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Tough but beautiful

Chris and Suzy Wilson get to know Gambella in the far west of Ethiopia.

When we first arrived in Gambella Suzy would look up in the sky whenever she heard a plane and long to be on it. The intense heat, the numerous mosquitos and scorpions and the threat of snakes amid other challenges made our first few weeks here somewhat overwhelming. But Gambella is beginning to feel more like home.

There are many things that are hard about this place, but many more things that are wonderful. Gambella is beautiful. The impressive Baro River passes through the town; freshly caught fish is served at restaurants. The marketplace is vibrant and bustling, one of the few places where you will find highlanders, Nuer, Anuak and Opo people together.

On the church compound where we live, a myriad of stunning birds can be found among shady trees. There are plenty of colourful butterflies and lizards that our daughter Abigail loves to chase. In the distance the highlands can be glimpsed. We have planted papaya, mango and banana trees around our house and although we will wait a few years for the fruit, the prospect of investing that amount of time here feels natural and exciting.

Since we arrived in mid-August, Chris has been teaching two courses at St Frumentius Anglican Theological College. There’s a great bunch of students and it’s a privilege to be working with them. Slightly more than half are refugees from South Sudan; others are Ethiopians from the Gambella region. The college is unusual in that it’s the only place, as far as we know, where Anuak and Nuer students are gathering daily to worship, pray and study together. Many people in Gambella believe the two ethnic groups should live, worship and study separately.

A highlight of the week is our evenings of food and fellowship with some Mabaan students. They are South Sudanese refugees who all hope to go back and help further establish and strengthen the church in their home country. Our times of worship together have always lifted our spirits. It is exciting that these humble and inspiring men are being further equipped to help lead the church in South Sudan.

It’s an incredible privilege to study the Bible together with these students. Our eyes are being opened to how much of the Bible is about people who are displaced, and how these texts can encourage those who find themselves in similar situations. Chris once asked the students what they thought of Moses as a leader: whether there were any aspects of his character that church leaders here could learn from. One of our older students – a refugee – answered that when you find yourself leading a church of people who have fled into the bush and have no food or water, there’s a lot you can learn from Moses.

Suzy spends the days taking care of Abigail and Matthew. Abigail has thrived here. Matthew is still adjusting.

We really want to invest in friendships, which requires us to learn Anuak, a very difficult language. However, we are enjoying our lessons with a student from the college, and these have also been great opportunities to learn more about the local culture. Slowly but surely, we are making progress.

There are lots of days when it feels easy to be here, and there are times when we wish we were somewhere else. But we are confident that, for now, we are just where we should be.