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Rod Knutson and Curt Arthur mission trip to Ethiopia

Flowers and smiles ... Curt Arthur (left) and Rod Knutson receive flowers from Ethiopian Mission students in exchange for the backpacks and suitcases of school supplies and for their time working on the new addition to the mission building.

"We didn't have much for tools," said Curt Arthur. "You mix the cement on the ground, then haul it by hand to where you needed it. We used tin and sticks; the only bought lumber was the 2x2 furlongs as part of the roof."

Arthur and Rod Knutson related their experiences to a large audience at the Community Evangelical Free Church in Philip on Sunday, September 28. Their Mission of Mercy Program trip to Ethiopia had been from August 2 to August 12. The two men were part of a group of Americans volunteering time and labor to build a classroom building at a Mission.

Each man took a carry-on bag for themselves and two suitcases crammed with school supplies and gifts for children. Everything, even their extra changes of clothes and boots, were left there for mission use. Along with volunteer work, they visited with the children that they and the church are sponsoring through a $30 per month Mission of Mercy Program.

Arriving in Ethiopia, the group quickly discovered the diversity of the country's landscape. The mission where they were staying and working was in a lush, mountainous area at 8,000 feet elevation. "The soil is rocky, but very fertile," said Arthur. "When wet, it didn't stick and clump onto your shoes." Other parts of the country are sub-Saharan. Many rural families live in small, round huts in the middle of their fields, which they lease from the government, often for generations. "In the capital city of Addis Ababa, we saw hundreds of tin and cardboard huts so close together that it looks like one roof," said Knutson.

An estimated 52 percent of the country's population is illiterate. Many facets of the government and of the businesses understand that teaching the youth is important to the future of the country's own economy, yet, "the leaders keep the people in ignorance so the leaders can tell the people what to do," said Knutson. "The mission is teaching women how to sew and how to perform restaruant cooking. Hopefully, they will be able to make a living without scrounging for food."

While mixing concrete by shovel on the ground, hauling it by hand and squaring stones by hammer, the volunteers visited with children. When Mercy Center leaders asked if the kids were in the workers' way, the reply was, "It's their building, it's for the kids and our mission is for the kids, that's why we came here." For recreation, the kids simply came to the project, otherwise they played games like rolling hoops with sticks.

Knutson and Arthur reported that Ethiopia has a growing economy. "If you can get a job, there was some building going on." Some of the farm land is owned by corporate farms, though the only machinery seen by the Americans was a little 50-horse-power tractor. The rest of the labor is done by hand or horse.

With the high school singers, the visiting college singers, the feet-washing ceremony and the generally "really moving experience," the church services generally last around two to three hours, though they seemed like only half an hour, according to Knutson.

One of the mens' sponsored children still lives with her mother, "who does not look well," said Arthur. "She probably has AIDS, but the little girl will continue in the mission school, probably living with a relative or others who will take her in."

"I encourage everyone to take a trip like this," said Knutson. "It will really change your outlook on the world."