Vicky Howard in Ethiopia

It was just over a year ago that I stood at the front of church and was commissioned to go as a missionary to serve God in Ethiopia. I vividly remember how nervous and uncertain I felt as I looked out over all of the smiling faces of people in the congregation. Was I mad to leave my home, job, family, friends, and safety to go and work in a developing country that was surrounded by war torn countries and was itself going through political instability?! But I felt certain of God’s call for me to go and serve Him and felt so encouraged by my church family to go and fulfil Jesus’ call to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:10). So, with one giant leap of faith I got onto the plane to Ethiopia. 

I went to Ethiopia to volunteer as a teacher at Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa. Bingham Academy is an International Christian School whose aim is “to provide quality Christian education within a multicultural community, developing students of integrity who can change the world for God’s glory.” The school was originally set up 70 years ago to provide education for the children of missionaries in order to help them continue their work in Ethiopia. Before the school was established, missionaries had to leave their children back in the UK/USA/Canada for 5 years or more at a time. Can you imagine?! The school has now grown immensely and provides education not only for missionaries’ children, but for the children of diplomats, aid workers, and Ethiopians also. It was amazing when I asked each student that I taught what their parents did. In my A Level class alone, my students’ parents’ jobs included being a vet for poor farmers, doing Bible translation for remote tribes, running a set of schools for orphans in rural areas, being head spokesperson for the African Union, and being a famous preacher who was leading a revival in the south of Ethiopia. It was such a privilege to be able to support the work of each of these parents through educating their children. The school also had its own mission field as many families and staff were not Christians so we had the wonderful opportunity or sharing the gospel every day at the school also. 

Living in a developing country certainly had many challenges. Just simple tasks like shopping, food preparation and washing clothes took a lot more time and effort. I never got used to having to bleach my fruit and vegetables for 20 minutes, before washing them in drinking water that I had to collect from the school water fountain across the yard! It certainly made me realise what a convenience culture we have here and how much just having “choice” is a sign of affluence. I still feel overwhelmed now when I walk into a supermarket in the UK! And don’t even get me started on the unreliability of the phone and internet! Sometimes we had to go without internet for days, even weeks, and regularly had power cuts and no running water. These are all things that we take so for granted in this country and should be more grateful to God for. 

It is also very challenging to be surrounded by so much poverty all the time. As soon as I stepped out of the school gates, I was met with shoe shine boys, beggars, children in rags, and disabled people dragging themselves along the floor. It really did break your heart to see the conditions that many people lived in and the immense struggle that just living day to day can be. Addis is very overcrowded and there is not enough work available but still thousands of people flock from the famine-ridden countryside to the capital in pursuit of a better life, and are sadly often left disappointed. There was one horrific incident whilst I was there where the main landfill site collapsed, burying alive hundreds of people who lived and scavenged on it. The stories that came from Bingham’s parents providing aid at the site were devastating. Sometimes the only way that I could cope was to become numb to the poverty and suffering that I saw and it was sad how quickly it just became normal to see. But God’s heart is for the poor and I saw so much wonderful work being done to provide aid for the people of Ethiopia. I was often humbled by the amazing faith and joy that the Ethiopians had; they found happiness in the smallest things and worshipped God with such passion. My favourite days were Wednesdays when I helped run an outreach project after school, Yetesfa Birhan, for poor girls from the local area. Just seeing their smiles as we fed and played with them, and being able to tell them that God loved them was so special. 

Ultimately, my time in Ethiopia has helped to strengthen my faith. There were certainly times this year when my faith was tested. I did not always trust that God would answer our prayers or I just tried to do things in my own strength. But time and time again, God provided for us and protected us and answered so many prayers. When I looked back at the prayer requests I sent to church in the UK, I realised that every single one was answered! I also witnessed and worked with other Christians with such incredible faith in God’s power and purposes who really encouraged me, and I saw God at work across Ethiopia. God has done amazing things for me this year and for Bingham. I am so glad that I took this leap of faith and stepped out of my comfort zone to serve God abroad. I would strongly encourage others to do so as well and to see how our God is the God of all nations.