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For Local Mennonite Couple, Ethiopia's Future Looks Bright

By Tom Mitchell, Daily News-Record

Jim and Peg Engle
Engle has traveled to Ethiopia six times. He often teaches at MK College when he travels.

HARRISONBURG - The Ethiopians Jim Engle knows have outlooks as bright as their nation's sunniest summers.

"Most of the people in Ethiopia are warm and welcoming," said Engle, a professor of Old Testament studies at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. "They're humble and hardworking, too."

The folks he met during his sixth trip to Ethiopia also proved to be enthusiastic students of  the Bible.

Engle, 68, and his wife Peg, 66, spent five months teaching Old Testament at two Christian Ethiopian universities, Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology in the capital city of Addis Ababa and Meserete Kristos College about 90 minutes away in the town of Debre Zeit. Read about Engle's previous trips to Ethiopia...

On Jan. 3, the Engles returned from Ethiopia, a food-poor but faith-rich country in East Africa.

Jim Engle, whose previous treks there included sabbaticals seven years apart, was sent by EMS this time on an assignment.

The Engles' work in Ethiopia is part of a partnership between EMS and the two Ethiopian schools.

A few years ago, EMS helped Meserete Kristos start a seminary program.

Jim Engle said that while Ethiopia "has struggled" socially and economically, the nation retains "an old Christian tradition" that dates to church's earliest days.

Ervin R. Stutzman, dean at EMS, says that his seminary's help to Meserete Kristos is a spiritual calling of aid to a church that is growing in membership at a rate of 10 percent annually. Ethiopian seminaries, says Stutzman, "desperately need trained leaders."

Knowing The People

Jim Engle said that his wife, whom he met when she returned from a mission to Ethiopia, has made his work easier because of her 20 years of experience there as a nurse.

Peg Engle, an associate pastor for pastoral care at Lindale Mennonite Church in Linville, speaks one Ethiopian language and has made friends in Ethiopia, her husband said.

"We were invited to a lot of homes that we probably wouldn't have been invited to, just because of people she knew," he said.

"People who remember Peg see her on the street, and hug her."

Peg Engle calls missions such as hers and her husband's "a way of connecting" the U.S. and Ethiopia.

"It helps people in Ethiopia to know that there's a world beyond them that really cares about them," she said.

Ethiopians' need for compassion stems largely from a harsh past, as the nation has seen war and want.

A communist regime that ruled Ethiopia from 1984 to 1990 brought oppression and persecution to Christians.

And famine dots Ethiopia's history.

The communist state that fell marked a time of "fear and suspicion," Peg Engle said.

"There was a lot of destruction, and people suffered greatly."

Better Than Before

The present government in Ethiopia, while far from ideal, represents a vast improvement over leadership from the communist era, she said.

"There's not total equality - in some places people are dressed nicely while others walk barefoot," she said. "The country has developed more private enterprise, and some places are modern."

EMS and churches in Ethiopia have cooperated on both sides of the ocean. Twelve students from Ethiopia have studied at EMS, including a 2008 EMS grad who returned to Ethiopia to teach in an undergraduate program.

Officials at EMS are considering sending faculty to Ethiopia to teach this summer.

"People in Ethiopia want, welcome and appreciate our being there, and that's one more reason for me to go back," Jim Engle said.

Article by Tom Mitchell, Daily News-Record
Posted 1/14/09