Monastery Rehab

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a few weeks now, but leaving Ethiopia and arriving in Tacoma has monopolized my time. My thoughts returned to monastery rehab last night as I watched a film entitled, Calvary with Ben. The film chronicles a week in the life of an Irish priest. It’s a week of particular importance for the priest, as an unknown congregant has declared that he will kill the priest in a week’s time (don’t worry, you find that out in the opening scene of the movie). The movie weaves its way through the stories of the flawed congregants, as well as the imperfect priest.

Calvary brought my thoughts back to a trip that Kate and I made to Bahir Dar before we left Ethiopia. We had a unique tour guide who lead us around Lake Tana and walked us through a couple of island monasteries. At the second monastery, we were greeted by the warm smile of a young monk. At the conclusion of our visit we were invited to share a meal with the monk. Our food and “beer” were blessed by the head priest and we ate our fill of injera and shiro. Our guide informed us that he knew these monks well because he had sent addicts from town to this monastery in order to dry up. I found this news unbelievably encouraging.

As the film last night reminded me, our world is full of hurt, struggle, and pain. This is where the church must exist, in the midst of the mess. The church is a place for pain, hurt, struggle, questions, confusion, ugliness, and exhaustion. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Christ does not speak of solutions or answers, but rather simply promises rest. Respite and repose are what is offered rather than ease and explanations. I think there are moments of clarity to be found within the space of rest, but that is not the promise. Simply rest.

I imagine the battered and defeated addict, carrying all of her hurt and pain onto this island monastery and finding “rest for her soul.” No judgement and no easy solutions. Ah. Sweet Jesus, that’s what it’s about. Thank you for the places and spaces in this life where we find rest. I pray for those who are plagued by grief, strife, and struggle, may they find your rest. May your church around the world be a place that provides divine rest for all those who voyage through life.


Lunch with a monk.


Our tour guide.


Lake Tana


Poverty and Ideas

I had dinner with a newly arrived, German anesthesiologist the other night. It often amazes me how much I have to talk about with someone I just met, when the context is an overseas one. He is working to enhance the education of anesthesiologists here in Ethiopia. I asked him, casually how things have been going. After thinking for some time, his response was two-fold. He first said that sometimes he feels like he can’t quite figure out why he’s here. The people he is supervising seem quite well qualified and he is quite unfamiliar with the drugs and equipment they are using. “What do I have to offer?”

The second part of his answer went something like, “what is wrong with Ethiopia?” He is currently reading a book called Cutting for Stone, which takes place in 1940’s Ethiopia, a fantastic read if you haven’t found your way into it already. We were agreeing that the vivid images in the book seem not so different from what we are seeing today, more than 70 years later. So, why can’t countries like Ethiopia get it figured out?

I started doing some digging and not surprisingly the main issues repeatedly mentioned as responsible for Ethiopia’s current situation were pervasive poverty largely due to corrupt governments and “crony capitalism,” coupled with a long history of conflict. Well, what are we supposed to do about that?

Today I read an article about the city of Camden, NJ, which mentioned that 40% of Camden’s residents live under the poverty level. Ironically, that is the same percentage of Ethiopians living in “poverty.” Now, obviously “poverty” in the U.S. is vastly different from “poverty” in Ethiopia. I doubt very many Camden residents are living on $1.25/day. The point is, “poverty” is everywhere. None of us have it figured out.

Of course I have no answers to the problem of poverty, just ideas. But I guess the world runs on ideas, doesn’t it? Even those who claim to have the answers, really only have ideas. But answers always starts with an idea.

I think my German friend’s two-fold answer to my casual question was perfect. He both recognized that he doesn’t have all the answers, while at the same time allowing himself to wonder just what the answer might be. That is the birthplace of ideas.



A single mother working at a local NGO to support her family.


A group picture from the first SCOPE steering committee meeting here in Gondar. Some ideas were born there.


Kate, the other SCOPE fellow and some of the members of the steering committee brainstorming.