May 27-June 6 2016
In May and June 2016, Water to Thrive founder Dick Moeller led a special trip of supporters from Triumphant Love Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas. The congregation of TLLC has been a longtime supporter of the mission of Water to Thrive, funding many wells over the eight years of our existence. This spring, TLLC held a special fundraising drive, Celebrating Wells of Love, that funded an additional six wells. On this trip, TLLC congregation members traveled to Ethiopia to visit wells that were funded as early as 2008 and as recently as last year, seeing the impact on a community of easy access to clean, safe water.
And they’re off! Water to Thrive founder Dick Moeller is leading a special trip of supporters from Triumphant Love Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas until June 6th. After a layover in Washington, D.C., the group is now on their way to Ethiopia to love and serve the people there. The congregation of TLLC has been a longtime supporter of the mission of Water to Thrive, funding many wells over the eight years of our existence. This spring, TLLC held a special fundraising drive, Celebrating Wells of Love, that funded an additional six wells. Now, TLLC congregation members are traveling to Ethiopia to visit wells that were funded as early as 2008 and as recently as last year, seeing the impact on a community of easy access to clean, safe water.
We invite you to pray along with us for these men and women doing God’s work and for the sweet people of Ethiopia. Internet connection permitting, we will have daily updates from Dick and others on the trip, with photos and new experiences so that you can follow along on this journey with them. Check back here frequently to stay in the know!
We thank you for your support and prayer, and are forever grateful for the love you have shown the people of East Africa through your donations, kind words, and prayers. We couldn’t do any of this without you!
Our flight to Addis was smooth, uneventful and landed on time, a good way to start our trip to Celebrate the Wells of Love. We landed at 7:30 am and went immediately to our hotel to give everyone a chance to freshen up and rest a bit.
Nice lunch at a local Italian place and then off to tour the city and visit the National Natural History, home of world famous Lucy. Lucy is the name of 3.2 million year old skeleton remains of a young girl discovered in the Afar region that is linked to our current human race.
After returning to the hotel, the group enjoyed a nice dinner with Gashaw, our resident Ethiopian water expert, and his family, including wife Lydia (expecting baby #2), son Enoch (3 yrs old) and Lydia’s sister Ruth. Gashaw will be traveling with the group most of the way, educating us about all the facets of well construction, community engagement and project sustainability.
(clockwise from top left: A priest with the 800-year-old Lalibela Cross; the painted ceiling of Bet Medhane Church; the rock-hewn St. George Church)
Our Water to Thrive travel group boarded a plane early for the city of Lalibela, the destination of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians during their holy holidays.
Here are 11 ancient monolithic rock-hewn granite churches, standing majestically awaiting arrival of tourists from many nations. Eighty percent of the tourists coming to Ethiopia visit Lalibela.
The interiors are so dark that some photos don’t work well, but these are elaborately carved and were constructed in the 13th century. The exteriors are different shapes at ground level, and about 50 ft. in height…but entirely below ground level of mountains. They are protected United Nations ESCO World Heritage sites.
Inside the churches are priests who care for the churches and lead worship services. They have been in continuous use as places of worship since then. The population of Lalibela, normally about 15,000, can swell to over 200,000 during the celebration of Christian Festivals.
Between visits to churches, we enjoyed lunch at a very unique restaurant, Ben Abeba. It is perched high on a hill, overlooking a long valley below. Kind of reminds us of Star Wars. The food was good, and the views awesome!
Learn more about the Lalibela churches here.
This morning we flew from Lalibela to Axum in Northern Tigray. Summer has arrived, so the temperatures were a bit warmer than our time in Addis and Lalibela. The economy in this region is very agrarian and it was obvious flying in that the all the fields had been freshly cultivated. Some regions of Tigray have suffered mightily from a drought over the last two years, creating a significant food shortage for the farmers. The great news is that over the last 2-3 months this area has been blessed by some significant rains. So in the last weeks, farmers have been busy preparing their land and planting. With the recent rains, they are expecting their crop production to return to normal this year to ease the food shortage in the region.
Just like Lalibela, Axum is the home of significant archeological and religious sites. Before heading to the field to visit communities and water projects tomorrow, we take the afternoon to visit the most significant in the area.
Our first stop is the beautiful church built in 1965 by Haile Selassie in honor of Mary, mother of Jesus. The Church of St. Mary of Zion is one of the largest Ethiopian Orthodox churches, capable of worshiping 3,000 inside and many more surrounding the church on the outside. On entering, we must first remove our shoes. It is not like a typical church that we know. It has a few wooden benches and a large altar. Hundreds of vivid paintings decorate all the walls depicting historical Christian events.
In addition, St. Mary’s of Zion is the home of the Book of St. Mary, known to be more than 500 years old. Its art and manuscript are written on lambskin. The priests in attendance at the Church showed us several pages in the book, with most pages illustrated with beautiful hand paintings like the one shown above.
Adjacent to St. Mary’s is the Chapel of the Ark of the Covenant, which houses the Ark. Tradition has it that the son of Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, Menelik I, grew up in Ethiopia and traveled to Jerusalem and brought the Ark back to Ethiopia. The Ark plays an important role in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, so much so that every Church has a replica of the Ark in its Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the Church. The Chapel is protected by the Guardian Monk, who is elected to serve for life. He is not allowed to leave the Chapel area and no one else is allowed to enter. We were fortunate to briefly see the Guardian on the edge of the Chapel property, as he was counseling a young mother through the border fence. Afterward we toured a small museum that has ancient artifacts including the crowns dating back to 400 A.D. They are made of gold and silver and most of them are huge!
As mentioned before, the Queen of Sheba plays an important role in the traditions of the Ark. She ruled large amounts of East Africa, including Ethiopia and Yemen. Near the west side of Axum, they are what archeologists believe to be the ruins of her palace in Ethiopia.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to buy a new piece of luggage… a zipper was broken on the flight in. The photo above shows one of the typical shops along the streets in Axum that sells luggage… and skinny jeans for men! In the cities of Ethiopia, we see traditional attire as well as skinny jeans side by side.
Tomorrow we are off to visit water projects built by Water to Thrive in 2008!
– Joyce and Dick Moeller
Today we visited water projects that were among the very first built by Water to Thrive, back in 2008. At each community, we witnessed and heard the amazing transforming power of water and its positive effects on the communities. All of these projects have been in continuous operation since they were constructed. The 4 wells represent 24 years of combined operation managed by the community!
– At Adinifas Melhis, there is now a primary school within 5 minutes walking with 350 children that was constructed 3 years ago…..it has 350 students and 7 teachers, grade 1-4
– At several communities, farmers are now constructing their own open wells for irrigation to increase crop yields
– All of the water committees continuously operated since completion with 3 women and 3 men and all had money in the bank for repairs
– We heard firsthand accounts about the impact of reduced illness in the community and increased attendance in schools, especially for girls
– None of the projects had any significant maintenance issues, 2 had none at all and 2 had minor issues that were repaired by the water committee.
When we started W2T, this was the hope and prayers for our communities we serve……today it truly felt like we returned back to the future to witness the results in reality. What a blessing for these communities!
Today we make our way south from Axum to the area around Hawzien, where we will stay overnight at the beautiful Gerhalta Lodge. On the way, we will visit two project sites funded by Triumphant Love (TLLC) in 2008, Ketin Serdi and Kontebatib, both hand dug wells (HDW). Also, time permitting, we plan to visit current a project site for 2016, Kuhale, a spring development system nearing completion.
It is about a four hour drive to Hawzien, on good paved road that winds its way through the Adwa Mountains near Adigrat. The road has many switchback turns as it works its way up and down the mountainside, producing many beautiful vistas down into the valley below.
As we enter Adigrat, we have a nice surprise. Our main contact at REST is Weredekal, who is with us on all the visits to the project sites. As it turns out, many of Weredekal’s family live in Adigrat. We stopped by to meet his father, 103, who greets us with a hearty “Good morning, how are you?” in perfect English. Weredekal is one of his 18 children! An amazing man.
We managed to work in a coffee break in Adigrat as well!
A short time later we arrive at our first project site, Ketin Serdi, a HDW constructed in 2008, and then later at Kontebatib, also constructed in 2008. In speaking with the water committee members and guard at each site, we find a similar experience as yesterday. These sites have worked continuously since 2008, serving their surrounding communities, with only a few minor repair issues, handled by the water committee. Both had a bank account for maintenance. We did discover a worn bolt and bushing at Kontebatib, but fortunately, the REST technician had the necessary tools and spare parts, so it was remedied in about 5 minutes.
The signage at our early projects were all large paint sheet metal signs, and of course the outdoor elements take their toll on the signs. The one for Kontebatib is shown above with Weredekal, Bishop Ray and Pastors Dan, Steve and George. Weredekal is pointing to the Amharic version of “Triumphant Love Lutheran Church”…..notice the 2000 in the lower right of the sign….the Ethiopian calendar is 8 years different, so it really was 2008 by our calendar.
We made it to our third site for the day, Kuhale, a spring development project. The project is located about a forty minute walk from the road, up a steep incline. Really spectacular view of the valley below when we reached the project. The project is almost complete, but has progress far enough so that the community can begin using water from the spring reservoir.
Tomorrow is a big day as we will be visiting the 2016 projects that are funded and constructed as part of the “Celebrating Wells of Love” campaign for TLLC!
Today we journey to the field to see firsthand the result of Triumphant Love’s campaign over the last 6 months. We set out to visit and bless five of the six wells funded by TLLC honoring the pastoral leadership of our congregation. Two of the wells are completely finished (Afkarma & Denba Kiremti) and three projects (Adi Egam, Hartafa, and Netsa) are in various stages of completion. All five of the projects are hand dug wells (HDW). This was actually a nice happenstance because it allowed the group to see various stages of the construction process.
At each of the project sites, the Pastors and Bishop engaged the community members and workers in prayer and blessed the well for the health and prosperity of the community. Each of the wells dedicated today honored Pastors Dan (Denba Kiremti), George (Afkarma), Norb (Adi Egam) and Steve (Hartafa) and Bishop Ray (Netsa) for their pastoral leadership of our congregation and synod.
After a pretty challenging walk of about one hour, the group arrived at the first site, Afkarma, honoring Pastor George Reswick. Today’s main picture (above) is the whole group, with our REST support team. What follows below is our day in photographs.
We were a bunch of tired travelers when we returned to Gheratla Lodge to enjoy a delicious St. George’s cold one! But it was an exhilarating and motivating day to see projects of the Wells of Love campaign come to life and to share in the hospitality and thankfulness of communities benefiting from God’s great blessing of clean water.
Special thanks to our drivers, who keep us safe and comfortable on our journey.
After a pretty intense day of walking and driving yesterday visiting our new projects, today is a more leisurely trip from Gheralta Lodge to Mekele over great paved roads. The Lodge is a beautiful Italian oasis with homemade pastas, organic vegetables, and a great staff. We enjoyed two nights there before moving on to Mekele.
Early in the morning, we walked up to a nearby cliff overlooking a valley and mountains, a beautiful view that reminds us of God’s gift of creation. From this inspiring spot, we shared our devotion of the day, provided so eloquently by Pastor Norb Firnhaber.
We had a great stop at the Negash Primary School, which serves first through eighth grade. Everyone in the group had brought along schools supplies for the principal to distribute to the students as need. A highlight of the stop was sitting in the Grade 1 class and hearing the students sing in English and recite the numbers and alphabet, unprompted, in English.
We said goodbye to our driver team at the Mekele airport to board an Ethiopian Air flight for Addis……they have been terrific. We have had some awesome experiences and memories in Tigray. Our plane is a nice 737, and we have a short flight of about 45 minutes…..same as Austin to Dallas. By noon, we had checked into our hotel and were ready for the afternoon.
We were supposed to visit one of our deep borehole projects, Gadamba, located on the outskirts of Addis. But the traffic had other plans for us. It was Saturday afternoon gridlock, and after sitting in traffic for nearly two hours and not even out of the city yet, we decided to abandon our attempt. Everyone had a free afternoon for naps, walking, and shopping.
Scenes from our afternoon (clockwise from top left): Pastor Steve and Alem sample the dark beer tower at the Beer Garden Inn, a German-owned hotel and brewhouse; Lunch at the Beer Garden Inn including Bratwurst, Wienerschnitzel, spaetzle, and Jagerschnitzel…not exactly typical Ethiopian fare!; Ethiopia’s patron saint, St. George, makes an appearance with Pastor George in both icon and beer label; The group at dinner at the 2000 Habasha Cultural Restaurant, which provides a great sampling of authentic Ethiopian food and dance from all regions of the country.
Then we were off to the hotel for a good night’s sleep before our last day.
Our last morning in Ethiopia is filled with sharing the worship service at the first and one of the largest Mekane Yesus congregations in Ethiopia, founded in the early 1950s. In a beautiful, simple sanctuary that seats about 300, the service started sharply at 10:00 am, and the pews were packed to overflowing by 10:30. The service concluded about noon.
One of the joys of the morning was hearing the congregation’s choir sing four songs. Beautiful! We also witnessed a baptism and got to hear a young, enthusiastic intern from the seminary preach the sermon.
Water to Thrive has had a working relationship with Mekane Yesus – Development and Social Services Commission (DASSC) since 2012. This arm of the church does community engagement and support and we have implemented more than 100 water projects with this partner. After the service, we met with national leadership of the DASSC as well as representatives of the three synod DASSC organizations with whom Water to Thrive is currently working. We continue our discussion over a nice lunch nearby.
During lunch, the skies opened up with heavy rain (and a little hail too!)…..it put a little damper on some last minute shopping before heading to the airport but everyone managed to get everything taken care of.
As you read this, the majority of the group will be winging its way back to Texas…..the Moellers and Kolanders will be heading to Tanzania for another week of adventure.
As we draw a close to this week, it is important to acknowledge those who have helped make this possible….
– The members of Triumphant Love who so generously supported the Celebrating Wells of Love campaign to honor our Pastors and build more wells
– Pastor Norb Firnhaber who authored our wonderful devotions each day
– The staff and leadership of our partners at Relief Society of Tigray and Mekane Yesus-DASSC
– And of course Johannes and Alem with Diversity Tours
Blessings to all who helped make the journey through Ethiopia such a memorable experience!