Greenhouse Life

The sights, sounds and smells of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, are unforgettable. Families of eight crammed into a mud hut. The echo of a seemingly endless number of people on the streets begging for anything. The smell of children who have never bathed, scrounging and playing in a garbage dump.

But there is also the wide, bright eyes of Moges, an Ethiopian Young Life staff member, asking questions as he reads from his Bible. The clapping, singing and laughter that comes from a group of Ethiopian Young Life staff as they lead a neighborhood club. And the aroma of Christ’s love that pervades throughout the close-knit but growing community of Young Life staff and volunteers in Ethiopia.
 
Growing strong 
For the past five years, Young Life staff in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital, have been building relationships with Ethiopians — from street kids and shoeshiners to teenage mothers and students. Chuck and Linda Reinhold, along with Steve and Dyan Larmey — who joined them a little more than a year ago — have been training Ethiopians and equipping them for ministry. They, along with 11 other Ethiopian staff and more than 70 volunteers, are reaching out to kids in 15 high school clubs and one middle school club, and have started contact work at 12 other high schools.

And during the next five years, Young Life Africa hopes to develop Young Life in ten African countries, including Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya and Liberia.
 
Beginning with friendships
Since the 1970s Young Life has had a presence in Africa. There is active Young Life ministry in Ethiopia, as well as Uganda. When the Reinholds arrived in Africa six years ago, they had no idea what would happen. Chuck Reinhold had been in Ethiopia nearly 40 years earlier and always knew he would return. The Reinholds resided in Kore, one of the poorest parts of Addis Ababa. Kore is home to a refugee camp, a garbage dump and a leper colony. Reinhold would go and sit with guards that stood at the gates of the home where he lived.

Two of the guards, Petros and Mentesnott, were already Christians but had never been discipled or challenged to live out their faith, Reinhold said. He began meeting with them for a Bible study and eventually brought them to club. Now they are area directors.

Ethiopian staff live together, where they are trained and discipled. Reinhold calls the home a “greenhouse” because it’s where staff come to live and grow. Some have lived there for close to four years and are now training new staff and volunteer leaders.
 
Staff in the “greenhouse” start their days at 5:30 a.m. with worship and Bible study. During the day they have ministry training, do contact work and plan clubs. In the evenings, they all are back at home, sharing stories over dinner.

Stories from struggle 
Although they are in a country of 67 million people where daily life is a desperate struggle for most, stories abound of how God is moving in the lives of Ethiopians through Young Life.

Tsigereda, an Ethiopian staff woman, received a phone call one day from a girl at the high school where she often goes to hang out with kids. The girl said to Tsigereda, “I see you at my school, and I see you loving my friends. I want to be your friend, too.”

Kids there are also experiencing Young Life camp. Staff and leaders took 31 high school kids whom they had built relationships with all year long to a self-run camp. Twenty-five of the kids accepted Jesus and are now involved in discipleship.

Then there are the “Golden Girls.” Nearly four years ago Linda Reinhold befriended a group of women who had contracted HIV after being raped and forced into prostitution. Now she, along with Dyan Larmey, continue to find ways to try to meet their medical needs, equip them with job skills, teach them English and educate them about proper nutrition.

Some of the women, however, are in the advanced stages of AIDS. Dyan Larmey wrote to friends recently about one of them, named Martha: “Although Martha’s body is nearly dead, her spirit is still very much alive. She feels peaceful, and whenever I am with her, I feel peaceful, too. It is almost as if because she is so close to seeing Jesus face to face …”
 
Plans for growth
As the native staff continue the ministry in Ethiopia, Steve Larmey and Chuck Reinhold are becoming more excited about the potential for Young Life in other African countries. Young Life Africa has contacts in several other countries and hopes to make Ethiopia a model for the rest of the continent, perhaps eventually bringing in Africans from other countries to train in Ethiopia.

But in third-world countries, financial support from nationals is almost non-existent. “We’re trying to figure out how we can do Young Life ministry with minimal resources without sacrificing the quality of what we do,” Larmey said.

He also said Young Life Africa needs people in the United States who want to partner with the mission in Africa in a variety of ways — people who will help support the development of Young Life in an African country, and those who will consider going there as staff to help train nationals to eventually sustain their own ministry.

“Everything we do has been to train and empower Ethiopian staff to do ministry,” Larmey said. “And the staff is doing it now.”
 
Being with people
As they confront death, disease and hunger almost daily in the lives of the kids and adults they love, the Ethiopian and American staff continue to learn the importance of being “Jesus with skin on,” Reinhold said.

“The Bible says that, ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,’ not the ‘Word became the word,’” Reinhold said. “Young Life is a natural ministry. It’s a ministry of friendship that transcends all cultures. People just need us to be with them and love them.”