In 1994, Shimeles and Yutta Retta met the “Russian Mennonites,” or Aussiedler, who had recently moved from the former Soviet Union to Germany. Being recently converted to Christ, Shimeles, an Ethiopian refugee, and his German wife, both of Catholic background, were incorporated into and discipled by this conservative Anabaptist community.
As time moved on, the Mennonite elders agreed to explore the possibility of opening a mission in Ethiopia. They had heard there was a Mennonite church in Ethiopia and decided to send Retta and Heinrich Savadsky to Ethiopia to make contact and explore the possibility of working together.
Retta and Savadsky spent two weeks searching for the “Mennonites” in Addis, before they finally located the Mennonite Central Committee office. From there they received directions to attend a Sunday morning service at a Mennonite congregation called “Meserete Kristos Church.”
Unfamiliar with MKC’s Mennonite background, the duo was disappointed when the service looked and sounded more like a “Pentecostal” service than a “Mennonite” one — loud music and singing and clapping and dancing, everybody praying at once, some shouting to drive out demons and loud, enthusiastic preaching accompanied by loud amens and emotional ululating responses. This couldn’t be a “Mennonite” church!
But, after the service, while Retta was taking photos, elder Bedru Hussein approached them suspiciously and with a certain hostility. He asked who they were, why they were taking pictures and what they wanted.
After they explained, Hussein invited them to meet in his office the next day. He was MKC general secretary.
Routine morning tea
At the office, Hussein explained about the church. Savadsky was still skeptical, thinking they had found the wrong church. But then, Wolde, a former cook who had years of experience serving pioneer missionaries, came in to serve the routine morning tea in offices.
Along with the tea, he served his specialty — a rolled-up piece of white pancake. Savadsky’s eyes grew big, and excitement lit up his face. Pancakes! Now he knew he had found the Mennonites.
Many Mennonites who trace their lineage to groups who spent time in Eastern Europe and Russia continue to eat thin, crepe-like pancakes today in Europe, North America and South America.
Since that first meeting, a long-lasting growing relationship has emerged between what became known as the “Evangelium Mission Ethiopia,” represented by the Rettas, and the growing MKC.
German work teams have built dozens of congregational meeting houses, offices, some kindergartens and a discipleship training center. Their funding has supported several hundred evangelists or missionaries. Many others have scholarship support for further training. Dozens of poor, destitute and disabled people are being supported.