Leaving MSP!

Leaving MSP!


We leave Minneapolis on a 7:00 a.m. flight, going first to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, then flying directly from there to Addis Ababa. Because Ron lives up in Cross Lake and Rachel has been at school in Wisconsin, we have not had time for all four of us to meet together before leaving.  We will use traveling time to talk about plans already set in place, other ideas and the people who will be hosting us.


Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.  So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:29-30).

 “Waaqayyoo si’i ebbisu” (Wok’-a-you say’-a eh’-bih-su). That’s “God bless you” in AfanOromo, the language of the people of God in Aira and many places throughout Ethiopia. We expect to receive God’s blessing as we spend time with them during the next 14 days. We expect to see God’s face in the people we will meet. We will be blessed. Thank you for walking with us on this journey with our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia.


Mid-flight from North America to Ethiopia from Karen Walhof

At 5:00 a.m. Saturday morning we gather at the Air Canada counter at the Minneapolis-St., Paul airport --  Rachel Stein, Ron Ommen, Pastor Samuelson, Bob & Laura Stein, Nancy Liddy and me. Rachel, Ron and I are ready to start our great adventure to Ethiopia. The others are there to say goodbye and send us on our way with blessing and prayer. Pastor Samuelson begins with Luther’s morning prayer --  a wonderful and Spirit-filled sending.

They stand with us while we check in – each person with one bag of their own clothing, etc., and one or two additional enormous suitcases of medical equipment. We are so grateful for the donations of suitcases from folks at Good Shepherd! Nancy Liddy has packed each of the bags with equipment supplied by Global Health Ministries – all of it needed and requested by Aira Hospital. Each time another bag went up on the scale, we look carefully at the weight – will it be under the 50 lb. limit? Nancy is amazing – two of them are 49.5 pounds, with the others close behind. A cheer goes up from the group when each is approved.

We are ready to go – but where is Girma? Our long-time friend in this relationship with Ethiopia, Girma is a delightful traveling companion and a keen translator of language, culture and people in Ethiopia. He is originally from Aira, and has continuing contacts and involvements there. The time ticks by; 5:30 comes and goes. We decide to start our trek through security, hoping Girma shows up at the gate. Then we have a glimpse of him and his wife, bringing his two large bags to the Air Canada counter! He has arrived at the last moment, but he is here. His weighing skills do not quite equal Nancy’s, and he and his wife with Nancy’s help carefully select the items to be left behind. Girma explains that, when Ethiopianacquaintances find out you are going “home,” they bring items they want him to take along to family and friends. He has already refused the two bags of shoes his sister wanted him to carry to his mother in Addis Ababa. Now, a few other things are left behind.

As we turn to move through security, Laura Stein remarks to me, “You  keep taking my children off to Ethiopia.” I respond: “And the first one [Emma] came back safely!” We say goodbye to family, friends and pastor. The journey has begun.

Air Canada takes us to Toronto. It’s a small plane, with only four seats across. Rachel and I share a pair of seats, and Ron is across the aisle. It is a good time to learn a bit more about these traveling companions. It will be 24/7 for two weeks. So far, so good. I have learned already that Rachel is a hilarious story-teller!

Girma is a few rows ahead – and he is the rock star. He has met several people at the gate who he knows who will be on the same flights as we are. Plus there is a small group from Hosanna, Lakeville, who are traveling to Hosanna in south Ethiopia. Girma and his family worship at Hosanna, and this group is eager to connect with him: photos, hugs, shouts of his name. We just hope it won’t go to his head!

Right now we are mid-flight from Toronto to Addis Ababa. It’s relatively quiet on the Ethiopian Airlines flight. I realize I have no idea what time it actually is. The windows are treated so that it appears to be night outside, and lights are low – they want people to sleep and rest. It seems they have created an alternate reality for us on the flight. We’ve had a luncheon, a sandwich, a few rounds of water and juice. Is it afternoon or evening, dark midnight or early morning? I don’t have a clue. (Ron tells me it’s 5:00 Minneapolis time, midnight Ethiopia time.)  A monitor in each seat back lets each passenger choose their personal distraction: a movie? a TV show? a game? Each traveler is in his or her own little world as we jet from North America to Africa.

The monitor on the bulkhead shows where we are on the route. Right now we are flying over the Mediterranean, having passed over the Atlantic Ocean and Spain/Portugal. We’re just east of Barcelona. Five hours, ten minutes to Ethiopia. We’ll be passing the boot of Italy soon.

I have two carry-ons this trip. One is jammed with gifts for our friends in Aira – two prayer shawls from Nancy Brenny (one for the president of the synod and another for the president of the seminary – a tangible prayer for them from Good Shepherd), some books we will use as gifts, a bag of delightful infant caps which Mary Ireland knitted for the hospital, gifts for the REAL girls from Carla Sykora, and a first aid kit that Parish Nurse Dorothy Ellerbroek assembled for us. Plus there’s an assortment of snacks (granola bars, Chex Mix, mints, even some M&Ms) for our day-long drive from Addis Ababa to Aira and back a week later. 

We are staying at the American Guest House in Addis Ababa this time – a new location for us. Last time we stayed at the Norwegian Guest House and loved the location! However, we learned when we tried to book rooms there this time that they are only taking Norwegians now, so we had to find alternative housing. As Pastor Samuelson likes to say, “It’s all good.”

As I think about our schedule in the days ahead, the fluidity of those plans, and the surprises that God has in store for us (because there are always surprises, most of which are delightful), I think of the sending last Sunday at Good Shepherd. The prayer written by the third and fourth graders (our prayer partners for this trip) that Louis read during the sending resounds in my head: asking God to keep us safe, to help our Ethiopian friends prepare for our arrival, and that we may learn from each other. Amen.