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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Is This The Best We Can Do For Our Ethiopian Partners?


At a gathering at Harrisonburg Mennonite Church Thursday evening members of our local churches met to welcome and support two prominent leaders of the Ethiopian Meserete Kristos Church and the MK College.  An estimated 100 people attended, a fourth of whom were a part of various singing groups providing special music for our guests. The event raised a total of around $3500.

I wasn't an official part of this fund raising effort, and have no idea what Kiros Teka Haddis, the president of the fledgling Meserete Kristos College,  or Kelbessa Muleta Demena, the Associate Secretary of the MKChurch and chair of the board of the school, were expecting. But I can't help wondering how they felt about the reception they received at their first US stop in Virginia's Mennonite Mecca.

Let's review some astounding numbers:

We locals represented the well-to-do sending church, Mennonite Church USA, that helped launch the mission effort in Ethiopia some 60 years ago. MCUSA now has a static or declining baptized membership of around 98,000, whereas the Meserete Kristos ("Christ the Foundation") Church has over 225,000 members, an active attendance of twice that number, and is growing rapidly.

The average per capita income in the US is over $48,000. In Ethiopia it is estimated to be just over $400.

MCUSA has five colleges and two seminaries with a total enrollment of over 5000. MKC has one college with an enrollment of 180 men and women to help train its church leaders.

Our five American colleges have well-financed development departments working year round to raise budgets of millions, plus having expanding (and expensive) Admissions Departments competing with each other in recruiting students. MKC has no problem attracting enough students, but struggles to meet its annual operating budget of $325,000, less than the total our US colleges spend for lawn care.

Tuition and room and board for a school like EMU is over $37,000 a year, with considerable financial assistance available, of course. At MKC it only totals $2500, and students also rely heavily on financial aid.

EMU recently launched a $7 million fund raising effort to renovate its Science Center alone. MKC is trying to raise money to complete a $500,000 women's dormitory.

Is there something wrong with this picture?

I think so. And if you agree, I urge you to mail a check to MK College Link, PO Box 1701, Harrisonburg, VA 22803. And here are some other changes you might want to help promote:

1. Appoint representative believers from the Global South to serve as members of the decision-making boards of each of our church institutions (via skype?).

2. Consider a moratorium on new construction or expansion of our existing institutions until our world neighbors have more of their needs met.

3. Have our colleges and seminaries become one "multi-versity" (on separate campuses) to avoid competing with each other for needed dollars and desired student enrollment.

Perhaps our goal should be not so much to have our Ethiopian partners become more like us, but for us to become more like them.
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