Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Before coming to Addis Ababa, I knew there would be aspects of the experience that I never could have expected or predicted. I read up on the place and the program, pored over the handbook and the cultural orientation guide, conversed with my friend and inspiration Alex, three-time visitor. Still, I knew I’d be stunned by a thing or two.

There have been many mild surprises, of course. The width and breadth of the poverty, for one. The ferocity of the bustle of the city. The sheer scope of giant Addis – much larger than I ever could have imagined. I’ll write about all of these things in future posts. But one largely unexpected thing has dominated life so far here:


I didn’t know it, but I signed up for Camp Jesus.

Alex mentioned that Cherokee had Christian inclinations, more so than they let on, but I never could have expected the Biblical onslaught that has characterized my first week here. God’s will is the reason the other firenjes are here. God’s name comes up every hour of every day and is often the focal point of the conversation or activity we’re engaged in. God’s inspiration created the schools my housemates and I volunteer at. God’s image dominates the streets, schools, stores, and homes of Addis. God’s worship is unquestioned, unswerving, unrelenting.

Ten days ago, the most important religious person in my life was probably Tim Tebow, so this environment has been rather startling.

Friday night I went to this “Small Group” God-praising thing at a nearby house, because a) my alternative option was to stay home and watch “The League” off a zip-drive on my computer and b) there are people staying at this house who I immediately felt a connection to, probably because they seem almost as passionate about games like Settlers of Catan as they do about Jesus. The evening started off with a round-the-circle introductory session where you stated your name, where you were from…and one way in which God had recently touched your life.


Within five seconds, however, I knew what I was going to say. When it got to me, I said I am not a religious person, but I really feel that God brought me here to Ethiopia.

And here’s the thing: it wasn’t bullshit.

I’m 29 years old. I don’t actually like traveling all that much. I live a healthy life in an awesome place. I have plenty of friends and an active social life. And for Godsakes, the NFL playoffs are still going on. Yet here I am in one of the most random places imaginable at one of the most random times possible. Every morning when I step out the gate, smell and hear the city breathing, and watch the people and goats shuffling up the streets of rock, I pause a moment and wonder how in the world I wound up here at this time, what chain of events led me to Addis freaking Ababa, and if I might be dreaming.

There is only one plausible explanation.


Perhaps the word “God” doesn’t quite mean the same thing to me as it does to my housemates. I suppose when I think of the “God” that brought me here, I am just referring to a vague ethereal force that sporadically guides my decisionmaking process. But make no mistake about it – I was brought here. I really can’t connect the dots between “kinda wanting to do something to absolve my guilt about being a mediocre human being” and actually going to Ethiopia by myself for two months. I’m still not sure how that happened. A friend even bet me I wouldn’t get on the plane, then doubled the stakes contingent upon my staying here two weeks. Betting against me was probably the right play, but she didn’t realize she was betting against someone else too.

“God” didn’t just suddenly enter the picture when I stepped onto Ethiopian soil. “God” has been an important part of my life for many years. As long as I can remember, I’ve been a firm believer in things like Virtue, Karma, Judgment, Righteousness and Absolution. I frequently pray, sometimes meditate, often thank the Lord for opportunities. I climb high mountains because they bring me closer to God. I love it when someone says grace before supper. My housemates might think they’re making me uncomfortable doing so before every single meal; little do they know how much I appreciate it.

I am a religious person; I just have never defined myself as one, organized my beliefs into any sort of paradigm, or practiced them in a communal setting. My relationship with God has not been delineated and perhaps never will be. It is only here, in this pious land, amongst these zealous Christians, that I ever gave it much thought.

When I told my mom I was going to Ethiopia this winter, she gave me this book Cutting For Stone, a novel about medicine, Ethiopia, India, family, relationships, and of course, God. Recently, I was struck by a passage from the wise Matron of the Mission Hospital regarding the denominational differences between the Ethiopian masses and the Houston Baptists sponsoring the hospital, a quote that wholely encapsulates my perspective on religion in twenty-six words:

“God will judge us by what we did to relieve the suffering of our fellow human beings. I don’t think God cares what doctrine we embrace.”


Anonymous Taylor said...

Your friend would like to remind you that the bet was for three weeks, not two. And when it comes to gambling, she doesn't waste her time going against counterparts any less formidable than those she's currently up against.

This post has got to be a BMR Top 10. Thomas Fuller is at Jesus Camp and getting up (early!) to teach kindergarten for a bunch of Amharic-speaking five-year-olds. Irrefutable proof that there is a God, and man, does She have a sense of humor.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Bag said...

How did they take your views on God? Were they accepting and tolerant or are you going to be exorcised in the middle of the night?

7:16 PM  
Blogger TheGraveWolf said...

Taylor, you are quickly becoming my favorite Bad Moon Rising commenter.

12:38 AM  
Blogger Spencetron said...

Of course Christianity is huge in Ethiopia. In addition to huge churches carved into rocks they have the freaking holy grail! Haven't you seen Indiana Jones? Also, how was dinner? You're not eating with your left hand are you?

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Pat M said...


Great blog. It takes a lot of guts to do something like what you have done and abandon your routines and things that you have grown accustomed to in order to help others... Don't sell yourself short. I just stumbled across your blog, but I will now read it regularly. Keep up the good work and I hope to see you in Vegas this summer.

11:55 PM  
Blogger 81Trucolors said...

Glad to see there's personal growth happening, albeit in possibly unforeseen directions.

Be careful attributing actions to god. I find for me that it gets awkward sometimes when I have to blame/thank god for my poor decisions.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Michal Greenberg said...

I blame god every time the broncos lose. it only seems fair since (s)he gets the credit for every win. ;)

12:37 PM  
Anonymous CaptNiebo said...

Tom, remember this...Jesus should be the model by which you lead your life. Without Him, your life will be forever empty.

7:11 AM  

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