Mulat, Mamo and Wolde were waiting for us on the second floor balcony of a coffee shop in Addis Ababada. These three men meet here every week as part of their routine to nurture their friendship and to discuss what they might do together to help others.
At seventy six to eighty three in a country where life expectancy is fifty-one years of age, these three men are certainly well named ‘elders’ of the community.
Ethiopia is where they were born and raised, but also where they have led. They were young children in October 1935 when the Italians invaded Ethiopia under Mussolini and the Ethiopians did not capitulate. Mussolini was trying to rebuild the Roman Empire and needed North East Africa to do so. He also wanted to settle the score with Ethiopia as they had defeated the Italians in the past during the battle of Adowa that took place in 1896.
Gorilla groups of fifty were organized by their leaders against the Italians. Ethiopia at the time had a relatively weak army that consisted of indigenous tribal forces that were still using basic weapons such as spears and shields, whereas the Italians had an air force of 12 fighter planes and made substantial use of mustard gas, in both artillery and aerial bombings.
Today the majority of Ethiopians are still farmers who still live from harvest to harvest, and are vulnerable to crop failures. Famine has ravaged this country time and time again and the country has been ravaged by the affects of extreme poverty. These elders know all about that.
Not only do they know about famine, they have lived through them and also done something about it. They are some of the founders of the Kale Heywet Church, one of the prominent and fruitful evangelical denominations in Ethiopia and have sacrificed their precious lives being actively involved in God’s service to the people bringing about holistic transformation.
Their church today has over 8 million people across 8000+ congregations.
“Would you like another cup?” I was asked, referring to their delicious Ethiopian coffee.
This little coffee group of elders had welcomed us into their fold and we were mesmerized by the leadership wisdom that flowed from them.
I have been asking leaders in the global south, “If you could send a message to leaders in the global north, what would you like to share with them?”
Dr. Baffa responded that he would want to remind us, “You don’t have to be fancy, you just need committed people.”
Ethiopians know what it means to be committed – to one another, and to a cause.