Chapter 25 – More Retreats And Conferences

Uncertainties within Ethiopia’s political unrest were growing. It wasn’t long into 1975 that we began to feel the effect on our ability to plan for conferences. Gasoline was rationed making it difficult to obtain supplies, to say nothing about transporting guests into the camp site. But we did manage.

The new socialist government divided the local farmers into communes. Each commune was given the power to dictate the affairs of the people within its jurisdiction. Some of the individuals took this to mean they could control everything we, as foreigners, did as well. One day a group of them frightened us with their spears and wild shouting; making unrealistic demands. Fortunately higher government officials finally overruled these men; even arresting some of them.

Four Missionary Conferences

missionary group - under tree

A Brant speaking

Encouraged by Albert Brant

Following the gathering of church elders, we hosted two spiritual retreats for missionaries. Some of the missionaries had their own camping equipment and pitched their tents on the camp grounds. Others lived in our lodge.

Then later in January and February two more missionary retreats were held. At the last one Peter Cottrell updated the potentially dangerous political situation. Pastor Johnson from Northern Ireland provided spiritual encouragement in light of all that was happening in the country. God blessed and many missionaries returned to their stations refreshed and spiritually renewed. What else could take place after four days of quietness and relaxation under the ministry of God’s Word?

Sheshemane Youth Retreat

Bible study group - wide

Issues and questions filled their discussion time

rope swing

Taking time for some fun

In early January of 1975 the first group of young people came for a retreat. I realized that a vision was becoming a reality; the years of preparation and building were being culminated in this the first youth program. For three days, forty-nine teenagers from the nearby town of Sheshemane experienced something that they never knew existed — something that I and so many in North America have taken for granted.

And while they were having a good time, Betty and I really had to run to keep up. But they were happy days. Cathy and Jeff were home from school for the Christmas break and joined right into the spirit of camp.

A fellow S.I.M. missionary, Howie Brant, was invited in as speaker. In addition to speaking he gave opportunity for the young people to approach him for private counsel. To our surprise he was kept busy most of each day with sincere inquirers.

Youth Leadership Course

chapel - Howie

Howie Brant and ….

The Kale Hewit (Word of Life) Church leadership recognized that the youth within Ethiopia were in the majority and would be the church leaders of the future. They recognized Langano Camp as a potential place to prepare them for what that future might hold. That’s the reason young people from 17 churches in five provinces were brought into the lake for a week of leadership training.

And what a time they had! A highlight of their day was the discussion period. Young people of that day were faced with many complex situations such as courtship and marriage.

chapel time - Paul B

…. Paul Balisky teaching

They were caught within the cross currents of traditional practice and the “modern ethic” which they wanted to pursue. What does the Scripture say about these things? Are there any guidelines for Christian conduct?

The only thing that could break the intense concentration of these discussion times seemed to be the dinner gong. Mealtime was an occasion for fun with pranks, skits and general hilarity. It’s amazing they got a chance to eat. During the afternoon hours the beach with swimming and water activities was a new experience for most of them.

campers - with Lila

Young women discussing their issues with Lila Balisky

Music also highlighted their activities. Songs that had been written and sung by one group would be shared with those from another part of the country. I had a guitar brought from home with the intention of learning to play it …. but, as it turned out, that was only a dream. So I presented it to the youth organization for someone to use. It was added to a growing inventory of instruments the young people used in their groups.

choir sharing2

Sharing their songs with each other

ping pongHowie Brant and Paul Balisky along with a senior church pastor, Mr. Kidamo, challenged the young people to take a lead in strengthening the church that was facing potential opposition and suppression by the atheistic government. As it turned out in the next few years many of them suffered for their faith and became strong Christian leaders.

checkers & coffeeLadies Easter Retreat

lady studentA group of young university ladies where brought in by Gerry Nelson to celebrate Easter in May. She led them in an in-depth study of Colossians.

One highlight that capped their time at camp was the Sunday meal. Betty made spice cakes and arranged them in the shape of a cross. She copied the design from a picture on an Easter card sent by her mother. Her disappointment was the lack of the orchids that were beautifully depicted on the card. She expressed this in the hearing of one of the workers. He immediately said he knew where could find some. To her amazement and great delight he returned from the nearby forest with an armload from the crotch of a tree!

mesob wot

A misobe containing the injerra and wat

The injerra and wat meal was enhanced by about a dozen lovely misobes, round basket tables, to hold the injerra and wat. Steve Van Nattan had been able to obtain these on one of his buying trips to Addis Ababa.

swimming group - wide

Swimming — a new experience for many of them

Church and Mission Leaders

Another gathering of church and mission leaders also met for several days. Again there was the melting of hearts together.

Christian University Alumni Fellowship

A group from the Christian University Alumni Fellowship spent time with us. These educated young people wanted to eat western food … another challenge for Betty.

The Final Youth Leadership Conference

By the end of 1975 eight retreats and conferences had been held at Langano. We were pleased with how Langano had functioned, but sensed an uneasiness with the political and economic situation in the country.

Early in 1976 communism had taken root within Ethiopia. The godless anti-Christian influence placed the mission and church in serious jeopardy. Two men, Paul Balisky and Howie Brant, who had been key speakers in previous youth camps, had the foresight to see the dangers ahead.

Paul and Howie organized a gathering at Langano for two young people from each of the twenty-eight youth districts that had been organized in the first leadership conference. They felt the isolation of the camp provided the anonymity for such a risky gathering where they could explain what was at the heart of the communistic philosophy and what might be the implications for Christians.

Betty was in the hospital at Soddu so we were unable to host this gathering. (Chapter 27) but thankfully others were able to do so.

The young people were apprehensive, if not fearful, for their futures. But in typical “Howie” fashion, he passionately did his best to expose the evil that was creating dark clouds over the Christian community. Here is a quote from “Ethiopia Ablaze” by Kay Bascom, 1999 (unpublished) describing that gathering:

“I told them the story of communism, “ Howie recalls, “its political thrust, its theory: dialectical materialism, the unity of race, a classless society, and atheism the religion. I used the analogy of a bee: it attracts us with honey, but the sting is in the end.”

This conference was a turning point, perhaps a starting point, for the vigilance and creativity which was going to be required. “I’ll never forget the closing meeting,” Howie said, “It was in the main dining hall of the Langano Center. My text was ‘Be thou faithful unto death.’ By then they all had the background of what I had taught throughout the time, and now at the end, the Spirit of the Lord was so strong that I gave no closing, invited nothing, I just sat down. Ato Tekle (church leader) came forward and said, “Now is the time to dedicate ourselves to the Lord.’ All went to their knees, heads on the ground, and prayed perhaps half an hour, dedicating their lives unto death. When they rose, pools of tears dotted the floor.”

Never in my wildest dreams while pouring that cement floor over a year before, did I ever imagine that young people meeting in that large room would face such momentous issues. God knew Langano would play an important part in preparing the Ethiopian church for the revolution ahead.

… and danger was looming for us as well!

beach - moon

9 Responses

  1. Lois Pegg says:

    I see a couple of familiar faces in the first photo! 😊

    • Betty Harrison says:

      It was great being a part of the big close-knit missionary family! Nice you saw someone you recognized!

  2. Pearl says:

    Getting ominous. You write about the godless and atheistic government and influences that had come to Ethiopia. Was the government itself before (Haile Selassie’s, I assume) considered secular or Christian? Since Ethiopia is bordering Somalia, did Islam become an influence? or were you long gone by then?

    You mention at least 28 youth districts were represented at your youth conference. Did all of the youth speak the same dialect? I’m wondering about communication. Seems as if a large area was represented at the camp.

  3. Betty Harrison says:

    Hi Pearl. Such interesting questions! The previous government was a monarchy under Haile Selassie. As such, he was the head of the Orthodox Church. Missionaries who got to know Haile Selassie claimed he was a Christ follower. As far as we know, he was the supreme ruler, and held a tight reign over the affairs of the country, political and economic. He responded favourably to any missionary whose work would benefit his country, such as medical help and education.

    In our day, it was generally considered that the country was a third Orthodox, a third Muslim and a third animist. Chapter four explains why some of the Arsi people considered themselves Muslim. Ethiopia warred with Somalia over land, but probably not a significant Muslim influence.

    The students who came in for conference were from a variety of language groups. But the official trade language of the country was Haile Selassie’s mother tongue, Amharic. These districts were mainly in the south where the ‘Kale Heywot’, or ‘Word of Life’ churches were located. There were about 2000 churches at that time. They emerged from SIM’s ministry. The songs that the church youth were writing would all be in Amharic. English would be a subject in school also.

    Both Norm and I worked on these answers. Keep the good questions coming. Makes us think!!

  4. Pearl says:

    Thanks for your answers. Many years ago I went to an exhibit at the Pacific Science Center here in Seattle that had on display fossils of what has been claimed to be the bones of a 3 million-year-old hominid commonly referred to as Lucy. Information on Haile Selassie, his claim to linkage with the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon was also exhibited. It was fascinating and I’ve been a little bit interested in Ethiopia ever since. Then a few years ago I read a work of fiction, “Cutting for Stone.” I learned about wot and injera and the hostilities with Eritrea in that book. So now I’m reading your story! I’ll go back to look at chapter 4.

    • Betty Harrison says:

      Interesting, Pearl!

      • Betty Harrison says:

        You know, Ethiopia is surrounded, pretty well, by mountains, and is in that way somewhat isolated. Their culture, clothing and food is quite different from the rest of Africa and in some places is quite elite.

        As you know, the Italians invaded Ethiopia. Some Italian businesses are still there, and the people who are Italian/Ethiopian mix are very good-looking.

        There is a lot of art work around the Solomon, Queen of Sheba union. I often wonder if there could actually be something to it. Many in the north are very fine featured xo

  5. Lois Pegg says:

    Hi Betty,
    Two of my sisters, Bonnie and Reta are in that first picture! So their faces are VERY familiar! Makes me miss Reta. She looks so happy there. I still keep in touch with Carol Skold but don’t see her in that photo. Thanks so much for postings! Love these stories.

    • Betty Harrison says:

      Well, Lois! I should have looked harder; I would have recognized them I am sure. I can still remember Bonnie’s quick smile in the SIM’s Business Department store across from the Guest House. And of course Reta was a dear teacher to our children. I can certainly understand your missing Reta, and I am sorry. xo

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