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Monday, May 21, 2012

A Trip to Ethiopia

Presentation of Kombolcha, Ethiopia Mission Trip

Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, May 20, 2012

(1)        LEAD UP TO THE TRIP

In December 2009 my wife Candy Tennant and a dozen others traveled to Ethiopia and visited “care points” run by Children’s Hope Chest.  One of those sites was Grace Baptist Church in the city of Kombolcha. 

In March 2010, Peter Abera, an Ethiopian man from Kombolcha visited here and told his story to HillSong Church. He was born Ethiopian Orthodox, a form of Christianity and the most prominent faith in Ethiopia.  During the famine, he worked at a World Vision feeding center run out of Grace Baptist Church in Kombolcha.  There, he accepted Jesus as his Savior.  I am not suggesting the Orthodox Church does not preach the Gospel.  But Peter did not learn to be a Jesus follower in the Orthodox Church.  He didn’t come to Christ until he was mentored by a World Vision worker who shared both food and the Gospel. 

Word traveled to Peter’s father who came to the Grace Baptist Church with a gun, intent on killing his son for leaving Ethiopian Orthodoxy.  Peter was terrified, but the man who had discipled told him to go into the building.  That man brought out a table and poured some coffee. 

Peter’s father set his gun on the table. The man who himself had grown up Muslim and then turned to Jesus at Grace Baptist Church, explained the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Peter’s Father listened.  His heart softened.  They called Peter.  His father put the gun away and embraced his son.

These events took place in the 1990’s.  Peter toured the United States in 2010.  One of his stops was here, HillSong Church.  He shared his story, which I just told.  That day, we invited people to support Grace Baptist Church by supporting the Children’s Hope Chest Care Point there. 

Support is rendered by sponsoring a child.  You send $34/month and you begin a relationship with a child who is educated at the school run by Grace Baptist.  The child gets a uniform, school supplies, and a meal every day.  Some of these kids live with their parents who are extremely sick.  Some have lost one parent and live with the surviving parent; these kids are called single orphans.  Some children lost both parents and live with a relative or guardian.  These are double orphans.  Whether the child is a single orphan, a double orphan, or a kid whose parents are alive but very poor, their needs are tremendous.  We have poverty in America, but in most cases, even our poor would be relatively well off compared to the poor in Kombolcha.

When Peter spoke at HillSong, people signed up to be sponsors.  Today, there are over 160 children in the program at Grace Baptist Church and about 90 are sponsored.  Over 40% of those sponsors come from HillSong church. 

What if we went to visit these kids?  What if we did that every year?


       In 2011, Candy and I went to Ethiopia to adopt our daughter Merone.  While there, we went to Kombolcha, an 8-hour bus ride from the capital city, Addis Ababa.  We saw children who have great potential but are shackled by poverty.  The kids embraced us and loved us.  All we did was pass out care packages and take pictures.  And give hugs.  Lots of hugs. 

       I met with the leaders because I wanted HillSong to visit but only if that would be a good thing for them.  Maybe hosting a bunch of Americans would put an unneeded burden on them.  They assured me that a visit would be most welcome. 


When Candy and I returned to the United States, we began planning.  There was enthusiasm for the trip here at HillSong.  I imagined us as a church visiting Kombolcha every year.  That’s still my vision, but now that we have been on the firs trip, the vision is expanding. 

       Last year, May to November, many at HillSong attended the initial meetings.  Then, the interest waned.  Conflicting schedules, health, family obligations and other things got in the way.  For various reasons, autumn was passing and we had me and Sara Timmons and Laura Driggers.  Candy has also advertised the trip to sponsors outside our church, and they began signing up.  Soon, we had a team of 15, people from Michigan, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Virginia, and North Carolina.

We began preparing through conference calls.  I asked team members to share their Christian testimonies, on the calls.  In addition to that time of sharing, we planned our Bible camp.  Essentially what we would do in Ethiopia is go to the Grace Baptist Church every day and put on a 3-hour Bible camp for some of the kids in the morning.   The camp consisted of Bible lesson, arts/crafts, recreation/parachute games, and the distribution of care packages.  We also had several donations to pass out – balls, backpacks, water bottles, etc.  And, each day, we fed the kids a snack.  We’d take one group through in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

       As our team took shape, I thought, “This is not what I had in mind.”  I envisioned a HillSong team.  This team was a collection from all over with only three HillSong members.  But God was in it.  I was affirmed in the calling that yes, we were to go to Ethiopia.  At the same time, God showed me it wouldn’t look exactly as I thought. 

The time for the trip was getting closer, and I got a phone call.  “Rob, I need to come and talk to you.”  That usually means something is wrong, which is OK.  Christians walk with each other in life when something is wrong.   “Rob, I need to come and talk.”  Heidi Soden called and said those words, but it was because deep inside her, something was very right.  Even though all the deadlines had passed, she felt compelled by God to go on this trip. So, she came to see if there was any way.  I called the organization handling the logistics of our trip, the One Child Campaign.  Thy made it happen.  Our team of 15 was now 16, four from HillSong. 

Then March 21st came – the day of our departure.  I learned that Sara Timmons can sleep anywhere – plane, floor of the airport, uncomfortable, crowded van.  Because she can do this, she is rested.  When the team is groggy and tired, she is awake, smiling.  We were working with 160 kids who speak Amharic.  A bright smile goes a long way.

I learned that nothing seems to faze Heidi.  She handles it all – the travel, the jetlag, the moments of scheduling uncertainty – she handles it with grace.  And she steps right in to any situation.

I learned that it is important to have a physician like Laura on the trip.  I also learned if you sit next to her for 13 hours on a plane, you won’t get bored.  She is extremely committed to Jesus and she is a conversationalist. 

We all learned that the Ethiopian airlines feeds a lot of meals and when it is meal time, they wake you up no matter how much your seatmate urges them to let you sleep.  Every time poor Laura would talk herself tired and drift off to sleep, they’d come with more food.  I would say, “Just let her sleep.”  Ignoring me, the flight attendant would shake her and say, “Chicken or fish.”  Half the time, I think she was so tired she wasn’t sure what she ordered even after she ate it.

I learned (again) what a fantastic my wife is.  With Merone only being with us 10 months, it wasn’t right for Candy to leave for 9 days.  But the entire time we were in Ethiopia, her fingerprints were all over the trip.  She was the conference calls in on all the planning. 

Here’s an example.  At the guest house, when we checked in, I was given a cell-phone.  Then I looked at the rather detailed notes Candy had put in a folder for me.  It said, “When you get to the guest house, a woman named Mercy will give you a cell phone.”  I looked at the woman and said, “Um, is your name, Mercy?”  She smiled and said, “Uh huh.”  I thought to myself, “I better read this folder carefully, every day.”  And, by the way, four members of the team used that phone to call back home throughout the week.

Our team was truly brought together by God.  We had a teenager, a nurse, a waitress, two pastors, a physician assistant, a school principle, a special ed teacher, a university professor, an office manager, a groundskeeper, and five stay-at-home moms.  There are super-Christians or sophisticated world-class travelers.  Some are over 50 years old, and one is 14.  Some are have a lot of formal education.  Some do blue-collar work.  One team member is a diabetic and she did fine.  One is a vegetarian, a vegan in fact, and she had some food challenges, but also did fine.  Look at these people.  YOU can sponsor a child and you can go on one of these trips.  You can be spectacularly used by God just by making yourself available. 

       At the Bible camp, the kids loved the games and the care packages.  They threw themselves into the crafts time.  They listened and participated when I taught the Bible lesson.  As we did our camp, in the distance, over a loud speaker, we would hear the Muslim call to prayer.  Many Muslims live in Kombolcha.  Among the children and within the Grace Baptist Church Family, some come to Jesus from a Muslim background.


(3) WHY

       This trip is about telling Jesus’ salvation, sharing basic needs of food and education and love with extremely poor children, and establishing relationships with those kids and the adults who care for them daily.  With the sounds of Islam filling the air, we told these kids that Jesus is God come in the flesh to take the sins of the world.  We went to Ethiopia to share this, to meet material needs, and to love the children in person.

       The most emotional portion of the trip for most of us came when we got to visit the homes of the children we sponsor.   We got to see 3rd world poverty up close.  This wasn’t a CNN report.  With our bags of gifts –fruit, coffee, sugar – we went and visited the children.  The child Candy and I sponsor lives with 5 others in a home that’s not bigger than my office here at the church. 

       There is a reality about who Jesus is and some of us cannot see that reality until we step out of our familiar surroundings and into another world.  We go to help the kids yes, but also because we need to.  In order for us to become who Jesus is calling us to be, we need to go.


       Next year’s trip is March 9-18.  That corresponds with UNC’s spring break.  MY hope is that we double or triple the number of HillSong people who go.  I’d love to see five from the Encounter small group on next year’s trip.  Already, 17 people have signed up.  I now know this trip is God’s, not Hillsong’s.   The people in Ethiopia were so enthused with our time with them, they are eager for us to come back.  They cried when we left, and we did too – a lot.  Many have already signed up to go back. 

I am convinced God is calling Hillsong to be part of this. I urge you to pray and ask God if you are being called to sponsor or to go. 


       I see this as the beginning of a long-term relationship:  HillSong Church, Children’s Hope Chest, Once Child (the organization handling logistics), and Grace Baptist Church in Kombolcha.  In 2013, our Bible camp there will be during UNC’s spring break March 9-18. 

       We might plan other 2013 trips to Kombolcha.  I am exploring the possibility of a medical team going in the Fall. 


       What does this mean here, now?  We invite you to be part it.  Sign up now, so we can begin preparing.  See Candy or me if you’d like to go.  All you need to is be available.  Teachers, waitresses, maintenance workers, nurses have all gone – these aren’t extraordinarily wealthy folks.  They are folks who hear God’s call, trust in his help, and sacrifice things so they can go where He is at work.  Teens, people over 50, diabetics – all are happy they went and plan to go back.  You can do this too. 

       Or, maybe you’re called somewhere else.  Laura Shrewsbury goes to Ukraine nearly every year where she is a part of a Bible camp for Gypsy children.  Uganda, South Africa, Haiti – we have people who have been or are going to these places.  There is the potential for a future trip to the Dominican Republic. 

       Maybe you are called locally.  Jonathan has the youth on mission every summer.  It’s home repair work and has been done in downtown Roanoke and on an Indian reservation.  We have numerous ministries right here in Carrboro-Chapel Hill and right in our own church.  Personally, I want everyone to go to Ethiopia.  But more than that, for the sake of your growth in Christ, I want you – every one of us – to answer God’s call to step out of comfortable places and into uncertain places where trusting Him is essential.  We don’t live in Faith until we truly give up control. 


       As we move into a time of prayer, singing, and invitation, let this also be a time of considering.  God is calling you, maybe to Ethiopia.  Maybe to something else.  As we sing during this time, I invite to come to the front and pray, asking God where He is calling you.  Or come and ask God, if you already have an idea, to clarify the call on your life.  This isn’t only for young people.  This isn’t only for travelers or people with a certain skill set.  God has a call on every life here.  I am asking today that all of us come and kneel and pray and ask God to reveal the call, clarify the call, and solidify the call.  Maybe coming to the front to pray is not what you usually do.  Maybe that’s the first step in being willing to say to God, “I’ll do as you command.  As the worship team leads, come and pray and ask God to show you the way to the live of service in Jesus’ name he is preparing for you.  Come.


  1. Does not matter what I say because you will translate it to "its a test or trial or the devil" but I will tell you that your statements about the Ethiopia Orthodox Church are false, Orthodoxy is not merely a form first of all and lastly you have no idea that Orthodoxy does not lead one to be a follower of the Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. It does, perhaps in the case of Peter he had an alternative experience, that should not reflect on Orthodoxy. Now we have faith and works. Its righteous to perform good deeds in Ethiopia, but its evil to preach your "form" of Christianty which is heretic to Ethiopians. You may not know this now, but you will soon.

    1. Dear Anonymous, what you say does matter and I am listening. Honestly, in this message, I did not critique Ethiopian Orthodoxy. I shared Peter's experience. This was his story. Unless someone was with Peter as he went through these events, it's hard to question his account of what he went through.

      Honestly, I would love to learn abotu Orthodoxy. I think it is a part of Christianity that has been ignored in the west. Whenever you read a history of Christian thought, Ethiopian Christianity which predates Roman Christianity is ignored and that's not good. So, I would love for you to tell me about Orthodoxy, and I am very interested in learning. I don't think in my remarks here I disparaged Orthodoxy.

      I do take acception to saying a certain form of Christianity is heretical in Ethiopia. Ethiopians are human beings made in the image of God and the Christianity I preach honors God and exalts Jesus. That's what Christianity - all Christianity, regardless of form - must do. So, no, I wasn't guilty of evil in Ethiopia. I went there out of love for the children we were with and I went in obedience to God, answering God's call.

  2. Mr-Ron Tennant,
    i am from that area and i should be honest with you-to be honest-we do not need a missionaries from the west-especially to the Bet Amhara people-our for fathers fought your early descendants from Europe multiple times from the early times-starting from Roman times-may the God of Israel wipe them (the roman church and its leaders not the people)out from the face of the earth(but the Lord yeshua has said that until the gentiles time fulfilled, things will go just like now)they -they are the vessel for the anti Christ-and of course the protestant wings that spring out from the Roman church during Luther's time is an instrument for the anti Christ to triumph. They (the protestants) think that they amended what the Romans church went wrong but they do not know that they are in the business of conditioning for the anti Christ(Remember when the anti Christ comes he comes claiming that he is the Christ)! That conditioning in the name of reformation movement of the Roman church is what the anti Christ has set to achieve. Ya-they(the western mission agencies) say Ethiopian Orthodoxy(its proper name is Orit-Tewahido) traditional,a yoke, a form of Christianity that a barbaric people misconceived, a cause of poverty(they forgot to read the book of job-by the way we were one of the world powers equal to Rome and Persia so we have seen riches too)...etc and as such they say they(Ethiopians) need to accept our en lighted form of Christianity-That is why Rome waged war against us more than two times-but Elshaday defeated them in Adawa near to the home of the Ark of the covenant- Aksum Mary of Zion for His power is greater than their mighty weapons, and they came again the second time(this two attempts were a recent one but our battle goes back to the era of Roman empire)! This time they succeed to occupy the land of Melchizedek for 5 years but God wanted to disprove them in their own courts-the league of nation-they could not win the argument but their kins(other Europeans Biritain, france ...etc) gave a deaf ear to the plea made by our leader at the time but God took the war to their(Europe) door step according to the prophetic word told by our leader-so that is why the second world war happened!!!
    do you know what the Italians did in that 5 year occupation? they went on building spree of mosques all over the country including in my beloved province(my province is a holy place unlike today's time -you can read the book written by Francisco Alvarez-a Portuguese "priest" about my Province! But the devastation caused by those barbaric Arab nomads jihadists immense-they could not repay us the wealth they stole but more than that they caused a psychological defeat on us as a people group! They proselytize us-our for fathers just like what you are doing-they did it by force under a knife but you are doing it under the pretext of helping people out of poverty.
    i will present you a video archive that shows the roman priest blessing the tank so that they will be able to finish the people of Abysinia! Shame on them-they killed close to 2 million people with tanks and muster gas-i can give you a video archive that shows Italy planes bombing kombolicha and Dessie with a mustard gas!

    i can also provide you with a you tube link ( an exorcism and healing ministry by ethiopian orthodox priest)of how the protestant missionaries are used by the anti christ for conditioning of people-you will see in that link how saytans and agannents(agannent is Amharic name-and also Hebrew)use the name of the Lord Jesus to enter in to humans-it shows the false christs!
    but you need a translator-the you tube videos are more than 19 now-each video is more than an hour long-sometimes more than two hours!

    i can also provide you a video evidence of this conditioning practice outside of the religious discourse-in fact just Google the testimony of John Todd on you tube and you will learn the connection between the protestant movement and other occult and cult societies!

    1. Moa, I appreciate you taking the time to read the blog. Your comments are clearly thought-out.

      I do not agree that Catholicism is inherently Satanic. Religious forms can be obstacles to faith just as they can be aids to faith. There are true Christ followers in orthodoxy, in catholicism, in protestantism, in pentecostalism, and in evangelical Christianity. There are true disciples in each strain. There are also liars and cheats in each strain of Christianity. The one who sorts it out is God.

      The important thing is not speculating about the end times. The important thing is following Jesus today.

      Our work in Kombolcha is a not a pretext. We are there helping extremely poor families. I know you have a lot of thoughts about Satan and the End times. What are your thoughts about Matthew 25 (loving the least of the these) and other passages throughout the New Testament that demand that Jesus' followers help people who need help? What are you doing to help the poorest of the poor in Ethiopia? Western Christians are criticized for our wealth. Then when we use our resources and our money to try to help Christians and help people who don't have what we have, then we are criticized for religious colonialism. That is the criticism you've cast on me.

      What, in your dispensationalist theology, accounts for Jesus' call to help the poor? And how are you helping the poor?

      A second question. If I read your comments correctly, it seems you don't want Christians from other parts of the world, especially America, to come to Ethiopia. OK, what about Revelation 5 and again in Revelation 7, where John looked into Heaven and saw people from every tribe and race and nation together worshipping Jesus? What about Galatians 3:29 where Paul says in Christ there is no male or femal, no slave or free, no gentile or jew? According to Paul and according to Revelation, Christians are to overcome ethnic differences and national differences and come together in Jesus name. We see Jesus himself with the Syro-Pheonician woman and with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 and in other places. Jesus drew the world to God. So where, Moa, in your dispensationalist theology, is there space for people coming together? Where is the Christian fellowship and brotherhood? Where is the uniting in Christ?

      I respect your passion for God. And for your country. I would love to hear your thoughts on these matters.