Paul and Lila Balisky are retired missionaries who went back to Ethiopia in October 2011. They flew to Ethiopia on October 4, 2011, with an agenda of both teaching and visiting former students, understanding the dynamics of Christianity and church at present, getting a feel of historical processes in the various places they had lived and served through the years. They called it a pilgrimage. Here is their story in their own words.
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^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v / \ / \ / Life in Africa
Life in our western countries \ / \ /
in contrast to: \/ \ /
In the west, we rush along through life in short-term jerks, closed in upon by protective strategies, media, the speed of mini-bites, over stimulation, loneliness. In Africa , life is experienced more slowly with greater highs and lows. The agonies and ecstasies are lived through with broad strokes, in community, under the great African sun. (Read Ryszard Kapuschinski: The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life.) This is not to be construed as judgmental because I am part of western society now myself. But there is a numbness or malaise in the west that snares us unknowingly.
My personal prayer song for the journey was a lovely poem by Shirley Erena Murray (sing to a 126.96.36.199 meter tune):
Go gently, go lightly, go safe in the Spirit; live simply, don’t carry much more than you need;
Go trusting God’s goodness, go spreading God’s kindness, stay centered on Jesus and where he will lead.
Go singing, go bringing the gifts of the Spirit, go hopefully searching for things that are true;
In living, in loving, whatever befalls you, God keep you, God bless you in all that you do.
In our short time in Ethiopia, we drove 5000 kilometers through magnificent mountains and gorges. We drove in all kinds of road conditions – new highways, roads under construction, mud in the Kamba moutains. Fortunately, we were able to rent a Land Cruiser and do all the driving ourselves from place to place.
There were many wonderful hours of fellowship with friends, former colleagues, former students, and church leaders in Addis Ababa and other cities where we formerly lived. It was very intense and exciting, full of moments of surprise when we felt God’s presence and goodness.
There have been many changes in the Ethiopian church and generally in African Christianity. Some of the things happening are theological education, different worship styles and directions in various churches in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, discipling, expanding emphasis on Ethiopia’s role in sending their own missionaries, development of universities and still much more. The church in Ethiopia is alive and well! We are so privileged to be a small part of its history. We visited 13 Kale Heywet Church Centres throughout southern Ethiopia. We stopped in unannounced at Waka, high in the mountains, and went to the central church offices and found five former students all in church leadership in that area. It was a beautiful experience.
We had many opportunities to teach including the intensive month of teaching in two different locales. There were also opportunities to speak to women’s groups, evangelists’ conference, chapels and lecturing at Trinity Theological Seminary and EGST. Paul used his "Wolaitta Evangelists” dissertation, now in book form, to bless many students as he taught in Wolaitta and Kambatta at the Soddo Wolaitta Evangelical Seminary (WES) and Duram KHC Missions School (EKSM). We were alert and on duty 24/7! As is common knowledge for successful missionaries – one always carries sermon notes in one’s pocket.
A highlight was seeing the publication of The Songs of Tesfaye Gabbiso, a diglot in English and Amharic – first of its kind in exposing Ethiopian song to a large world audience. It was great satisfaction for me and Ato Haile Jenai, the translator as we had been working on this project for about 30 years!
We send our love and gratitude that we have been able to share with you the richness of our African sojourn.
Take a moment to view some of our photos from the trip (see above).
Chuck Gibbons, SIM Canada Global Programs Finance Administrator, was asked by 700 Club Canada to share a bit about his journey from banker to overseas missionary. Watch it here:
Seven years ago, I began to live. No one who met that 26 year old banker would have ever guessed that I would be called to serve the people of Africa, least of all me. I was settled into life in busy downtown Toronto, making good money as a banker on Bay Street. But I knew something was missing.
It all started with a phone call, and the words "How would you like to come to India?” I had just quit my job as a commercial banker, unsure of the next step but knowing that I wanted to find a job that gave me more than just a pay cheque. Two days later, I held my first passport and prepared for my first international flight. I didn’t know it then, but those three weeks in Calcutta, serving the poorest of the poor, were the start of a journey that is still beyond my comprehension.
A year later, another call informed me of the need for a Finance Director in Malawi for Emmanuel International. Unlike many of my colleagues, I did not have a lifelong desire to work in Africa. In fact, the idea never occurred to me before. So, I stepped out in faith, and trusted I was being led somewhere. Someone recently asked me why I love Malawi so much. First of all, it is a beautiful country, full of stunning beauty and lovely people. The pace of life is relaxed. There is a simplistic beauty to things. It truly is the warm heart of Africa, and my heart is warmed every time I get a chance to visit again the place I called home for a year and a half.
After a year and a half in Malawi, I found my next calling in the form of Finance Director for FAR in Sudan. FAR (Fellowship for African Relief) was started almost 25 years ago with a partnership between EI and SIM as a response to the growing needs of the people of Sudan.
In north Sudan, the problems are very different from what I was used to in Malawi. In Malawi, the main problem was extreme poverty due to lack of resources (and for many years, lack of rain), the problems in North Sudan (from my limited perspective) seem much more related to the effects of generations of conflict. We were trying to help people rebuild lives, communities and families, and sometimes just survival, all in the midst of a country that ranges from areas of tenuous peace to areas that are still involved in full scale conflict.
Working in relief and development can be very challenging and humbling. It is the most difficult yet most rewarding work that I have ever done. Somehow I get the feeling that this is how it is supposed to be when we choose to follow Him and do His work. As Paul says "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
At the end of November 2011, I visited Ethiopia. While in the town of Sheshamene, I regularly saw the community garden that the Medan ACTS project supports.
There was a family there who
faithfully came day after day, to water and care for their vegetables.
Whenever I came to the garden, their little boy would cry out in terror
when he saw me and hide behind his sister. Everyday, I would smile at
him and he would cry. Each day, he would progressively cry less but I still did not receive any smiles! My last day in Sheshemane, his
whole family was there and I crouched down and said hello to him and
smiled yet again at him. But this time, he did not shed any tears but
rather smiled back and laughed even! Finally, my goal had been met. He
no longer cried in horror but came to be somewhat familiar with me.
His mother worked hard everyday for her family to care and provide. The father would come as well some days and help. It was incredible to see this family working so hard and as they grew their vegetables, I could see the hope for the future of their children. An example has been given for the children to follow and I pray that they do follow it.
I took this photo of him while he was with his mother in the garden. This was earlier in the week, when he looked at me with hesitation and if I came too close he would burst into tears.
Learn more about the projects of the Medan ACTS Project in Ethiopia here.
This is the conclusion of a four-part fictional story about a couple in South Asia written by Sarah. Each part will be released on the Tuesday of each week. Here we go - the conclusion of "Date Night"!
Emily sighed happily, surveying the clean guest rooms. The girls had done an amazing job and everything was perfect – ready for the team coming in another week. Flipping the lights off, Emily turned towards the downstairs, mentally running through the ingredient check list for quick-bake scones. When Eric got back from dropping the girls off in their neighbourhood, warm fresh scones would be the perfect ending to date night.
A knock at the door interrupted Emily’s measuring out of the sugar. She glanced at the clock.
"Eight-thirty?” she said to herself. "Who in the world?”
Wondering if someone was due to drop paperwork off for Eric, Emily wiped her hands on her knee-length kurta and hurried to the door. A wave of monsoon’s humid evening air washed over her as she opened it.
"Sunita?” Emily exclaimed, disappointment involuntarily washing over her. Another visit from the nosey neighbors so soon? But then she noticed Sunita didn’t come with her overbearing mother-in-law.
"She is asleep,” Sunita explained, obviously noticing Emily’s confused head-swivel looking for Aunty Rashmi. "Can I talk to you?”
Emily cocked her head and backed away from the door to allow Sunita to find a place on one of the living room’s thick couches. Emily still couldn’t find any words in Hindi.
"Didi,” Sunita began – using the honorary title for older sisters – "I think you are so good!”
Emily’s eyes widened and she plopped down on the couch next to the girl so slender it seemed like her whole body disappeared in a hole at her waist. "Why?” The question fell out of Emily’s mouth in a whoosh.
Her mind darted back to the conversation she and Eric had in the coffee shop about having a more positive attitude towards their status as "always available to anyone”. Emily had heard once that the true test of your Christ-like desire to be a servant is when you’re treated like a servant. The demands on their time from friends and coworkers – foreign and Indian alike – tested her desire to be a servant often. She felt anything but good.
Tears welled up in Sunita’s eyes, "Didi, I did not want to marry Anil. I was in love with another boy. Anil’s mother scared me.”
An image of Aunty Rashmi’s vice-like grip on Sunita’s arm flashed through Emily’s mind.
"But my parents thought this was a good family and so they arranged the marriage. I wasn’t given any choice.” Sunita sucked in a breath, saving herself from completely dissolving into tears.
Her story wasn’t unusual.
"I was so angry when I came here. Angry at my husband. Angry at my parents. Angry at my new family. But what could I do? Now we were married. I thought about killing myself, but then I had Ranu.”
Emily laid a hand over Sunita’s hands clasped in her lap as the story tumbled from the girl’s lips. She was completely absorbed in the woman’s dynamic, expressive face – forgetting scones and date nights and Eric’s impending arrival.
"Didi – I watch you and I think many things happen to you that you don’t like. I think you don’t like it when my mother-in-law comes over after you have company and you have many guests.”
In India, the saying "Guest is god” meant guests should be welcomed as a blessing and gift. But most women – tasked with extra kitchen and cleaning duties - thought they meant more work than blessing.
"You also are far away from your family. But you never speak disrespectfully about these people. You don’t get angry. There is always peace in your home.”
Emily smiled and held up a hand. "Wait, stop. I do get angry sometimes. Frustrated.”
Sunita shook her head, "Not like in our home. Anil’s mother does yoga every morning and worships their family gods, but there is still no peace in our family. Not like here. Where do you find your peace?”
Now it was Emily’s turn for misted-over eyes.
Eric strode in through the door just as she was forming an answer.
"I don’t smell scones!” he called out teasingly before turning to see Sunita and Emily seated on the couch. His eyes grew wide and he bit his lip in embarrassment.
"I’m sorry,” he apologized quickly in Hindi.
"I should go,” Sunita had immediately withdrawn into her usual shy, deferential shield. She rose, but Emily pulled her back down on the couch.
"Could you give us a bit?” she asked Eric, meeting his eyes.
His face reflected understanding and he winked quickly.
"I’ll go bake some scones,” he said and disappeared down the hallway.
Emily turned back towards Sunita and reached for the Hindi/English Bible they kept on a shelf above the couch, searching her mind for verses about peace.
This could be a good way to end date night, she smiled.
SIM Asia is currently looking
for someone – a single or a couple – to fill the Missionary Coordinator role.
As Eric & Emily do in this fictional representation, the Missionary
coordinator is responsible for organizing the physical aspects of the short-termer’s stays in South Asia as well as discipling them and mentoring them as
they seek God about future, long-term work in missions.
Coordinator needs to be flexible, able to work within a cross-cultural team and
comfortable being self-directed to help establish and grow our short-term
program. If you think you or someone you know may be called to fill this role,
please contact your local SIM Canada office.
This is part three of a four-part fictional story about a couple in South Asia written by Sarah. Each part will be released on the Tuesday of each week. Here we go - Part Two of "Date Night".
"Thank you guys so, so much,” Emily said,
hugging Lydia again "No worries,” she smiled. "You guys deserve a night out and
we didn’t have anything planned!”
The other four girls were already upstairs
in the guest portion of the house, stripping beds and sweeping marble floors.
"I’m so glad it was just Sunita at the door
again! I was worried it was something else!” Emily rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, well, she got Ranu’s other shoe so
hopefully that’s all they forgot!”
"Aunty Rashmi sure pulled them out of here
fast! Sometimes I won-"
Lydia held up a hand, "Eric’s waiting
downstairs and we didn’t come over to hang out with you. Go!” she commanded, waving
her hand in a shooing motion.
"Right, okay. Well, there’s soda in the
fridge and a big pot of curried vegetables. Help yourselves, please,” said
"Don’t worry about us!” Lydia said, pushing
Emily towards the door. "Get out of here!”
Emily sighed and smiled before spinning
towards the stairs and hurrying down where Eric waited. He was just closing his
phone when she reached the car.
"You are amazing! What made you think to
call the girls?” she felt like her voice was dangerously close to squealing.
He smiled into her eyes, "Desperate times,”
he said, grabbing her hand as they started to walk down the street towards the
metro stop near their home. For large groups, it was easier to drive – but when
it was just the two of them, using the efficient, modern metro system let them avoid
the stress of traffic.
"I just got an email from Ryan,” Eric said,
tapping his pocket.
"You mean Ryan from last summer?” Emily asked,
surprised. He’d been a short termer the previous year from England who spent
four months of his gap year exploring mission opportunities in India. At the
end of his time, during most of which he’d been sick, he confessed to Eric
they’d been the most miserable months of his life. It had been discouraging to
spend so much time encouraging, praying for and nursing him only to hear him
talk like he’d never set foot here again!
"He wants to come back for a full two-year
internship. He thinks God is calling him here long-term,” Eric’s said excitedly.
Emily squeezed Eric’s hand, "That’s…” she
struggled for the word. "Amazing!”
There were some short-termers who, at the
end of their time, declared their India experience the best of their life – but
who were never heard from again. Always hoping short termers would make long
term commitments, this was discouraging. But then there were people like Ryan…
Eric whispered, suddenly waving and smiling broadly at some of the neighborhood
boys who were loudly calling him, "Bhaiya” – older brother in Hindi.
They ran over to vie for his attention; Emily and Eric stopped to chat with
"Bhaiya, will you play cricket with
"Bhaiya, my father wants to know
when you are coming to our home again!”
"Bhaiya,look at Mukul’s arm – he scraped it yesterday!”
"Bhaiya, where are you going?”
"Bhaiya, bhaiya, bhaiya…”
Most of the boys had good, caring fathers –
but a few of them, Emily knew, struggled in families without a father or with a
father who was too drunk or working too much to care about them. It was these
boys, she noticed, who seemed to cling most tightly to Eric.
Even though their main job was to encourage
and disciple short termers – Emily and Eric had decided at the beginning they
wanted to make the most of their relationships with Indian friends as well. A
pang of guilt sent a hot stab through Emily’s stomach as she thought of Aunty
Rashmi and Sunita. It had been too long since, instead of just enduring their visits,
she’d taken the time to really talk with her neighbor or try to move the
conversation onto spiritual topics.
Oh dear Lord, she breathed as the group of boys parted to let them continue down
the road, why is balance so difficult sometimes?
This is part two of a four-part fictional story about a couple in South Asia written by Sarah. Each part will be released on the Tuesday of each week. Here we go - Part Two of "Date Night".
A whole package of cookies later and half
an hour of forcing laughter at Ranu’s cute, but very naughty, antics, Emily’s fake
smile made her face ache. Sunita was flashing her apologetic, pleading glances
but even those couldn’t assuage Emily’s growing irritation. Eric would be home
any minute and that made her even more anxious to be rid of her house guest.
With only half her attention on the fast, harsh Hindi of Aunty Rashmi, Emily
was having trouble following the topics of conversation.
Laughter floated up the stairs of the
apartment building and slipped into Emily’s living room. She looked at the door
where, a second later, a knock froze Aunty Rashmi’s lecture on the necessity of
having children very soon after the wedding. Emily heard this indictment of her
and Eric’s lack of children often. Sunita and Aunty Rashmi’s son Anil had their
son exactly eleven months after the wedding.
Emily flashed an apologetic smile and
hurried curiously for the door. A wall of giggles and chatter washed over Emily
as she swung open the door. Lydia, Jessica, Tess, Vanessa and Bekki streamed
into the house, stifling giggles and greeting Aunty Rashmi properly with a solemn
"Namaste” spoken with hands folded in front of chest. The five girls had all
arrived in India three months ago and were a part of the group of short termers
Emily was responsible to mentor and disciple through their two years spent
In their best Hindi, they conversed
cheerfully with Aunty Rashmi until the older woman decided it was time to go
home. Despite her perchance for visiting Emily every day, Aunty Rashmi seemed
to dislike all other foreigners. She swept up Ranu in one arm and gripped
Sunita’s thin forearm in her other hand and pulled every one towards the door
When Emily had closed the door behind the
trio, she spun merrily to the five girls, "How did you plan this visit so
"Emily, you have to hear what happened to
Tess,” giggled Lydia.
"What happened?” Emily asked, giggling too
when she saw Tess’ bright red face.
"I was practicing Hindi at Alima’s house,”
Tess had befriended Alima at the university where she took Hindi classes. "We
wanted to make chai, but she was out of tea leaves. So we went next door to ask
her neighbor and Alima said I should practice asking to borrow something…”
The whole group broke out into giggles.
Tess’ whole body shook as she tried to recover her voice.
"So I went over to the neighbor’s house
with her, but instead of asking to borrow her puttee – tea leaves – I
asked to borrow her putee – husband!” This last word was long and
shaking, lost in a fresh eruption of laughter.
Horrified, Emily threw her hand over her
mouth, "What did the neighbor say?”
"Alima jumped right in to correct me,” Tess
said. "I was so embarrassed! We took the tea leaves and hurried home. A few
minutes later, the neighbor’s aunt came over and – very seriously – asked if
she should try to arrange my marriage!”
"Oh no!” Emily cried.
The front door behind her clicked open and
Eric walked into the room of laughter.
"Sounds like you are having a good time,”
he said, tossing the car keys on the door-side table. His green eyes were
twinkling, but he didn’t look surprised to see the five visitors.
"Girls, actually, Eric and I were planning
on going out toni-,” Emily began.
"Oh, we know. That’s why we came over,”
"What?” Emily looked from the suddenly
mischievous faces of the girls to Eric.
"We heard you might need a little help
getting out of the house tonight and that things around here might need a good
scrubbing,” explained Lydia. Emily thought she caught a mouthed "Thank you”
from Eric to the girls.
The sight of the three guest rooms upstairs
that were still disheveled after hosting the team flashed through Emily’s mind.
"You guys shouldn’t have to do my
housework,” she said slowly.
"Not yours,” Vanessa shook her head. "Just
helping out with the team.”
Tears sprung to Emily’s eyes for the second
time that day as Eric wrapped his arm around her waist, "You wanna go put on
some date night clothes?” he whispered in her ear.
"You guys are the best!” Emily said,
dashing to hug each of her girls.
As Emily hurried down the hallway towards
the bedroom, she heard a tap on the front door.
What now? She grumbled, hoping Eric could handle it quickly.
For the next four weeks on Out & About, we will be featuring a four-part fictional story about a couple in South Asia written by Sarah. Each part will be released on the Tuesday of each week. Here we go - Part One of "Date Night".
Emily bit her lower lip, trying to keep the
tears behind her eyelids. She jammed the phone between ear and shoulder as she
measured out water, tea leaves, sugar and ginger to make chai.
"Hey babe, I’m on my way back right now,” Eric
answered. The connection crackled crankily.
"Don’t worry about hurrying back now, Eric.
Aunty Rashmi and Sunita just showed up,” Emily could hear a faint feedback of
her voice. It sounded hollow and flat.
Eric’s sigh echoed the one Emily had
breathed a few minutes before when Aunty Rashmi had dragged her daughter-in-law
Sunita through the front door.
"Well, serve chai right away. That’s
supposed to be the sign you don’t have a lot of time and she should go, right?”
"Yeah,” Emily replied. Supposed to be."I’ll try.”
Somehow the subtle ways suitable in South
Asian culture to signal to guests they should leave sooner rather than later
never worked on staunch Aunty Rashmi.
"I’ll be home in about an hour if this
traffic h-" a line of static and the call dropped.
Emily cupped the phone in her hand dangling
by her side and leaned back against the plaster wall of the kitchen. The pot of
chai was working itself up to a boil on the stovetop; she could just smell the
ginger. In the next room, Aunty Rashmi was talking in high, loud tones to Sunita’s
son, Ranu. She was showing him the strange foreigner items from Canada. A
family photo taken at Emily & Eric’s wedding. Their laptop - both mystery
and magic to the neighbors. A coffee
table book of beautiful natural forests and lakes.
Emily carefully added an equal amount of
milk to the chai which had begun boiling in the pot. The tea turned a creamy
tan. She turned the heat down and waited for it to begin bubbling again.
When she and Eric had decided to move to
South Asia, they’d known it would be a long transition full of bumps along the
way. Orientation and the stories from other workers had prepared them to adjust
to another culture. Or so they thought.
It had been a long two years.
Their role as Missionary Coordinators for
the field meant investing time in college students trying to discern if God was
leading them to serve long-term in South Asia. They also hosted two-week vision
teams – groups from churches, businessmen, pastors. Each in their own way, trying
to discern what their role in reaching South Asia’s unreached people groups
Eric had just finished dropping off a team
at the airport. And after two weeks of spending nearly all of their time with
15 people from a US church, Emily had been looking forward to a long evening alone
with Eric. A stroll around the local gardens and then a cold coffee at their
favorite cafe. It was their South Asian version of what date nights had been in
Canada – a movie and coffee at Tim Hortons.
But now Aunty Rashmi had situated her ample
girth in the middle of the living room’s loveseat. The woman’s visits were
never under two hours – no matter how early Emily served chai or how many hints
she dropped about how much housework there was.
"Emily?” called Aunty Rashmi from the other
room. The Indian pronunciation of her name sounded more like "Imly” which –
incidentally – was also the name of a small, round fruit. "Do you have any
biscuits for Ranu?”