by Steve Osborn, Pastor
SDB Church, Boulder, CO
Pastor Dave Stall told me, “One of the most important things in visiting Ethiopia is to be flexible.” Boy, was he ever right! We had plans — and good ones. But God had better ones.
Our plan was for Pastor Dave, Pastor John Pethtel, and me to make a follow-up visit to our churches among the Nuer people who are refugees from South Sudan now living in Ethiopia. Our goals included checking up on the building projects — a permanent structure for the main church in Gambella and shelters for their two other churches; continuing training with the pastors in SDB beliefs and practices; and traveling to connect with the other churches.
…a blizzard had shut down the Ethiopian Embassy. So off we flew with no translator, armed only with Dave’s minimal knowledge of the area, the hope that someone would meet us at the airport, and faith that God had a plan bigger than ours…
Immediately, God began to shift our plans. A panicked call from our translator at the airport revealed that he would have to obtain his visa before being allowed on the flight. Since we were in Washington D.C., that might have been possible except for the fact that a blizzard had shut down the Ethiopian Embassy. So off we flew with no translator, armed only with Dave’s minimal knowledge of the area, the hope that someone would meet us at the airport, and faith that God had a plan bigger than ours.
We were greeted enthusiastically at the airport in Gambella by young men who remembered Dave from the construction project and spoke just enough English to get us loaded into their friend’s SUV and whisk us away to the church. We were completely unprepared for the gathering of close to 50 people who had come from near and far in anticipation of our visit.
A tour of the property revealed that the building was well maintained and, not only had all projects been completed, but much more work had been done — including building a fence around the property and installing pit toilets. This was important because we discovered that they had four additional pastors to ordain. The number of churches had grown from three to ten in the two short years since the previous visit. The Gambella Church building was being treated as a Conference Center where leaders from the other churches could come and stay for occasions such as this. God had been working in ways we could not even imagine.
Countless hours were spent over the next week and a half in the shade of the beautiful tree outside the church building teaching, listening, and answering questions they had about what SDBs believe and do
Our hearts were put at ease when we realized that part of God’s plan included Kuol Gach, a new pastor who spoke brilliant English. He had translated the SDB Statement of Belief and key portions of SDB history from English into Nuer. He was also the best translator we could have hoped for. We slid seamlessly into the teaching roles God had planned for us. Countless hours were spent over the next week and a half in the shade of the beautiful tree outside the church building teaching, listening, and answering questions they had about what SDBs believe and do. Many of them have come out of Adventism and have been harassed about joining this “upstart” denomination. We were also able to assist them in ordaining three of their four new pastors and holding their first Communion service as SDBs.
With so many new churches, our desire to visit grew even stronger. One church was even in a refugee camp and two were across the border into South Sudan — which were two areas I had hoped we could encourage them to view as potential areas of outreach. How shocking to discover that God was way ahead of me! Unfortunately (or so we thought), early on during our time in Gambella, a conflict broke out between the Nuer tribe and another refugee tribe in the area. We were informed by government officials that it would be unsafe for us to travel. We were initially disappointed, until we recognized that the majority of the leaders from all ten churches were present in Gambella. God’s plan was to allow us to spend time that would have been consumed by travel in more teaching, training, and answering questions.
The dreams and visions of these church leaders are huge. While there we helped them make plans for more church buildings, purchase of property, registering the SDB Conference with the Ethiopian government and adding electricity to the Gambella Church building. I hope you will join us in prayer for this exciting new group of SDBs who are passionate about building God’s Kingdom and the SDB witness in Ethiopia and South Sudan.
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