Welcome back to my blog. It was a hectic few days preparing to leave for the big trip to the African continent, so I wasn't able to write a preview of the trip — so now I can do the preview and the post-view in one.
Our trek to Ethiopia began as an opportunity to follow members of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem as they made a pilgrimage to their land of origin. About 160 church members, plus the senior minister, Dr. Calvin O. Butts, traveled to the nation that is largely known to the rest of the world as a land devastated by famine. Our adventure would shed light on a very different Ethiopia, one that is poised for economic renewal, atop a foundation of deep spiritual roots.
ABYSSINIAN BAPTIST CHURCH
The Abyssinan Baptist Church in New York was founded in 1808 by free Ethiopian sea merchants. On their travels to New York, the merchants wanted to worship but refused to take part in services in the segregated churches of America — so they started their own church.
What makes Abyssinians' beginnings unique is that it was founded nearly 60 years before the Civil War would end slavery in the south, and the entire United States. Slavery officially ended in the north by 1804, although segregation and racism continued to flourish (and even some people remained slaves because the law was ignored by many slave owners). In 1808, when the sea merchants landed on the shores of New York, their homeland was known as the country of Abyssinia. And its fame even in the early 19th century, was that it was the source of the Nile River, a body of water flowing rich and varied histories, both biblical and secular.
The Abyssinian Baptist Church stands as a powerful entity in American church history, particularly as a strong force among the contributions of the black churches in this country. It is the church of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a preacher and congressman. He was the first really powerful black man to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. His fight against poverty and racism helped to galvanize the beginnings of the civil rights movement from inside the political machinery of the U.S. government. His church also became a powerful political force and still is today. Most political wannabes making their campaign tour through the Northeast will pay a cordial visit to a Sunday morning service, on 138th Street in Harlem.
In addition to its political history, Abyssinian has an incredible theological connection to the great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A little known fact: during the late 1920s Bonhoeffer taught Sunday school in the church, during his year-long study at Union Theological Seminary. In his writings, Bonhoeffer reflected on how Christianity in America, for the most part, lacked true commitment and spirituality, but that the black church in America was one that could find a true passion for God and a social conscience.
And so with 200 years of tradition and history, members of Abyssinian Church embarked on their first official visit to the "homeland."
CHRISTIANITY IN ETHIOPIA
The Europeans called it Abyssinia, or the home of the "burnt face people." In the Old Testament, it was known as the land of Cush, the first born of Ham, one of the two sons of Noah. Before the land became Christian in the 4th century AD, it was Jewish. The Old Testament book of first Kings tells of the Queen of Sheba, traveling to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon because she heard of his great wisdom.
1 Kings 10: 1, 2 "And when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove him with hard questions. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train with camels that bare spices, and very much gold and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart."
She was indeed impressed with King Solomon and not only brought back wisdom to Ethiopia, but also Judaism, a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. What the Bible doesn't talk about is a bit of history that the Ethiopians hold quite fast to. That is why the Queen of Sheba stayed in Jerusalem about six months, became one of King Solomon's wives, and had a son named Menalek. It was that son, it is claimed, that brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Ethiopia where it now resides in Axum. But that story will be part of the next blog.
It is surprising to learn of Ethiopia's Jewish roots, which laid the foundation for its Christian roots. The country now is about 45 percent Christian and 35 percent Muslim. Most African countries are thought of as either Muslim or pagan. Where Christianity exists, it is assumed that it was a conversion by European occupiers. But Christianity first came to Ethiopia during the times of the Apostles, soon after the Resurrection. In the New Testament's book of Acts, it tells of the Ethiopian eunuch who accepted Christ on his return home journey from Jerusalem. Being already versed in the theology of the Hebrews, the eunuch is perplexed as he reads the book of Isaiah's passage in the Old Testament that says: "He was led as sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he does not open his mouth...."
Acts 8: 34-38 "And the Eunuch answered Philip and said, 'Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?' And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, 'Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?' And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him."
So begins the rich history of Christianity in Ethiopia, which today is known as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. There is a richness to the church, promulgated by its Jewish heritage. And the people even in the rural areas, are quite devout.
Our entourage included me, Executive Producer Clay Rawson, photographer Chris Jackson, audio-tech Shimson, and our Ethiopian "fixer" Abraham. Chris and Shimson are from the FOX Jerusalem bureau and Clay and I flew in from New York. Abraham is a seasoned journalist in Ethiopia, who was a wealth of information about Ethiopian culture, politics and people. He worked magic to open doors and create opportunities that seemed impossible to us. (More on the miracle worker Abraham later.)
Clay and I left New York on September 18. There are very few, to zero, direct flights to Ethiopia from the United States. So, we boarded a 6:30 p.m. Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, Germany (about seven hours), then took another Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capitol, with one brief stop in Khartoum, Sudan (another seven hours or so).
We landed in about 8:30 p.m. in Addis the following day, and needless to say we were pretty travel weary. At the airport we met up with Chris, Shimson and Abraham. I had a little passport trouble at the airport. Apparently the authorities were concerned that I was a journalist and said they hadn't been given notice I was arriving in the country. It took Abraham's deft abilities and easy going manner to clear things up. We were soon on our way.
After a brief night at the Hilton Hotel in Addis, we arose at 4 a.m. to catch a 7:10 a.m. flight. Unfortunately, our flight was canceled and we headed back to the Hilton for breakfast and to catch some extra ZZZs before taking a later flight. The delay seemed like we'd never begin our trip. We even made jokes about there not being an actual plane! But as you can see from the pictures, there was one.
Lalibella, home of the Rock Cut churches: ancient history, ancient culture, and an ancient and deep faith.• E-mail Lauren Green
Lauren Green serves as a religion correspondent for the FOX News Channel. Prior to this, Green served as a news anchor for “Fox and Friends,” where she provided daily news updates and covered arts for the network. You can read her complete bio here.
Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996.