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Reciprocal Relationships

Allison Fowler and her family have been a key part of our church planting ministry team in Ethiopia since 2005. For 10 years, they worked among the rural Gumuz people, planting churches and managing a small health clinic. Her husband, Craig, trains evangelists and oversees planting churches in new outreach areas. Together they are responsible for running a clean water well project that involves drilling wells in areas where there is little or no access to clean water. Allison produces clean water and health education materials to be taught in those communities. Here, she reflects on how the people she came to serve have ministered to her.

I thought I came to Ethiopia to help people. I thought I was moving out to a remote area with no previous access to healthcare so that I could save people’s lives. And that we were bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to an unreached area. What I didn’t foresee was how these people, who seemingly have nothing, would help me and my family. What I didn’t realize is that they also had something valuable to offer. And that they had something to show me about God and who he is.

The Gumuz people are welcoming, hospitable, generous, joyful, and will go out of their way to help you. When my family and I were stuck, yet again, in a mud bog, just trying to reach the village and bring in medicine and other supplies, we had reached a low point of discouragement. It seemed like we kept facing one challenge after another.  What was everything so difficult all the time? A poor farmer happened to walk by as we were stuck in the mud and rain, as it was getting dark, and we had our 3 children with us, and no hope of getting to our house by nightfall. He offered for all of us to come to his hut to spend the night.

It was just a short walk away through some woods and muddy fields. So, we gathered a few belongings and headed out after him on the wet, slippery path, with our kids in tow. Our youngest, Anna, was only a year old. We arrived at his little, round, one room hut where his wife and 2 children were waiting inside by the fire. She didn’t know we were coming. He had no way to contact her ahead of time.

She welcomed us in, wet and muddy as we were, and led us to one of their 2 goatskin beds next to a wall. She immediately got a bucket of water and intentionally began to wash off our muddy feet and legs. For all 5 of us. It was an act of humility and hospitality that has stuck in my mind for years. Our whole family spent the night on one bed together (with the youngest taking up the most room), while their whole family slept on the other bed. The next morning, with the sun shining, they graciously sent us on our way, not knowing how they had impacted my life and given me a taste of Jesus in a way I had never experienced before.

On another occasion, one of our neighbors, not having any idea how we survived (since we were not farmers), brought us one of his small, precious banana trees and planted it near our house to provide us with some food. And yet another time, in the middle of the dry season, our house and compound which was in a wooded area surrounded by tall, dry grass, was engulfed in flames from a fire that had gotten out of hand. Our neighbors all came running with big green branches to help put out the fire. They worked beside us amidst the smoke and flames to put that fire out and protect our house. The Gumuz know about fires. They burn off their fields every dry season and know all the techniques for keeping a fire under control. When they saw the smoke coming from our direction, they came immediately. They were looking out for us. And there are more stories like these I could tell.

Did I come to Ethiopia to help people? Yes. And in the process, my life has been forever changed by these same people. I will always be thankful for the ways they have helped me in some of my most vulnerable moments; for the ways they protected me and my family from threats we didn’t even know existed, and the ways they have taught me to find joy amid extremely difficult circumstances. I’m thankful for the ways God has used them to change my life. After 18 years, I continue to experience the love of God through the Gumuz people.

Allison Fowler

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