So You Want to Move to Ethiopia?

It’s funny.  This post has been in the incubation stage for a while.   Recently, we were talking with some other folks who have lived here for 5 years.  We were laughing and commiserating about some of the frustrations of trying to do ministry here, and they said someone has just talked to them and said (in a starry-eyed voice), “Oh, you guys are SOOOOO lucky!  I want to come and live and do what you do every day!” 

The guy’s response was – Ok.  When we first got here, we slept on couch cushions on the concrete floor in a house that reeked of kerosene from our one burner that we cooked on.  We then upgraded to foam mattresses on the floor.  We now have a bit more furniture, but have the daily Russian roulette of “will there be water for showers today or not”, with the answer often being…”Not today.  Maybe tomorrow.”  And when there is water, it’s a trickle.  On a good day – a really good day – it’s warm.

We spend tons of time waiting in government offices trying to get something done.  Heck, it takes over half a day just to pay the water bill (when things go well).  And then there’s the electric bill, too.  And occasionally, we get to minister to families.

 We all had a great laugh because it is the reality of life here.  The fun part is none of us would change living here for the world, but it certainly isn’t starry-eyed glamour.  That’s why this post was born.  It’s time has come.  Read on…..

So, you want to move to Ethiopia?

We hear from people on a very consistent basis who are considering the possibility of moving themselves (or their family) to Ethiopia.  It is an exciting time as somehow their hearts have been gripped and they want to come and make a difference in the lives of people.  It can be a beautiful journey. 

It truly is a crazy idea when you take a minute to think about it.  It is a pursuit of the unknown to tear yourself out of your current culture and ship yourself (and any belongings you desire – or are able to fit into a limited number of 50 lb suitcases) half way around the world to live among people who speak a different language, have a different history and come from a very different worldview than what is typically Western.

To help with some of the craziness, I am writing this blog with some questions to consider as you contemplate moving long term to Ethiopia.  I am sure that there are many more, but here are a few to get us started…

Let me preface all of these questions & remarks by saying that just 3 short years ago we found ourselves in a similar position to many who are thinking of moving here.  We had just completed our daughter Hanna’s adoption and were feeling God directing us to consider Ethiopia.  It was a hard time of processing as we laid it down multiple times, but in the end felt God’s leading to move our family here.   The questions and thoughts below come out of our own processing as well as our time on the ground here.  We have made many mistakes and have also done a few things right along the way.  Fortunately we serve a very gracious God who can redeem even the largest of failures.  We also had very gracious friends who were willing to help us navigate a way forward.  Through the good and the bad we feel like we’ve learned a few things that may be helpful to pass along to you.  We also have learned from others as they have done things wonderfully well at times and at other times made mistakes too.  Our hope in writing this is to share with you our perspective from where we sit…in no way professionals, but rather fellow journeyers.  Maybe some of this can help you in your journey as you seek God in what He has put within you.

1.  What is your Sense of Call?  How do you know that God is leading you to Ethiopia?  How has He spoken to you?  Have you discerned Him speaking to you over a span of time?  This is the most important one for me…because there are times when the only thing that will keep you in place as culture shock and finances and personality conflicts bear down on you is that you know that you know that you know that God has brought you here.  Is it possible that God is putting Ethiopia in your heart, yet calling you to advocate and support from a distance something that is already in existence on the ground…or does it seem clear that He is calling you to be on the ground?

2.  Where is your Emotional Level?  It is easy to come to Ethiopia and feel this strong emotional pull to come and make a difference.  You loved the culture when you were here for 10 days and you feel that it would be honeymoon-esque to live here day in and day out.  Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing parts of Ethiopian culture…but there also are things that will drive you absolutely crazy.  Daily.  Don’t make a decision based simply on emotion.  Rather, take those emotions and bring them to God and allow Him to develop and refine them before you decide.

3.  Who are your Confirming Voices?  Who is there around you in your church community, small group, trusted friends, etc. who see this in you and agree with it?  You’ll need the support and challenging voices of these people along the way.   Also, how have you already been ministering to the poor, the broken, the oppressed, children, etc. …and sharing The Gospel in Word and Deed in your present situation? If you’re not doing it “there” it will be pretty difficult to just start doing it “here.”  How have people already observed this passion and desire in action in you where you presently live?

4.  Do you have a Desire to Rescue?  When we see people in need, there is a desire that goes off in us to alleviate their pain and suffering.  This is a God-given desire that is part of His heart.   However, it can easily be misplaced and exaggerated and soon we find that we are the rescuers rather than pointing the way to Jesus as the only One who rescues.   Search your heart and ask God to show you your own poverty, as well as settle your heart of any need to rescue others.  My belief is that we do not come to rescue, but rather we come to partner with God and point the way to Him in what He is already actively doing.  We come alongside those in need, as one who also is in need…not in some sort of parental or saving mode.

5.  Are you ready to Die to Yourself and Your Plans?  It is interesting that the first missionaries to Africa packed their belongings in coffins because they were fairly certain they would not be returning home alive.  Most of us do not face that kind of stark reality; however, there is another kind of death that we face.  Death to the Self.  We have been pretty certain that God brought us to Ethiopia at various intersections so that we would finally die to ourselves so that Jesus could live more fully through us.  Death is never pleasant, however.  Most long term cross cultural workers we run into are not doing what they planned to do when they came.  Many of them have faced tremendous challenges, huge obstacles, broken dreams, corrupt practices and unstable futures.  This stuff will either make you increasingly humble, hard as a rock or will drive you insane.  Be flexible and know that death is on its way…it sucks in the short term, but it’s a good thing.

6.  Do you have a Board / Sending Body?  You need other people.  It is a truth of following Jesus. You are not going out alone, but rather you are sent out of Jesus’ Body to then be received into His Body in another area of the world.  Even if you are doing pioneer work where there are no other believers…you need other Jesus followers who are for you, behind you, encouraging you and challenging you.  It could be that you choose a formal Mission board or maybe your Church will act as your sending body.  No matter what, you’ll need some people who have an idea what it means to do missions cross culturally, to speak into your life along the way, to care for the administrative details, and to give you spiritual accountability.   It’s also important that you find people on the ground where you arrive – find a Church – even if its not a perfect fit.  Find other Jesus followers who are for you and whom you are for.

7.  Whom will you Partner with on the Ground?  Why are you choosing to work with them?  This is perhaps the hardest thing to do from a distance.  As human beings we are good at making things sound one way, but once we get on the ground for an extended period of time, we find that things are much different than they first appeared.  It can take weeks or months before our true colors start showing to those who are around us.   Ask hard questions of those whom you are considering partnering with.  Ask to see financial records.  Ask if they are plugged into a local church.  Speak to their pastor.  Ask if they are licensed by the government – and ask to see the license.  Ask for references.  Ask if they have ever worked with others before and then ask those others what it was like to work with them.  If at any point there is resistance to sharing these things with you, it could be reason for red flags.   You are looking for a relationship to develop and you will both need some level of trust to build off of.   In the meantime, don’t make any promises – stay away from even saying “Maybe,” which can be interpreted as a “Yes” answer.   Also, don’t promise any finances.   Let this be worked out over time, but not up front.  And watch out when ever anyone over-spiritualizes and says that you are God’s answer to their prayer.  It could be that you are, but this phrase can be overused in some cultures.

If you do choose to work with someone on the ground, ask for a clear job description and set out clearly what your working relationship will be like as well as their expectations of you and your expectations of them.

8.  What Spiritual Practices bring you life?   What ways do you connect relationally with Jesus to go deeper with Him? Start practicing them now.  Get healthy spiritual habits in place before you hit the field so that they continue once you get there.  Start a practice of having a Sabbath, too – you’ll need it, and it’s Biblical.  For me, the practice of Listening Prayer and Lectio Divina have kept me spiritually alive during some very dark times.  Even as the wheels were falling off, I felt relationally connected to Jesus and knew His Presence with us.   I had started practicing these practices for a couple of years before going on the field, so they came naturally to me.  What you practice is not as important as the ability for practices to be in place that will help you to connect deeply with Jesus on an ongoing basis.

9.  Set a Realistic Budget.   Contrary to what most of us may think, living as a long term cross cultural worker on the field can be expensive.  For example, in Ethiopia we currently have inflation that is a bit less than 50% year on year.   That means that things are getting more and more expensive by the week and the tight budget you set 3 months ago might not be working any more.   Also, if you live in a city, there’s a good chance you’ll pay comparable prices for housing to what you pay in a mid-sized US city.  For example, in Addis Ababa you can expect to pay $500 – $1,000 USD in monthly rent for a 3 bedroom home with no yard – we don’t have yards here. J   You can expect to pay $30 for a cylinder of cooking gas and $35 per month for some of the slowest internet you have ever experienced.  If you like to eat a Western diet, expect that your food bill for quality ingredients here will meet or exceed what you live off of in North America.  If your kids are going to go to school, there are a couple of international school options, but they’ll start at $8,000 USD per student per year unless you are with specific missions agencies.  If you choose to homeschool, then there are other things to think through.  On top of that, if you are being paid in the US, you will need to continue paying Social Security contributions, need medical insurance, etc.  Anything that is imported into the country will probably be more expensive than what you are used to paying in the US.  And, if you are looking to buy a car, get ready for the sticker shock.  Because of the way vehicle are taxed, cars are expensive.  You can expect to pay $25,000 USD for a 25 year old Land Rover and close to $10,000 USD for a 20 year old car.  You’ll also need travel expenses which can include (depending on your visa) the need to leave the country every 90 days.   It can add up, especially since you’ll most likely be raising the funds that you are living off of.  But, the cool thing is that God does provide in very surprising ways in His timing and as He lovingly sees fit.

10.  Find a Mentor / Coach.  A coach is a life saver.  Before leaving the US, I had the privilege of being able to bounce things off of a long term cross cultural worker who had been on the field over 25 years and another who had spent 8 years entrenched in a predominantly Muslim country while a civil war was breaking out.  These kinds of people have jewels and nuggets that are priceless.  Listen to them.  I’ve also had long time friends / coaches who have been there for me to call when dark times hit and confusing circumstances had rolled in.  They were a refreshing drink of water in the middle of the desert.   Permit others to challenge you and ask the hard questions while also providing you with information that could cause the avoidance of great pain down the road.

 All in all, take your time and seek God in the process.  Press in to Him and be willing to surrender everything to Him for a season.   Search Him and talk with others and your Pastor or Small Group Leader about this desire that you have in your heart.   Process the emotions and the signs and the passions that have been rising up in you and lay them before The Father.  If He wants you to move to here (or anywhere) He’ll make it clear over time and He’ll orchestrate it.  If He’s rather putting a passion and desire in you to make a difference from the continent where you presently live, then He’ll make that clear too.   We know it makes for a crazy time…trying to discern…after all we are in a continual process of discernment, too.  May God make His Path clear to you and give you the courage, joy, patience and perseverance to step into whatever He has for you.

If we can serve you along the way, drop us an email…

Also, here are some starter reads we recommend that we have found helpful, and that we think you might find helpful, too.

When Helping Hurts – Brian Fikkert & Steve Corbett

Serving with Eyes Wide Open – David Livermore

Walking With The Poor  – Bryant Myers

Generous Justice – Timothy Keller

7 Comments on “So You Want to Move to Ethiopia?

  1. Powerful reminder of the true sacrifice when God says Go! You have learned so much in your time there and we (all of us here in the states) are blessed by your willingness to be our hands and feet on the ground!

    God Bless! and Merry Christmas Shannon Family!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this. It covers so much in such a practical way. It can be so easy to romanticize living overseas serving the poor. We need wisdom and reality check.

  3. Great post Jerry! LOTS of stuff to think about if one is considering moving to a foreign country for missions. Thanks for writing this up.

  4. Well done Jerry!! I so often hear folks say they want to move to Africa and they have no clue what that involves. When God does truly call he does provide all you have listed here. So very humbled by what you are doing with your family! God be with you each day, and some time on my way to Uganda I will make a stop and visit!

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