Hyenas tread the jungle floor howling, eyes aglow in the night scavenging prey to satisfy their hunger. Black mambas slither swiftly through the vegetation while vultures finish the remains of the day. A jungle is an unruly space outside the control of civilization. The word “jungle” itself carries connotations of an untamed and uncontrollable nature. A jungle signifies isolation from civilization, and frequently evokes emotions of intimidation, fear, confusion, and powerlessness. Interestingly, the Lord referred to “a jungle” in His word as He challenged Jeremiah’s faith.
In Jeremiah 12, Jeremiah is complaining of his struggles before God. In verse 5 the Lord rebukes Jeremiah’s impatience, while leading him into a deeper revelation of trials as a natural part of our walk with God. The Lord essentially was challenging Jeremiah as He challenges all believers to strengthen themselves for the battles ahead. He is challenging us as well to continually train and be ready to confront the enemy in the authority and power we have been given through Christ.
God replies to Jeremiah’s complaints in Jeremiah 12:5:
“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you are so trusting,
what will you do in the jungle (thicket )of the Jordan?
At one time or another, we have all experienced long stretches of uneventful days in our lives. And then, without warning, some personal crisis breaks on the scene, demanding more of us than we could possibly imagine. Suddenly, we are no longer racing with men, so to speak. Our race seems drastically increased as if we are racing against horses, huge opposing forces in our lives. Previously our daily lives had likened to a foot race, challenging us, yet still requiring only one step or leap at a time. Now the race accelerates against greater odds and we begin to flounder and get swept away by its force. In our “safe” land, which is whatever we describe or believe to be “safe”, we can easily have a tendency to wrap ourselves in self-sufficiency. Then, unexpectedly, we are interrupted by extreme circumstances, some as bizarre as earthquakes, tornadoes, and terrorists, and others as devastating as disease or death. All at once we find our manageable lives lost and entangled in a jungle of fear and despair. The scripture describes this fear-filled ‘jungle’ experience quite well, referring to the jungle of the Jordan, where treacherous lions roamed along the riverbanks devouring their prey.
So what is God’s response to the prophet in Jeremiah 12:5? He is essentially rebuking and challenging Jeremiah to move beyond the typical footrace of men and to step forth in his authority as a son of the King. Jeremiah 12:5 is challenging every believer to build himself up in the power of the Lord. He is encouraging us to rise to His call, and to reign as warriors for His kingdom glory.
Deep in the jungles of Ethiopia, the little lady, Almaz, exuded a peace and an inner calm in spite of the trials and difficulties in her life. Jesus had become her life, her ambition and her all. Despite their mud floor hut, lack of food, clothing, medical support, insurance, toys or technology, the warm, happy smiles of her family greeted us and lovingly embraced us. They smiled and laughed to the glory of God. Ironically, I, who had come to minister, was ministered to in turn. Almas’ inner strength challenged me to “ beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disapproved.”(1 Corinthians 9:27)
Am I truly a woman who confronts, through Christ, the fears and challenges of the jungles of life? …
Oh how I pray it may be so…
May it be so for us all …in Jesus name…
Father, I pray that we would be people of your strength and your power who can compete with horses and stand strong in the heart of the jungle when the enemy tries to oppress and entangle us. May we walk in the discipline of your word and thwart attacks with the power of your word. May we march to your call bringing our body, spiritually, physically and emotionally into submission to the power and authority you have given to each of us who are your children. Father, we pray blessings on Almaz and her family. May you raise them up for your glory. May a wave of your spirit wash across Ethiopia bringing each of them to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. May bondages be broken and the unreached people groups of this nation rise up and call you blessed Father, living God, Messiah!
Amen and amen…