Chapter 24 – Ready For Conference Guests
The big day finally arrived! We were ready … and the first guests arrived.
Church Elders’ Conference – November 7-10, 1974
We didn’t pay much attention to the political situation in the country. Sadly we knew the Emperor, Haile Selassie, had been deposed in September, 1974. But as far as we were concerned down here far from the capitol city, all seemed well. But that was not the case in other parts of the country and we would soon find out it really wasn’t that far into the future for us either.
We had been working hard to prepare for the first conference starting on September 19. This was going to be a gathering of leaders of the Kale Hiywet (Word of Life) churches and missionaries that were working with them in church planting. But two days before the guests would arrive, Dr Mulattu, the leader in charge of the conference, made the journey in to say the conference was cancelled due to unrest in the country. When the military took over the government two weeks previously, they announced that there could be no meetings unless they were permitted by the government. What a shock! Hopefully the conference could be rescheduled for a later time.
And it was…… the day we had worked for and anticipated for so long arrived. On November 7 twenty-six national church leaders and fifteen mission personnel came in by Land Rover and a trailer pulled by a tractor. During their first session they decided to scrap part of the heavy schedule of church-mission discussions to seek the Lord in fasting and prayer. This set the tone for good spiritual refreshment and Christian fellowship.
Seeing the Christian men in the open chapel praying on their knees with their faces to the ground caused quite a stir among the local Arsi people. They thought it was only Moslem people who prayed like that. One man in particular was so moved that he discussed his concern with the evangelist and came to faith in Jesus Christ.
A spirit of unity and fellowship prevailed among the conference participants as they discussed such important problems as nationalization of some mission programs, community development, and youth issues within the church. There was still time for recreation and swimming, but during these open times you could see small groups here and there among the trees sharing with one another. The capstone to the conference came following the last meeting when all the men filed from the chapel, stood in a large circle hand-in-hand and sang in Amharic, “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love”.
It was a tremendous thrill to see the conference facilities finally being used. Another thrill was to witness the local Arsi reaction to “outsiders” coming into their territory. During the noon meal of the second day a group came to the camp bringing a large wooden bowl beautifully decorated with beads and full of corn porridge rich with butter. The chief said this was a welcome gift for the “Harrisons’ guests”. The significance of this act was not lost on Betty and me. Here’s why.
Soon after our arrival God let us into a little secret of His. Another mission organization saw what we were doing and considered it a good idea for their organization as well. One weekend they brought about 100 young people to a spot on the lake about ten miles up the beach from us. Most of them had been transported across the lake by motor boat and some in from the highway by bus.
Well, when the local Arsi people saw what was happening, they considered this group to be a invasion of outsiders into their territory. They made their way down to the encampment and demanded the youth, in no uncertain terms, to leave. They waved their spears and shook the tents. You have never seen such a scared bunch of young people. They were streaming past our camp site heading for their bus and the main highway some ten miles away.
Then we recognized God’s strategy in how we would be successful. It would take time to build a rapport with the local people before we would be able to bring guests into the area. The Arsi people were known for their fierce territorial instincts that had kept them isolated from the mainstream of Ethiopian influence and fiercely protective again any intrusion. We were outsiders and had to earn the right to live among them. I called the local Arsi elders together one day to explain what I was doing and that people would be coming to the camp. By this time, we had been living among them for several years. Betty had endeared herself to them with medical help from her small tent clinic, and I had hired men from the community to help me build.
The Arsi elders responded by stating that if the people coming in were our guests then they would be their guests as well. Now they demonstrated this by offering a token gift of corn porridge in the decorated bowl to our first conference guests. This was followed by the chief giving a speech of welcome.
We learned that we could go about our task of building a camp, but it would not be successful on our terms, but on God’s timing and direction. This attitude certainly melts away any sense of dismay when things don’t seem to be going according to schedule or to a desired outcome.
More conferences and youth camps were being planned for the rest of the year, but other activities also demanded our attention.