Stepping into another world helps us understand

When a man from Africa saw the Ethiopian hut he almost broke down and cried. "That's my home," he said to the Rev. Bruce Helgeson and the Rev. Paul Knight. "That's where I grew up. I can't believe it. How did you get it here?" The hut did not com...

Naomi Dunavan
Naomi Dunavan

When a man from Africa saw the Ethiopian hut he almost broke down and cried.

"That's my home," he said to the Rev. Bruce Helgeson and the Rev. Paul Knight. "That's where I grew up. I can't believe it. How did you get it here?"

The hut did not come from Ethiopia. It was built by the skilled hands of Kurt Klemmer, Tim Ringuette and Armando Moronez, Grand Forks. Using old wood and corrugated steel, the men built it after studying a photo Pastor Bruce and Pastor Paul brought back from their February 2010 trip to Ethiopia.

The 8 foot by 12 foot hut sits in the northeast corner of the Connection Center at Hope Evangelical Covenant Church. Among its meager furnishings is a low bed, a table, chair, pails, buckets and an attached lean-to. "If they have a kitchen," Pastor Bruce said, "the lean-to area is their kitchen."

As the overwhelmed African man continued to gaze at the structure, he also told the pastors, "this helps people enter into my world. It helps them to understand us better."


That's the hut's precise purpose. It serves as a witness to the way the people of Hope are entering into the lives of many grownups and children in Ethiopia.

"A lot of what we try to learn here," Pastor Bruce said, "is how does Hope Church develop a heart of compassion?"

Most people have heard of Compassion International, the Christian child sponsorship organization that's dedicated to the long-term development of children around the world who live in poverty. Many of Hope's members sponsor a child. One family sponsors 10.

Compassion representatives were present at a Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Church near Chicago in 2009, which Pastor Bruce, Pastor Paul and Jerry Vein also attended. The people from Hope returned with more than added leadership skills. They came home with the name of their new sister congregation in Ethiopia.

"We filled out a kind of church resume," Pastor Bruce said. "Compassion takes that and sizes it up with what their visions are and then matches you with a common church."

Hope's sister church in Fitche, Ethiopia, is the Evangelical Mekane Yesus Church. Partnering with Compassion, this 500-member congregation provides food, clothing and education to more than 120 Ethiopian children.

More than a year ago, a flood hit Fitche, causing the church's washroom/toilet facility to sink four feet into the ground. It is unusable, and waste cannot be disposed of. Because poor hygiene and sanitation cause major health concerns in that country, Grand Forks' Hope Church has made the commitment to raise $13,314 to build a new 10-stall washroom.

Fitche is a village the size of Grand Forks, Pastor Bruce said. "When I think of Africa, I think of it as living in the bush. It's not like that. It's a community with soccer fields, businesses, schools. You don't see tall buildings. It's spread out and it's like driving through the Greenbush/Badger area of Minnesota. The intrigue is that so much of history in the world began there."


Since returning, Pastor Bruce has been "fixated," on Ethiopia," he said. "We take clean water and sanitation for granted. Over there, it's a hole in the ground. When you have 120 kids in a school and a church with 500 members, sanitation becomes an issue."

People they met in Fitche touched them deeply. Pastor Bruce told of one worship service.

"Their new pastor was being ordained. Pastor Paul had his Compassion (sponsored) child with him. He brought out mints and started sharing them with her. She continued to pass them on to everybody. They even went up on stage to share them. That's just the kind of heart they have."

Showing hospitality is very important to the people of Fitche.

"When you visit their homes, the coffee ceremony is how they express their gratitude that you are their guests," Pastor Bruce said. "You have coffee and popcorn. And if you were to meet your Compassion child, they would not let your hands go. Even though they don't know you, they realize what you are doing for them monetarily. They have the possibility to go to school and to have a meal there once a day. Many of them don't have an opportunity to meet white people. They want to take you everywhere they go and to meet their friends."

Looking ahead

From March 14 to 22, a team of 12 people from Hope plan to visit their sister congregation in Fitche. It will cost $3,500 each.

"We'll take leadership with us and come back to share the vision," Pastor Bruce said. "It will be a discovery trip. We are aware of the need they have and we want to build a relationship."


And then, there's the $13,314 needed for the washroom project.

"We don't have the money," Pastor Bruce said. "We don't have to come up with it before we go. Compassion has the money, but we need to pay them back."

To help with March's traveling costs, proceeds from Hope's coffee bar plus the sale of "Hope for Ethiopia," T-shirts, coffee mugs and water jugs will help with team expenses.

To raise money for the washroom project, Hope is encouraging its people to recycle their aluminum cans and to take part in the "Advent Conspiracy."

Instead of zooming through this time of year, piling up bills, adding stress and buying unneeded gifts, the Advent Conspiracy challenges people to rethink the way they "spend" the Christmas season. It means, Pastor Bruce said, "to worship fully, spend less, give more, love all. We're called to make a difference in the world. We are to step out in faith. Just saying 'yes,' was a huge step of faith for us. This is not going to us. It's helping us to have a heart."

The Herald publishes Dunavan's In the Spirit column the second Saturday of each month. Reach her at (218) 773-9521 or . Also check out her blog at .

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