Travelogue

Blessings on an Ethiopian Hilltop

A delegation of 14 US-based CRS staff members and Church partners are currently visiting projects in Ethiopia. Cullen Larson, CRS’ advocacy officer for the southeast region, shares a story from the field.

On a humble hilltop in Africa, I was reminded that how we eat can change the world.

The women of Kufansik welcome our delegation with joyful singing. Photo by Steve Pehanich for CRS

In the remote village of Kufansik in hungry eastern Ethiopia, most people may not know Jesus in the same terms that Catholic Christians use. But these people may really understand Jesus better—how he showed us that changing the way we share a meal can radically change how we live together.

Americans like me can sometimes approach travel to developing countries with apprehension, concerns about staying healthy, eat this, don’t eat that, etc. There is a place for such concerns. But when the CRS Land Cruisers climbed the rocky hill at Kufansik, we were immediately taken by the sight and sound of village men dancing and singing, holding aloft two large plastic water bottles.

The water in one was brown and topped by something green and gross. The other bottle’s water was clean and clear. Suddenly, down the path came a procession of village women, colorfully clad, clapping their own song of welcome and bearing gifts.

The entrance now complete, a word was proclaimed from a water storage tank, a hilltop ambo. And the word was that CRS and our partners had helped this isolated village to develop a safe water supply—a borehole, pumping and distribution system, irrigation and reservoir capacities—a new source of clean water now serving more than 27,000 people in the area.

Ethiopian villagers celebrate the clean water a CRS-supported water project has brought into their lives. Photo by Steve Pehanich for CRS

Next, baskets of food were brought forward and placed on the ground before us visitors with great delight: the traditional injera bread, small fruits and boiled milk.

But I hesitated, held back. Nobody wanted to get sick. Who knew if this food was safe? It seemed risky! Whether from embarrassment or courtesy or some fledging notion of solidarity, others went ahead, and I, too, took, ate and sipped. This bread of thanksgiving was offered, blessed in gratitude, broken and shared. We ate the injera of Ethiopian life together. We shared plastic cups of solidarity—boiled milk with the faint smoky taste of charcoal.

Through some risk and openness, acceptance and inclusiveness, a eucharist happened on that African hilltop. Mindful of the One who calls us to change the way we share our food and drink with one another, I could not help but be reminded again: “The Eucharist commits us to the poor.”

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