We recently welcomed Tesfa, a single Ethiopian man who came without any family ties in Minnesota. Rather than securing long-term housing for him right away, we wanted to make sure he didn’t already have family or friends in the area that he might want to live with. Arrive Ministries, another local resettlement agency, knew of a host family that was happy to host Tesfa for his first weeks in Minnesota, and the arrangement worked out beautifully. On Tesfa’s first weekend here, we gave a volunteer the opportunity to bring Tesfa to church to help him make some community connections. It was an impactful experience for Tesfa and the volunteer, and our longtime volunteer Charlie Brown was kind enough to share the following reflection on his experience.
It was a chance of a lifetime to be able to attend the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with Tesfa. Tesfa is a very social person and made instant contact with everyone he met at the church. The service from 8:30 to 11:30 was for me not only a new experience with a totally different culture that I have not had the opportunity to acquaint myself with, but for some reason a deeply emotional and religious experience. The service was displayed on two large monitors at the front of the church so I could follow along in English, but the passion of the participants in the service that lasted that long with so much going on that was kind of an overload to my senses and I got caught up in it immediately. From the heavy incense to the sounds of the singing, chanting, and huge drums I was fascinated and yet humbled by the amount of energy that it took to put this together. The interior of the church, like other Orthodox churches I have been in, was filled with icons everywhere.
When we walked in a little before 8:30 the service has just started, but we both were greeted warmly and invited to sit near the front. Near the end of the service Tesfa was greeted by one of the priests speaking and he introduced me as well. I was invited to come back anytime, they said.
We were offered holy water to drink which we did at one point. I made sure to ask Tesfa if it was okay for me as a guest to partake as I didn’t want to offend. The children line up to come forward to the front of the church to get holy water in a paper cup so I had a chance to see all of the many cute kids who were so adorable. There was one young boy who stopped in the middle of the procession to drink his holy water and the older girls behind him kept pushing him forward.
After the service we found our shoes outside and went downstairs for a social time and had a huge piece of bread and sweet tea. Tesfa had the opportunity the exchange phone numbers and contact information with other men not only during the service upstairs but downstairs as well. I talked to several members of the congregation who were some of the friendliest people I have ever met and exchanged numbers with them as well. One older gentleman we talked to wanted to know where Tesfa was being housed and he said he was going to contact some others he knew in that area to get in contact with him. He thanked the Minnesota Council of Churches for the wonderful work they were doing.
I got a chance to exchange some personal information with Tesfa about our lives and I found out that in Ethiopia he had done statistical mathematical work for a marketing company and I told him about my work in marketing and advertising. He told me a little bit about his family and I told him about my kids. He kept asking how many months of winter we have in Minnesota. I told him that winter is only 4 months because with spring and fall we have some good transitions. He kept talking about winter being 7 months which we laughed about because it really does seem like that sometimes. Fortunately my car has heated seats so Tesfa liked that a lot.
I noticed as I said certain things in English he would repeat what I had said, practicing his pronunciation of what I had said. It’s always funny how at first it is hard to understand others with different accents until you spend some time with them and you start hearing and understanding so much better in a short period of time. I can’t get over how such a friendly and likable person he is.
Thanks again for this opportunity to serve as a volunteer. Each experience has made my life richer because of the people I have met.