Open the eyes of my heart in Koncko, EthiopiaRich Stigall
Zewudie shares a very special legacy in preparation for our next meeting in Koncko, Ethiopia. It beckons to another time—long ago over 60 years. Ato Azage was a young man and pastoral protege to her father, Pastor Bachore. Bachore was an evangelical circuit rider planting churches in a new protestant movement—Kale Heywet, Breath of God, Word of God, Word of Life throughout southern Ethiopia.
Many were coming to new faith and seemed to challenge the governing status quo. Recognized as the leader, Pastor Bachore was oppressed and thrown in jail. Languishing over many years of imprisonment, his health suffered greatly. His children were sent abroad for safety. His protégé, Ato Azage stayed on and served as Pastor to this fledgling underground family of believers. We were soon ushered into the original small sanctuary where so much of life ministry was lived out. This primitive structure is filled with history. Kale Heywet Church of Koncko has long since outgrown this structure and is worshiping in a larger built church nearby. However, this day, we are blessed to gather here and meet the pillars of this faith community.
We make our way to the old run-down, empty church. We are welcomed at the tall wooden church doors. Years of oppression have taken their toll. Church Father, Ato Azage (pictured here with Zewudie), as he is revered, ambles cautiously, methodically, trustingly led by the gentle patient arm of a friend and a long walking stick in hand. His weathered face is the rutted visage of a long difficult life; eyes glazed, unfocused, distant, and clouded with darkness, his shoulders are hunched over by the weight of debilitating years.
It is here that we come and are invited in. We sit on primitive benches to break bread together. First, two women of the church come with a basin, bar of soap and a pitcher of water they have warmed over a wood burning fire. They kneel by each of us and graciously serve us as we wash our hands. After a blessing, platters of Ethiopian injera are brought to us. We smell the smoky richness of coffee beans being roasted over an open fire. We watch as the women grind the fresh beans into the freshly boiled water. Soon, we were gifted with small steaming cups of espresso. Here in the birthplace of coffee—we savored its richness. However, the best was of our fellowship was about to come…
Our new friends began conversing in their native tongue—Amharic. We sensed they were reminiscing and sharing the sweetness of this sacred space. We sipped our espresso, listening to the lilt of the foreign language, unknowing the words but sensing the spirit. A moment of quiet reflection ensued.
As upon a heavenly cue, Father Azo raised up as we all remained seated around him. Most all closed their eyes and bowed their heads. I, however, could not take my eyes off of him. I was compelled and captured by both the moment and the man.
Father Azo stood tall, shoulders once again broad and erect, with head high and eyes wide, he focused as respectfully addressing some One much taller and grander than he, just beyond arm’s reach. I was mesmerized. His voice was deep and commanding at times and melodious at others. His Amharic cadence was song-like with poetic pauses–lyrical, pleading, praising, appreciating–powerful, prayerful–vision. He could see what I could not. I was bench side to a spiritual conversation in the heavenlies. Forty five minutes of this warrior’s personal prayer. Timeless, like a tiny crack in eternity with Light flooding forth, emblazoning the darkness. Just as on cue he stood he retreated. Quietly he sat down upon the earthly bench. In so doing, his body returned to its original hunched over and crumpled posture. He reached for and grasped his cane as his diseased eyes glazed over.
I reflected on the words of another woman of time gone by:
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden. I can see a God-made world, not a manmade world.” Helen Keller
“Uncover my eyes so that I may see the miraculous things in your teachings.” Psalm 119:18 (GW)
Both awed and humbled I prayed, singing in my spirit: “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, open the eyes of my heart, I want to see you, I want to see you… “
I closed my eyes and thanked God for giving me this heavenly glimpse—the vision of Father Ato Azage, and the blessing of Pastor Bachore & daughter, Zewudie’s legacy for the children of The Father’s House in Koncko, Ethiopia.