Round the coffee pot: Hospitality in Ethiopia


“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling”. Peter 4:9

Hospitality is a practice that seems to have all but faded away in today’s culture. We are part of the ‘selfie’ generation, a nation that increasingly focuses inwardly. Nearly every television advert persuades us to concentrate on ourselves, and on what others think of us. In this context hospitality seems an almost out-dated idea, and yet we are instructed many times in the Bible to show love to strangers and to welcome them with a spirit of hospitality.

Last week I spent time with the drought affected community of Zego in northern Ethiopia. In 2015 this region did not have sufficient rainfall to sustain the usual harvests on which the villagers rely. Ethiopia is experiencing the worst drought in over thirty years, and more than ten million people are estimated to be facing food insecurity. Farmers like Getene Ashenafi and his wife Ayenech, already living in extreme poverty, have been left with a meagre supply of food. He told me, “I am 75 and I am weak. We have only a small plot of land and we are rain reliant. We are in a challenging situation here, as we cannot manage on our own. We depend on the local community to help us.”

After spending time talking to Getene he and the wider community invited me to take coffee with them; this is the traditional way to welcome a guest in Ethiopia. I entered a small smoky hut and was suddenly surrounded by over twenty people who had walked from their homes to greet me. These homes are spread across fields and rocky, narrow footpaths, for many of the older residents it was not an easy journey to make. As I sat breathing in the aroma of roasting coffee beans one of the women entered the room with a huge metal platter of pasta and injera, the local bread. She placed this meal in front of me and the community invited me to eat.

Every few minutes somebody would come up to me and check I had enough to eat and drink while others served each other. We ate together, the stranger and her hosts. After a morning listening to people’s stories of the hunger and deprivation their community faces as a result of climate change I was incredibly moved to be greeted with such a generous feast. At first I felt guilty for accepting such a meal: how could I eat this when I knew my hosts had given all they had? One of the local staff from our partner in the region turned to me, sensing my unease, and said: “Here, hospitality and community is our way of demonstrating love.” I am rarely moved to tears but on this occasion my eyes stung – and it was from more than just the smoke rising from the fire.

The people of Zego did not serve me dinner out of duty, but out of love. They went on to explain to me that they frequently meet like this to serve one another and to encourage one another when facing difficult times. Their hospitality is a way of life. Even in the most desperate circumstances they are willing to do all they can to show each other grace and love. I left challenged about my own attitude towards hospitality. Do I do all I can? I was reminded of a favourite Bible verse from Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware”. I was not a visiting angel, but I found a powerful reminder of God in that small hut on a mountainside in Ethiopia. Words were not needed; love took the form of bread, pasta and coffee handed to me by people living in one of the poorest communities in the world.

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