Jember Teferra - Addis Abeba, ETHIOPIA

I want to talk about someone in our ministry that illustrates how people actually break out of the "circle of poverty" (that's our motto in Addis Abeba). The girl I want tell you about is nicknamed Konjo--it means "something beautiful." Her real name is Etenesh. The first time Konjo appeared was 1983, during our pilot project. She attended a mass community meeting for representatives of each household. She was obviously representing her mother, though she was only nine at the time. At the end of the meeting she waited for the project staff, and very confidently came forward to speak to us. She said she wanted us to help her family--not herself. She specifically asked for help for her older sister, who was about eighteen years old. Konjo said that her sister had finished high school, and gone to a typing school, but didn't have a job. In fact, the older sister had been hanging around home for two years. We said her sister should come for herself. But Konjo said her sister was very shy and that her mom and dad were very needy. Her dad was a roadside tailor and her mom was a food peddler. They didn't have enough money to support four children. One of her sisters was mentally retarded. Konjo said they needed the money from her sister's income very badly, if she could only get a job.

Konjo was very clear and communicated their needs well. We were very impressed with her. We said, "Why don't you apply for yourself?" When we asked if she had been to school, she said she was illiterate. Her job was to look after her mentally retarded sister and she had accepted this fact. She pleaded with us just to help her sister and not to bother with her. That response is very unusual because the poverty syndrome usually creates a self-centered survival mentality. We advised her to get her sister to come and talk to us and also to have her mother come and see if there was anything we could do to improve her income. She brought her mother the following day. The mother told us her older daughter was mute, i.e., she wouldn't speak out for herself.. We told her that since her daughter was an adult, we couldn't do anything for her unless she came herself.

We asked the mother to arrange for Konjo to go to school. We had decided that we would sponsor her schooling. The mother very reluctantly agreed, saying that since Konjo had accepted role of nanny to the mentally retarded girl, she would be happier if we could help the other sister. We encouraged the mother to give Konjo a chance to go school and have the older sister stay home with the mentally retarded sister. Konjo started going to school. But she began doing something quite different from the other students. Since we were sponsoring her, she felt it was her duty to help us. She became a volunteer and helped at the office. That's how she got her nickname "beautiful." The pilot project phased out in 1986. We all left the area and I went abroad. When the academic year finished, Konjo found that her sponsor (our group) was no longer there. She found my husband and explained her situation. He continued to sponsor her for the three years I was absent from the country.

When I returned from abroad I upgraded the original project. Konjo returned to help in the office. A few months later, a person came to us and told us that Konjo's whole family was seriously ill. They lived in a very small house--eighteen square meters for six people. (During the pilot project, her family had benefited from the integrated approach. Their toilet and communal kitchen had been upgraded). When we got there we found that Konjo's mentally retarded sister, who was by then attending a mentally retarded children's daycare, was very seriously sick. We got the local medical team to look at the family and the illness was identified as relapsing fever (a lice-born infection). Konjo's family were all taken to the nearest clinic, but the mentally retarded child died.

After the death, no one in the neighborhood would come anywhere near them. Because its our custom to have people come to your home to mourn with you, it was necessary to show the neighbors that nothing would be passed on to them. We sprayed the home with insecticide and burned any clothing that looked infested. In the process we found an occult object in the mother's personal box. This distressed us very much because we had tried to share our Christian faith with Konjo. After the mourning period was over, I tried to discus this with Konjo to find out how much she had been involved with her family's occult practice. She was very upset but also relieved that we had identified what she saw as a problem. Konjo felt she could not help her mother's soul--i.e., she and her mother could not discuss and resolve this issue. I did some counseling with Konjo that included an evangelist who had also once been a victim of the occult (born from a witch doctor). After several counseling sessions, Konjo brought her whole family together; with a lot of prayer, input and counseling, the mother decided to throw this occult object in the courtyard of the orthodox church where she worshipped (thereby letting God deal with the devil).

I think in that process Konjo really became a born again Christian. Since then she takes a very active role in the nearby church. We've given her Bibles to distribute to others and she has begun to do her own evangelism on a smaller scale.

After ten years she managed to bring her older sister to the supervisor of the only job we had available (a laborer's job) and the sister now works there permanently. Konjo now works during the day and goes to night school to finish her studies (she is in the eleventh grade). She continues to grow as a person and as a Christian. She is a truly beautiful, holistic person.

About Jember's holistic ministry:

First, our philosophy is to allow people to get involved. The people themselves identify their problems and address them in a holistic manner. We will accept anyone--including those who are left out or those whom no one else will accept. Our approach emphasizes human development rather than manipulation, pushing or patronizing. With enough simple human encouragement, they voluntarily participate in what is available here. In so doing, we find that the poor prioritize felt needs that deal with the root cause of their problems. They will not identify the symptoms of their problems, but attempt to deal with the root cause.

Second, we see that in that in the context of poverty, the poor have multiple problems whose root causes are all inter-linked. Therefore, when you ask them to identify their needs, you find that they come out like a jigsaw, all inter-linked. And because their problems are inter-connected, their solutions have to be integrated and holistic. What brings us to the integrated service is the whole person's need. We don't deal with any problem in isolation. We deal with the whole person--the whole family--the whole community.

Our community is composed of 75% female heads of households. Thus, women are our primary target; however, we still deal with the whole family and women as members of the family and members of the community. We never take one item of a development issue and look at it in isolation. It's all integrated, interwoven and therefore holistic.

Human services at best are all integrated and therefore we don't see, deliver or implement any program in a unintegrated form. And when we are allowed to we include as much of our Christian education and evangelism as possible to the holistic ministry we promote. When people come to us one-by-one and seek our help voluntarily, we carry out one-to-one evangelism and counseling. From the time our ministry began, the political situation has not allowed us to carry out evangelism openly. We therefore entered the ministry knowing that we can just as effectively witness in action, though we believe that Matthew 25 and Matthew 28 are both Great Commissions. Amen.