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New Yorkers Seek Religious Roots in Ethiopia

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Ethiopian priests welcome the New York delegation in Addis Ababa.FNC

It took a 7,000 mile journey for the congregation of New York City's Abyssinian Baptist Church to find themselves.

One-hundred-and-sixty members of this historic Harlem house of worship traveled in September to Ethiopia on modern-day pilgrimage to birthplace of the church's founders.

Click here to read Lauren Green's reflections on her trip to Ethiopia

"We believe that that's the real center of the redemption of Africa, the real heart of Africa," said the Rev. Calvin Butts III. "Because it's peaceful, it's never been colonized and its people are fiercely independent and self reliant, and that's how we see ourselves."

Ethiopian merchants cofounded the Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1808 along with African-Americans who deserted the First Baptist Church of New York City when it decided to racially segregate seating.

Click here to view photos from the trip.

The Abyssinian Baptist Church's 200-year history has been storied with leaders that have included U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

Doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers and FOX News' Lauren Green were among those who made the journey to Addis Ababa, where the American delegation met with government officials and toured this nation which boasts one of the world's richest religious histories amid a backdrop of extreme poverty.

"It's poverty from our perspective, but not poor in spirit," said Lamonda Williams, one of the church members who traveled to Africa. "They still treasure family; they work communally to plow the land, to mile the land, to provide everything they need."

Though they took in wonders such as the 12 rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, they also absorbed the stark realities of daily life in the Horn of Africa. They saw young children who herded goats and cows and learned that an ambulance ride in the rural countryside is a horse-drawn cart, if even that.

They voiced their concerns to the heads of government, including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

"Without saying a word I think we understood No. 1 that we are brothers; No. 2, that we have the mutual concern with the people; No. 3, that we did not come to try to dictate to him what to do, but establish a conversation about the future of Ethiopia and what we might contribute," Butts said.

Teacher Doris Brunson probed the ministry of education on what it was doing to improve schooling in Ethiopia.

"We wanted to know why more children were not in school," Brunson said. "We more or less knew the answer to that but we wanted to find out how the government was approaching this. And we were heartened to know they are thinking of ways to get more and more children into school. But it's very difficult."

And they left carrying more than just souvenirs.

"The Ethiopian immediately embraces that, true to your native land: You've come home brother, you've come home sister," Butts said. "And it means so much to them, but you can't imagine what it means to us."

"Going Home: A Pilgrimage," a three-part report by FOX News religion correspondent Lauren Green, begins on Nov. 22 on the FOX News Channel.