Ethiopia is directly mentioned thirty-eight times in the Bible. Probably the most famous reference is that of the Ethiopian eunuch who is baptised by Philip (Acts 8:27). In addition, there’s plenty of references to the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10) with many scholars believing that Sheba is also Ethiopia.
I’ve recently returned from Ethiopia and the annual Leprosy Mission conference, held in Addis Ababa for the first time. When I think of Africa I think of heat. But most of Ethiopia is on a high plain – Addis Ababa is 7,200 feet above sea level. No wonder I was feeling it walking up the stairs at the hotel!
As part of the Leprosy Mission conference, we celebrated the Wellesley Bailey Awards. These are annual awards given to celebrate the life and work of Wellesley Bailey, the founder of The Leprosy Mission. The Awards honour those who have made extraordinary contributions to society through overcoming the social stigma and physical challenges of leprosy.
This year the two winners were Birke Nigatu Teka from Ethiopia and Kofi Nyarko from Ghana.
Birke overcame the stigma of the disease and the belief system of her people that considered it untreatable. She saved her own money, secretly went to the hospital and underwent two and a half years of treatment. She faced many other problems, including attempted rape, but refused to give up, acting as an ambassador for others with leprosy. She has established a leprosy women’s association and has developed working groups, producing local handicrafts. She serves on a number of national associations and boards and in her own words, is ‘proud of my up and down life’. Those ups and downs have changed many other lives.
Kofi was abused as a child, and neglected by his family. It was a stranger who recognised he had leprosy and helped him escape to a leprosy hospital. Today Kofi is a spokesperson for those with leprosy and is a member of a number of national and international agencies. He says that it is because of his leprosy that he has become so popular!
There are thirty-eight mentions of Ethiopia in the Bible and it’s not possible to add to scripture. But there are two more stories worthy of inclusion.