Sometimes your random words becomes plans and your plans get to pass very quickly. During my last trip to the US, I was hiking at Sedona in Arizona with church friends from Bethany Bible Church. One of them, Dale told me he was planning to visit friends in Dubai. I told him that being in Dubai meant he was so close to Ethiopia that he could visit me as well. That random conversation become a reality from Jan 5-10. I am very thankful for Dale and Sue who trusted me and came all the way to Addis to spend time with me in Ethiopia.
You might wonder why Lalibela is important – here are a few discoveries I made. As a proud Ethiopian I was sharing and talking about Lalibela but have never been there before. My visit there caused a stir. On the one side I am inspired by the people who lived in my country in the 12th century who build such astonishing structures using only their hands. At the same time I returned back home with lot of questions and compassion for the people I encountered in Lalibela who are so desperate for righteousness and are very poor.
This is how Pilgrims Camp for Christmas in LalibelaI realized that I’m a Christian, and specifically an Ethiopian Christian. My country’s history affects me directly and indirectly. Lalibela was build with the motive to represent the second Jerusalem.
My visit to Lalibela made me
We arrived on the eve of Ethiopian Christmas and stayed in a beautiful mountain view hotel called Maribela. After we dropped our luggages and ate lunch we rushed to see the 11 rock hewn Lalibela churches which is one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. Our first scene was at Bete Amanuel. This historical site was packed with thousands of pilgrims who were attending rituals and Ethiopian Christmas celebrations. The teaching priest was preaching from Matthew 25 about The Parable of the Ten Virgins. We listened to him for about 30 min as he shared about the gospel from the Bible.
The history and legend behind Lalibela as told by our guide: Our guide Gashaw gave us a long explanation about the person and king Lalibela. Lalibela means “Mar Yibla” literally translated “honey eater”. When Lalibela was born, bees surrounded the baby and his mom prophesied he will be a great king and named him “Lalibela” – honeyeater.
Background about the place from Wikipedia
Lalibela, revered as a saint, is said to have seen Jerusalem, and then attempted to build a new Jerusalem as his capital in response to the capture of old Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187. Each church was carved from a single piece of rock to symbolize spirituality and humility. Christian faith inspires many features with Biblical names –- even Lalibela’s river is known as the River Jordan. Lalibela remained the capital of Ethiopia from the late 12th into the 13th century.
Lalibela was killed by his own brother according to the legends through poisoning his food. This incident made a huge transition to Lalibela’s divine destiny. As he was poisoned, angels came and took his body to heaven. There he received a vision from God to build the rock hewn church. Gashaw said Lalibela was resurrected from the death. This is where the story is becoming even more amazing …
In hearing this, I started asking myself should I ask more questions to get more proof? Or shall I just believe what our guide was saying? There are many similarities between Lalibela and Jesus. For example, their birthdays are on the same day! I started asking if someone was trying to relate or equate Lalibela with Jesus or was this just a co-incidence?
My grandpa is a priest and he told me after my trip to Lalibela that anyone who goes to Lalibela will make his 7 generations be saved! It disturbed me that many people, like my Grandpa added such huge spiritual value to Lalibela, not checking it against Biblical truth. Our history is full of legends and some truths. This makes it very hard for people to understand the true meaning of Christmas and Christianity at large. If I could save my soul by just being in Lalibela’s churches, then Christ died for nothing. While visiting the Saint George church I encountered a group of ladies singing and it was touching. Sadly the many pilgrims visiting Lalibela consider it their soul destination.
In Acts 8, the Ethiopian eunuch encountered the Apostle Philip on his way home from Jerusalem. He was reading the book of Isaiah. Here is the story from the Bible on Acts 8
I believe we have men and women who should become the modern day Philip’s in Ethiopia. You and I! If you know Jesus Christ is the Son of God, we have to pray and ask God to use us to be bold enough and share the true meaning of the Gospel with our people in Ethiopia.
Would you join me?
Miheret T. Eshete