March 30, 2022
The nation of Ethiopia, which is in Northeastern Africa, was once a lush, fruitful, and green nation. Over the past century, that situation has changed. The nation has seen nearly 40% of its forests cut down and sold off. The result of these actions has been that the once green nation has been turned into a vast desert. The famines of the 80s, which captured the attention of the American media, were a direct result of the ecological disaster that has taken place. Over the weekend, I came across a photo collage of Ethiopian Orthodox Churches which have defended the native forests surrounding their churches. The resulting image is a stark contrast of desert with islands of life scattered throughout. An orthodox friend of mine explained that the goal was to represent the Garden of Eden. These churches are little oases of paradise. It’s a powerful image that should stand as the objective of all churches. Followers of Jesus should be dispensers of Living Water to a parched and thirsty world. The love of God channeled through His people ought to be cool spots of shade for a hot and weary world. I believe that this is the case in many places. When I was in junior high, I decided to attend a church in my community, because the people I encountered there were genuine, loving, gentle, and everything else I was looking for. Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Alabama was a sort of green oasis for me in a dry, difficult period of my life. What I didn’t realize until later was that the people who I met, who were so different, were just acting as the voice and hands of Jesus in this world. I believe that this is what we are called to as Christians and as a church. We are called to be Jesus to people wandering in the desert. Historically, the weeks before Easter have been a time of reflection and preparation for the church. Believers have spent that time readying themselves to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is also one of the times that churches see more visitors. I would encourage other believers to ask this question in the weeks of preparation that are ahead of us: what kind of place will visitors find? Will it be like the Ethiopian Orthodox Garden of Eden in the desert? Or will it be yet another dead spot on an empty landscape? One of the things Jesus said to his disciples after the last supper was that the world would know we are His disciples by how we love one another. Will visitors find that? Will you offer thirsty people a cold glass of water or a glass of dust?