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Videos and story: Ethiopian churches, sign language, famine relief and Bono



New on The Christian Chronicle’s website, our report from Churches of Christ in the East African nation of Ethiopia, part of our ongoing Global South series.

As the sun rises, children in red sweaters and purple pants and skirts arrive by twos and threes at the compound, the home of Makanisa School for the Deaf.
Behailu Abebe signs “Good morning” as they enter the chapel for a devotional. About 200 of the school’s 274 students are hearing-impaired. Nonetheless, they sing hymns in clear, boisterous Amharic — rivaling the volume of the cathedral’s loudspeakers.
For nearly 50 years, Churches of Christ have served the hearing-impaired in this East African nation. Makanisa is one of five church-run schools in Ethiopia.
Helping this underserved group has helped grow congregations here. There are about 900 Churches of Christ in Ethiopia, Abebe says. Even small churches in the countryside offer sign language services.

Read the full story, and see a gallery of photos from the Church of Christ compound, including a historic photo of Ethiopia’s emperor, Haile Selassie, visiting the compound in 1967.
We also posted an explainer of Global South, including links to stories from all 14 parts of the series to date.

Children sign “I love you” at Makanisa School for the Deaf in Ethiopia. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, was a necessary stop for a mission team I accompanied to South Sudan. (See my earlier blog post about the layover.) I was blessed to stay at the Church of Christ compound and equally blessed to be there at the same time as Behailu Abebe, a longtime church leader in Ethiopia. I first interviewed Abebe back in 2002.
I attended chapel at Makanisa School for the Deaf at the church compound and shot video as the children sang. The song is in the Amharic language, but the sign language they’re using is close to American Sign Language, or ASL. If you can understand what they’re signing, congratulations, you know some Amharic. My wife knows a little bit of sign language and was able to pick out a few words. Please post the lyrics if you can translate the song.
In front of Makanisa’s chapel, I interviewed Abebe about the role Churches of Christ played in famine relief during the drought that devastated Ethiopia in the mid-1980s. Here’s a video from that interview:

I was moved to tears when Abebe told me that the warehouse used to store food during the famine is now the church’s meeting place. I love the symbolism of a place that once used to sustain physical life now is used to give spiritual life.
I also love the fact that the odd-shaped building was provided by Band Aid, the group of British rockers that Bob Geldolf helped assemble to help during Ethiopia’s famine with proceeds from the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Among the participants were Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Simon Le Bon, Sting and U2’s Bono, now an outspoken advocate of efforts to alleviate extreme poverty. (Personally, I think someone needs to tell Bono about the storehouse he helped pay for becoming a church building. I think he’d be pleased to know.)

Feed the world.

  • Feedback
    I loved reading about the work done by the churches of Christ in Ethiopia among those stricken from famine. The building first used to house food was later used as a school for the deaf and a church building. It makes me very proud to have been brought up in this faith heritage. Thanks for sharing the videos.
    Anita Hassey
    April, 22 2011

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