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Ummata: The Power of Community

There is a deep sense of community within the people of Ethiopia. The Oromo word for Community is Ummata. As my wife heard the word for the first time from the lips of our dear friend, Wadi, she heard her say, ‘you matter.’ Perhaps this is the definition of community. The Americanized version often seems that community is a space and place where ‘I matter.’ Here in Ethiopia, Community is the space and place that defaults to the posture of making others know that ‘you matter.’ I have seen this expressed in so many ways in my brief time here. Perhaps no where more evident than on the streets and roads.
I am ever so grateful that all the places we have traveled to while in this beautiful place have been escorted by a driver. To say that people drive differently here is an understatement.  At first glance, the roads appear to be filled with chaotic activity. There are few rules that seem to be followed. Some roads have lines on them, but they are ignored. I’ve seen one traffic light, and oddly enough it was not in the city of 3 million. We traveled from Addis Ababa to Shashamene (similar in distance from Fayetteville to Savannah). We shared the road with trucks and donkeys; with other buses and horse carts, and the whole ways we were passing cars similar to the ones shown in the picture above. At first glance, there were no rules and the only thing keeping things moving was the Grace of God.


However, as I watched and held my breath, I saw one governing rule that guided all travelers on the road: Ummata. Driving in Ethiopia is a communal experience. Whether truck drivers or donkeys being driven by kids to go get water, there was a deep sense that everyone was in it together. There was the consistent noise of horns honking. But unlike traffic jams on Main Street, USA, these horns were not slammed on by road-raged drivers, they were a form of communication. Each beep of the horn was a way to say I need a little more room. Certainly, our bus was working toward our destination. But, as our driver led us, there was a sense of understanding that part of his job was to ensure that the other travelers were successful in reaching their destination as well. There was a dependence upon one another. Everyone was headed in their own direction and at their own speed. And yet there was a commitment that we would do this together. Traveling on the road was an experience of Ummatta. It was an experience of ‘You Matter!’

This is what Door Holders are all about. It is a consistent choosing to live for the sake of others. That as we embrace the journey that Jesus is leading us on, we do so with our eyes facing outward. We look for ways to live so that others know by how we live, how we serve, how we speak, how we think, and how we speak–Ummata!

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