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Family's mission 'bug' leads them to spend Christmas in Ethiopia

Jack and Cheryl Lewis’ family exemplifies how one mission experience begets another.  Opting for short-term opportunities means they return with insights from other parts of the globe to share in their congregation.

They, their sons Andy and Ben, daughter and son-in-law Kristin and Kevin Lehman, and daughter Beth spent this Christmas with the Anuak in Gambella, Ethiopia.

That location arose from their at-home mission of sponsoring six refugee families from such areas as Rwanda, Kosovo and Iraq through World Relief.

Cheryl Lewis with Anuak baby

Their assisting a family from Rwanda in 1995 led to their meeting Agwa Taka, an Anuak Ethiopian refugee, sponsored by First Presbyterian Church.  They continued connections in the Africa Support Group formed by World Relief.

Jack, who attended Hamblen Park Presbyterian and Fourth Memorial churches growing up in Spokane, studied business administration at Central Washington University, where he met Cheryl.  He worked as an insurance adjuster before earning a master’s degree in theology in 1982 at Dallas Theological Seminary.

He served 14 years as pastor at Medical Lake Community Church and Newport Baptist Church.  He also began to teach at the Inland Empire School of the Bible, later Spokane Bible College and now operating as a branch of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

With a “burden” to teach pastors, Jack came on the faculty full time in 1997.  In 2000, he finished doctoral studies in educational leadership at Gonzaga University. In 2005, he became associate dean of faculty and head of Biblical Studies at Moody in Spokane.

The Lewis family first stepped into missions in 1992, when they went for three weeks to Bolivia, where Jack taught at a field conference for New Tribes Mission.

That sparked his desire to help pastors in developing countries.  In 2000, he taught courses for eight weeks at the Ethiopian Theological College in Addis Ababa.   In 2001 and 2002, he and Cheryl traveled to Indonesia where Jack taught modular courses in four seminaries.

On a 2003 trip back to Ethiopia for Jack to teach at a pastors’ conference, his son Ben accompanied him, taking computers and training people there to use them. 

In 2004, Jack also taught at a pastors’ conference in Khartoum, Sudan, where he and Cheryl made contacts to help reunite the son of a Sudanese refugee, Eliow, with his family in Spokane.  That reunion occurred in July 2006.  

In 2005, he spoke at a pastors’ gathering in India.

Other family mission ventures have included Kevin’s living in South Africa for a year with Reaching and Discipling, and Kristin’s serving with the African Children’s Choir in 2001.

Most of the mission trips of Jack and Cheryl, who attended Valley Fourth Memorial many years and now attend Crossover Baptist in Mead, have been for three to four weeks.  They arranged their outreach through various mission organizations, and their congregations have backed them.

Jack and Cheryl knew of the genocide of more than 400 Anuak men on Dec. 13, 2003, through Agwa’s continued help with refugees and the Africa Support Group.  One day, they asked how things were going in Gambella.

Agwa told of his efforts to build an orphanage for children of those killed through the Anuak Baare Hope Ministry (ABHM), originally started in partnership with First Presbyterian Church and now becoming an independent nonprofit organization.  The name means “hope for all Anuak.”

Jack asked what he was doing for public relations.  Q-6 TV had recently made a video of Agwa’s daughter, Abang, telling of the needs and of writing U.S. government leaders, asking them to help.  They said they could not help.

Jack sent a copy of the video to his sons, who were working with the Pearson Foundation in New Orleans and at Pass Christian, Miss., where they went two weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

Andy watched the video and said he decided to go there in November with his boss at the Pearson Foundation, who seeks to help children in poor countries access technology.

Andy, who earned a bachelor’s degree in international affairs at  Eastern Washington University in 2005, needed more overseas experience before beginning a master’s degree in forced migration.

As Andy, Jack, and Cheryl talked with Agwa about needs of 415 widows, Cheryl decided to go to Gambella.  She left Nov. 22 with Andy, his boss, Agwa, Abang, Achol Omot and Ojullu Aballa to help with the orphanage and with widows’ needs.

The orphanage opened Dec. 5 to serve 20 children.

Jack, Ben, Kristin and Kevin arrived in mid December with Jodie Hetzman, a nurse and student at Moody-Spokane who has gone on several mission trips herself.  She went to assess health problems and possibilities for treatment.

On arriving in Addis Ababa, Jack bought sewing machines, beads, tie-dyeing materials, seeds, medicines and other supplies on behalf of ABHM, with the help of pastors he had taught there.  They also helped him arrange ground transportation, helping even though Anuak are poorly treated in the capital, Jack said.

Kristin and Cheryl taught women to use the sewing machines.  Tie-dyeing materials and beads were brought to help women earn a living.  Seeds meant they could plant their own gardens.

They also took four laptop computers to use in school, the church office and the orphanage.

While there, Jack preached at the local Bethel Mekene Yesus Presbyterian Church of Ethiopia and offered a course for young people to begin their training as church leaders to replace pastors and lay leaders who were killed. 

Anuak Baare Hope seeks to complete the project with indigenous materials, labor and community involvement to instill a sense of ownership.  They will set up a child-sponsorship program to support orphans.  They also plan to drill a well to provide clean water for Anuak refugees in Sudan, although needs are changing as some refugees return to Gambella from the refugee camps.

Jack said they joined the effort because the needs were compelling, and “we have the ability to address certain needs.

“With the harshness of racial tensions between the darkest of the dark Anuak and the reddish-brown skinned Highlanders, we believe anyone should help any way they can,” he said.

Jack explained that connections with the world help move people “out of their own petty issues.” 

By helping people in need, he said those helping learn and can then help others see “what matters in life.  If people see needs, they ask what they can do to help.  The bug for missions is infectious.”

Jack is humbled by the hospitality he has experienced in Ethiopia with “people who have nothing but give everything to guests.” 

Andy helped create a 60-minute documentary on Gambella.   By spreading the word, they hope to protect the people from any further genocide. 

For information, call 747-2818.