By Lawrence W. Rodgers,
I found great value in traveling to Ethiopia with Howard University’s School of Divinity as part of the University’s delegation. The delegation included the Dean of the Howard University School of Divinity, Dr. Alton B. Pollard and Associate Dean Dr. Gay Byron. Also on the trip were Hebrew Bible scholar Dr. Alice Ogden Bellis of Howard University School of Divinity and Memeher Dr. Zebene Lemma of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. I am a Masters of Divinity candidate in the Howard University School of Divinity and was traveling with the delegation as a student representative.
Just the thought of traveling to this great country was overwhelming. The reason for our trip was to return Tweed MS 150 of the Dr. Andre Tweed Collection of Ethiopian Artifacts to its rightful owner, the Debre Libanos Monastery. This ancient manuscript had been lost, making its way through collectors to Dr. Andre Tweed who donated to Howard in 1993. The return of a lost manuscript sets precedents for universities, museums, and collectors who hold stolen artifacts to return them to their rightful owners. Howard University School of Divinity has set a moral precedent.
Ethiopia is a beautiful country. The landscape is beautiful, the ancient architecture and art are beautiful, and the people are breathtakingly beautiful. When I say the people are beautiful it in part means their glowing skin and smiles, but it also means their spirit, their hospitality, their deep love of the Divine, and the communal nature of their society. I received so much hospitality from Abune Mathias, the bishops, priests, monks and nuns, and the laypeople. I visited Debre Libano’s monastery and saw the joy that came with the return of the manuscript. I saw love and friendship I saw in people walking and holding hands. The kindness and patience of our host Memeher Dr. Zebene Lemma, and also that of his brothers Samson Edeglign, Tadesse Teklewold, and Teddy Aytenfisu. Being able to observe the rich culture and elegance of wedding ceremony and reception of Blain and Surafel. The captivating churches of Lalibela carved out of a single stone. The remains of the palace of Queen of Sheba but also the little girls who were their selling colorful baskets, the energy of Timkat. Meeting Dean Abune Timothiwos of the theological school and being blessed and prayed over by Abune Selama. The master teacher Memhir Yemane Birhan of the traditional theological school let me sit with his students while he taught me a kidase. His students study for ten hours a day, five with him, and another five in their regular school.
After visiting the traditional school, we attended the theological college. We found the same reverence for education. When the delegation walked into the classroom, the students stood. The students asked intelligent questions. There was an evident regard for education and the students’ brilliance was evident.
While visiting the theological school, I remembered the schools that I had seen back home. I have never encountered students who were as dedicated to their academics as I did in Ethiopia at this theological school.
I’ve never seen such collective fervor and zeal. These students respected their studies, their professors, and seemed to appreciate their educational journey. If they lacked anything in resources, they made up for it in enthusiasm. It seems profoundly unfair that people with abundant resources often take education for granted while these under-resourced young people took their education seriously.
There is more to resources than money. When we pretend that resources are only economic, we devalue people who have less economic power. Character is a resource. Generosity, love, humility are resources. Therefore, a person can have enormous financial resources but this does not make the person smarter or a harder worker. It could mean the person is greedy and exploitative. In terms of its real resources, Ethiopia is one of the richest countries in the world: rich in history, culture, beauty, faith, and language. The people we met were full of hospitality and kindness; we were always shown great love. Several Ethiopians welcomed me “home” or called me “brother.”
So, yes the theological school we visited might not have had all of the money that it needed, but it is wealthy in other ways. I will never forget my time in Ethiopia as a member of the Howard University School of Divinity’s delegation.
We must look at value and resources in the proper context. The West should denounce its meddling in and exploitation of African countries like Ethiopia. People of faith who live in Western countries must insist that their country stop exploiting or undermining the sovereignty of African nations. Although Ethiopia is on the path of economic development, praying people must pray for an end to the poverty in Ethiopia and serve the Ethiopian people. However, we must never underestimate the wealth of heart, character, and spirit that exists within the Ethiopian people. We would be wise to sit at their feet and learn from them.
Lawrence W. Rodgers is a Masters of Divinity Candidate at Howard University School of Divinity and the pastor of the Westside Church of Christ in Baltimore MD. Lawrence can be followed at lawrencerodgers.com and on Twitter: @lwrdgrs.