After a number of delays, Werner and Joanne De Jong arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in mid-January in order to begin their work as Mennonite Church Canada International Witness workers at the Meserete Kristos Seminary (MKS). The road has been rocky for the couple, as they navigate restrictions, visas and an encroaching civil war.
With their appointment set to begin July 2021, the De Jongs began preparing for the move. They sold their home and, with the help of friends, moved their belongings into storage. Surrounded by their church family, they were commissioned at Holyrood Mennonite Church in Edmonton in September.
The couple eventually managed to attain 30-day business visas so that they could fly, with the expectation they could extend the visas for another three months. The De Jongs are seeking a three-year work permit and residency visa, but after visiting a dozen offices, the process is not yet clear.
In February, the De Jongs’ business visa renewal application was rejected. They then planned to leave the country and re-enter with a three-month tourist visa while waiting on the work permits. Because neighbouring countries also required visas, the couple ended up in Turkey, where no visa was needed and where their son resides.
A week later, they were able to rejoin their students and finally settle into their day-to-day routines at MKS.
The De Jongs, who previously worked in Ethiopia with MKS during a teaching furlough, find solace in the familiar.
“I can’t believe how easy it has been to fall back into a routine of visiting with students and jumping into a bajaj (three-wheeled taxi) to go to town for errands,” says Joanne. “I do miss having reliable electricity and Wi-Fi as well as hot showers, but the people and drinking buna (coffee) under the trees makes up for it all.”
Werner teaches pastoral care and counselling, wisdom literature and biblical and social ethics to third- and fourth-year students at the newly formed seminary. Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia is the largest denomination in Mennonite World Conference and is growing fast. The denomination decided to expand its capacity for leadership training by developing its college into a seminary last year. Joanne is providing support for the media and public relations department and mentoring students in English.
“Having been at the college once before makes it exciting to return,” says Joanne. “Lots of happy memories of walking hand in hand with the students in the cool evening to drink tea and freely discuss questions around faith and current issues. I am excited to teach and be taught.”
The De Jongs bring a wealth of experience in cross-cultural teaching and church ministry. Werner pastored at Holyrood Mennonite Church, an intercultural church in Edmonton, for 15 years. They served in several short-term ministries in Africa, including at Meserete Kristos College in 2018. Joanne most recently worked with the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers and has experience as a youth pastor and with several non-profit organizations.
When they were asked to return to the college, there was a request for Anabaptist training focusing on leadership, discipleship and “what is a Mennonite?”
Excited about the prospect of teaching and engaging in fellowship, Werner says, “I had a wonderful experience teaching there during my sabbatical. I enjoy relating to people of other cultures, and I look forward to learning more about following Jesus from our Anabaptist sisters and brothers of the Meserete Kristos Church.”
With conflict currently happening in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, many students have been impacted and are unable to return home for school breaks. One student shared with the De Jongs how his farming family was displaced because of the violence.
“It is true that we are in a very safe place in the country while other parts are more dangerous,” says Joanne.
Despite obvious hardships, Werner has been experiencing the sincere generosity of the students he teaches.
“Students are repeatedly showing care for one another, even giving coins to those who beg when they barely have enough themselves,” he says. “Often they pay for our coffees and just recently set up a fund to help support 18 students who could not pay tuition.”
The De Jongs ask for prayers for peace in Ethiopia, a successful three-year visa application and that the students will grow in their understanding and actions as followers of Jesus.
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