A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary

Global Vision - Fall 2013

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Associate Professor of Old Testament Kathryn Schifferdecker reflects on time in Ethiopia

by Kathryn Schifferdecker

Kathryn Schifferdecker teaching in Ethiopia

"We're not in Minnesota (or Kansas) anymore."

This thought occurred to me last fall as I watched a nearly head-on collision between a van full of people driving down a divided highway and a bull running the wrong way down that same highway. Thankfully, the van stopped just in time and the bull veered off in the other direction, followed closely by his keeper, waving a long stick and yelling.

It was our first month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and I was beginning my year of teaching at the Mekane Yesus Seminary My husband, Doug Steinke, an ELCA pastor, was beginning his year of pastoring the International Lutheran Church in Addis. Our children, Esther (9), Isaac (7) and Sarah (4), were adjusting to life far from home and family, and there were new sights every day to experience, including the "creative driving" that characterizes traffic in Addis Ababa, where one must share the road with livestock, pedestrians and the occasional donkey cart.

I began teaching Old Testament at Luther Seminary in 2006. One of the great privileges of teaching here is the opportunity to have a sabbatical every seven years, a time usually reserved for research and writing. One of the other great privileges of teaching here is the opportunity to have international students from all over the world in the classroom. So when I knew that I was approved for sabbatical, Doug and I decided that we wanted to experience more of the global church firsthand. I've always loved having international students in class, and wanted to know more about the contexts from which they came.

Through the ELCA's Global Mission unit, Doug and I were matched with the Mekane Yesus Seminary and the International Lutheran Church, both in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We were there from August 2012 to June 2013. It was a year full of wonders, challenges and unforgettable people. The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) is one of the fastest growing Lutheran church bodies in the world, surpassing the 6 million-member mark just last year. It is a church that survived a brutal dictatorship and crushing poverty, and a church that, in spite of such hardships (or because of them), has continued to share the gospel with enthusiasm. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, the gospel has taken root and borne much fruit in Ethiopia as in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

One of the pressing needs of such a fast-growing church is for theological education. I taught in the master's-level program at Mekane Yesus Seminary. In order to teach masters' students, one must have a doctorate, and there are very few Ethiopians with Ph.D.'s, so they rely in large part on missionary professors to teach those classes. I helped to fill that need for a year, but we are doing something even more important here at Luther: training Ethiopian and other African students (and students from the rest of the world) in our Ph.D. program so that they can go back and lead their own churches and seminaries. That is one of the great gifts of Luther Seminary to the global church.

I experienced that gift while in Ethiopia. I visited Galgalo Elema an M.A. graduate of Luther who is now the dean of Tabor Evangelical College in Awassa, Ethiopia. Tabor is one of the regional seminaries of the EECMY. I also visited with Elieshi Mungure, a Ph.D. graduate of Luther who is now serving with the Lutheran World Federation as the Department for Mission and Development's Area Secretary for Africa. There are many, many other graduates of Luther Seminary who are leaders in the global church, and I thank God for them.

There was one sad note while we were in Ethiopia: We left for Addis Ababa in hopes of strengthening the relationship between the Mekane Yesus Seminary and Luther Seminary. Unfortunately, while we were there, the EECMY voted in their General Assembly to break ties with the ELCA over the 2009 decisions of the ELCA on matters of homosexuality. This decision of the EECMY saddened us, though we continued to be welcomed as teachers and preachers in the time we were there. This isn't the end of the story, we hope. We continue to pray for reconciliation in the body of Christ, and we continue to rejoice that there are still EECMY students at Luther. They are a great gift to us.

Well, that gives you just a taste of my global sabbatical year. I can't begin to do justice to it in this article. If you'd like to know more, feel free to read my blog posts from last year. I know it's an experience that will continue to shape my faith and my teaching for years to come. And while I don't miss the creative driving in Ethiopia, I do miss the people, our brothers and sisters in Christ that we met there. We caught a glimpse of the Body of Christ as it should be and as it will be at the end of time, in all its richness, in all its variety, and we are so thankful for that experience:

"After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb...They cried out in a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!'"

—Revelation 7:9-10

Amen and amen.