The view at dusk from Lalibela

Sunday, May 15, noon

Though I will, I do not feel able or qualified to write about the last 24 hours.

We are on a small prop plane, a Bombadier, that has a capacity of 75 people.

We are heading back to Addis after 24 hours in Lalibela.  Pronounced “lolly-bella.”

As we are flying over what looks like the Grand Canyon (not as deep) of this area in northern Ethiopia,

we see lone churches on the tops of mountains.  Some, the people must only be able to get to by walking.  Alters to God all over the place.

Lalibela, which I knew nothing about before we came here, is a holy city.

It is high in a mountain about 8000ft elevation.

The population is 19,000.  It is middle ages and iron-age in development.

They live in the same kinds of mud huts with grass roofs, corrugated metal walls on some.

People, goats, donkeys, sheep, chickens all walking down the streets together.  A cow here and there.

The roads were busy as we approached the city, about a 40 minute drive from the small airport.

It was Saturday yesterday.  The day when everyone from the countryside walks into town for the market.

See the market in the distance with all the people?

And here is a close-up.

It reminded me of a more modern version of maybe the people of Israel walking to Jerusalem for Passover in the days of Jesus.

They walked with pack mules to carry grain and other things to sell or buy.  Several hours later we saw the people walking home from the market carrying live or dead chickens, hardened, full size goat skins folded in half – legs and feet included, cloth, sticks and rocks for building, spices, etc.

The city, unlike bustling Addis, was clean and well taken care of.  The people all kind and happy.

The begging Catch-22

I found out, because I saw clearly, why we do not want to just give people money promoting them to beg.  I gave money several times to people in Addis.  It is all so poor and they do beg and you can’t help but help them.  We would have to harden ourselves to the compassion that we feel, but if we give like that we are complicit in their continued begging and the denigration of who they are as a people.

Here in Lalibella the people do not beg.  You can take pictures of whatever you want for the most part and they are happy to help you.  But if we as outsiders just gave them money on the streets it would begin that cycle again of what does not exist in this city anymore as of about 4 years ago when they went to great lengths to eliminate it. How, I do not know.

Yesterday we spent the day visiting the rock-hewn churches

You can so completely feel the hand of God on this city and on these people for centuries.  But communicating that is quite difficult.

In a nutshell, in the 12th century, King Lalibella went to Jeruselum.  He saw the churches there.  He believed that God was telling him to come back to Ethiopia and build these churches here.  Replicas.  A New Jeruselum.

It is in Psalms from the Old Testament that says “Ethiopia holds out her hands to God.”

So under King Lalibella these churches were literally sculpted out of the rock, deep in the ground.

Somehow, they believe God just simply led him to the correct locations to sculpt these churches; he picked the right solid rock to carve.  Much of the area is not appropriate, the rock is soft and easily crumbles.  Drainage is sculpted out around it so when rain comes in, it drains out down a hill.

The math and geometry that was required to build these without a mistake is what is phenomenal.  And the primitive tools used in the 12th century to do these works of art are just astounding.

It was 23 years to build all the churches.  We saw 3 of them.

Inside each one was an old priest, wrapped in long white clothes sitting watch over the church.


Inside on the walls were relief sculptings of biblical scenes.

Dye on the ceilings making various symbols and stories.

In the first church was a replica of the holy of holies area that holds a replica of the Ark of the Covenant.

The real Ark of the Covenant is believed to be in the city of Axum not far from Lalibela.  It is guarded for life by a monk.  No one is allowed in.

Not even the government.  It is too powerful for man to see.  The people here truly believe it is there.  I’d heard that there was a legend that the Ark was in Ethiopia but being here and hearing them talk about it, it seems it’s possible that it’s more than a legend.

The Sci-Fi channel was just here and our guide, Haile, was also their guide and translator.  Their program is about finding the Ark.  Here is a link to it. They went to all of the same churches we went to.

People come to these churches to worship and pray

Standing inside the dark, damp churches,

looking at the replica of the holy of holies, seeing the priest sitting on a stool, leaning on his cane, maybe napping a bit but with one eye always alert (didn’t feel like I should photograph him) – to say a prayer in here – is just…almost scary.  I wanted to say a prayer as I was the last one to walk out and onto the rest of our tour.  It was as if I could feel in my body the fear of God.  I mean the power of God, I think.  I felt a little shaky to even speak my prayer, but I could not leave here without.

So I prayed for Sally.  That she would grow and fulfill her complete potential that God had set out for her.  I feel that same physical sense of fear now as I write this – I want to say awe or power – but it really is the human emotion of fear.  Or maybe trepidation.  Of just the complete power of God  or maybe just an inkling of it.  Not a bad thing.  But maybe if I kept on with this thought I would arrive at a feeling of “Lord, have I really done all you are calling me to do.  Help me to decipher through those things that distract me from your voice each day.”

I guess it is that realization, that experience of feeling even just a tidbit of the power of God that can make us arrive at those feelings of humility and the fact that we can do nothing at all without God leading us, saving us, healing us.  And to speak to Him.  To know Him.  To listen to Him.  What more ultimate is there?
Who am I to even write this stuff.  I don’t know, but it is just bursting inside.  Maybe it is to no one.  Maybe just to you Father.  Whatever.  It doesnt really matter that I know.

It’s funny.  I just noticed that we have landed in Gondar and are now taking off again and these flight attendants have not once asked me to put away my tray table.  They clearly see me writing.  They announce on the speaker to put away your table.  And they always walk by and tell you to put it away.  But they are not.

I wonder if Selamawit will come back here some day when she is grown.  I would love to bring her here if she desires it.

I remember going to Scotland about 11 years ago, getting off the plane and putting my feel on the ground.  It was as if I could feel a grounding of home that was deep, drawing me to that earth.  I’d heard my whole growing-up years about the fact that we were from Scotland.  My father loved Braveheart.  I wish he could have visited before he died.  But I wonder how she will feel putting her feet on this soil.  Or how Luke will feel putting his feet on the soil of Russia.

I used to say that the Kenya safari that my grandfather took me on 32 years ago was the most amazing trip I have taken.  Even compared to all of Europe, parts of Southeast Asia, Mexico, Carribean, Morroco, but now Lalibela has taken that spot.  With the combination of what they call the Eighth Wonder of the World, the rock-hewn churches and the fact that it IS a holy city, the people, the beauty geographically and humanly, it is definitely the most spectacular place I have ever seen.  Father you have blessed me.

I don’t know why, but I deeply thank you.  Or maybe I do know why.  Because I seek you and love you and just like an earthly father, You want to give me the desires of my heart.  What a Father you are.  Adopting me in. You call me and I say yes, I DO want you.

And what a beautiful picture you give us Father to adopt into our own earthly family another child, not born of our blood, but added the same way we come to you.  You chose us, the way we choose Ilya (Luke) and Selamawit (Sally.)  Their agreement to come to us is given by you since they are unable to express it yet.

So this is, indeed a God assignment.  I hope we have done well.

Well this is WAY long enough.

Love you all and love hearing from you too!!

Peace: Selam



  1. […] A last few tidbits about our trip to Lalibela, Ethiopia before we pick up our new baby girl back in Addis Ababa!  Here is the link to the main story about our stay in this fascinating, holy city […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *