In 2005 my good friend Afshin Ziafat (http://www.afshinziafat.com) had taken a trip with e3partners.org to the Middle East. During a phone conversation with him several weeks later, he drew me in, as only Afshin can, with humorous and inspiring stories from his experiences in the Middle East. He then paused and said, “Scott, you should check into e3. I think that you were made to do something like this. You should go with Mike Congrove. You’d love this guy.” So after some prayer and contemplation, I signed up to go to Ethiopia the first e3 adventure that Mike Congrove led as a Church Planter. Little did I know how God was going to use this trip to call me into the life of an international church planter. Little did I know how God would lead Mike to travel on from our Ethiopian campaign to the Sudan on an exploratory trip that would prepare him to become one of the finest Country Strategy Leaders (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBUdvYLzYkQ) and mission pioneers that e3 has ever employed.
Well, I guess that Mike thought, ‘Hey Scott’s a pastor. I’ll just throw him out there in Africa several miles from our team’s home base (in Ethiopia) with two Ethiopians he’s only known for 1 day. It’s all good. He’ll be fine.’ So in August 2006 (I think it was August) I found myself being dropped off from our vehicle in the middle of no-man’s-land Ehtiopia with Worku and Eberra. The driver told us, “The village you’ll be going to is only a 3 mile walk from here”… except… I didn’t understand a word he said. I had to rely on Worku’s interpretation from Amharic to English. I thought to myself, ‘Scott you’re in over your head here’. But hey, I’ve never been one to back down from an adventurous challenge.
So there I was, a stranger in a strange, yet beautiful land nervously excited to share the life changing dangerous message of Jesus. As we walked up the road passing these beautiful people, I couldn’t help but notice that each and every one of the people I passed couldn’t stop staring at me and my Scottish tan. Their obvious non-verbal gestures seemed to communicate that I was quite possibly the first white man these folks had ever seen in their neck of the woods.
Had Afshin predicted the future? Was he delving into the prophetic? I joke. Yet, after just two days of sharing the Gospel with these people, who were thirsty for life, I knew that I’d entered my element… my sweet spot… my God ordained purpose if you will. But it was during the third day of mission work there that God crystalized everything for me. On that day Worku, Eberra and I met 10 or 12 some were closer to 21 years of age and some younger with the youngest being a 14 year old boy. I call it my “boys to men” experience.
As I shared how Jesus came to earth to die for us, to resurrect and ultimately to save us, they all seemed interested at first… all except for a couple of the older guys, who seemed half drunk. They were mocking us. As I clumsily expressed the notion to them that each of them could repent and call on the name of Jesus to save them, even at that very moment, I could feel the tension. I could sense the invisible spiritual battles raging within them.
I’d like to say that they all or at least most of them came to know our Savior that day. But instead, as I spoke and Worku interpreted, one by one they turned and acquiesced to the pressure of the two older guys and the growing majority. In the end, they all turned away except for three of them. Two of these three boys shouted back toward their retreating friends saying, “Come back! We all need this. You know we need God.” I asked these three young men if they were ready to follow Jesus inviting them to believe on Him and to give their lives to Him. The two older ones, probably 17 to 19 years old, were ready. They bowed on their knees seeking God’s grace and willing to call on Jesus to save them. I didn’t ask them to do this. But their unsolicited posture expressed their sincere humility before God.
However, the fourteen year old hesitated. His name was Shirtu. I asked Shirtu if something prevented him from inviting Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. He said, “Yes. I have to ask my mother’s permission first.” Well, I hope that this doesn’t surprise you, but I really despise preachers who pressure others into some confession or profession before the people hearing are ready. In other words, I wanted to respect Shirtu’s willingness to submit under his mother’s authority. Nothing good comes out of false professions performed under spiritual bullying. But at that very moment it was as if God came down, took over my brain and tongue and said, “Shirtu, I’ll respect whatever you desire. But do you think that God wants to change you and to give you life through Jesus today so that you might offer the same gift from God to your mom tomorrow?” He nodded and said, “Yes.” Then he got on his knees with the other two older boys. They confessed and professed their love for and belief in Jesus right then and there.
The next day we made our way to an area of the village we hadn’t been to before and we unknowingly knocked on the gate of Shirtu’s yard. They have gates there connected to shrubbery surrounding their yards like a fence. Lo and behold Shirtu came to the gate. He smiled ear to ear with excitement and then ran to tell his mom that we were at the gate!
He’d already spoken with his mother about Jesus and the life change that he was now experiencing. During our conversation, Worku, Eberra and I only reiterated what Shirtu had shared with his mom. God revealed his sovereignty during our visit with her. We discovered that Shirtu’s mom was a widow with seven kids. Her deceased husband was the “right hand man” to the local witch doctor whom she was still following. Not only that, but she’d made her living brewing and selling an indigenous brand of moonshine that had lured many of the local villagers into addiction.
To make a long story short, she decided to give her life to Christ that day! Through God’s direction she quit her business and forsook everything to follow Him. She opened her hut to house the church that we started in that village. That was in August of 2006. Before losing contact with Worku sometime in the Autumn of 2008, Worku would email me from time to time to tell me how God continued to work through Shirtu’s family and grow that little house church in the middle of nowhere, Ethiopia.
Would you take a moment and pray for Shirtu’s family, the little house church, Worku and Eberra (who became the shepherd over Shirtu’s house church)?