ACC clergy help refugees overcome hurdles in South Africa

February 09, 2015 by Jonathan Foggin

Left to right: Father Thomas Teketil, Yeridi Durnodo, and Father Mathewos Ugebo of the MDSA

Christianity in Ethiopia is as ancient as the scripture itself, with the eunuch who met Philip on the road to Gaza being the first known convert.  Though the ACC has no formal presence in Ethiopia today, the Missionary Diocese of South Africa (MDSA) has hundreds of Ethiopians among its members. 

Over the past twenty years, nearly 10,000 Ethiopians have fled to South Africa seeking political asylum.  There, in the former British colony, these refugees came into contact with Anglicanism and found a spiritual home.  Father Thomas Teketil, one of the leading clergymen in the Ethiopian community, left his homeland in 2003 and now works to help his countrymen adjust to their new life. 

Though South Africa formally welcomes asylum seekers, and national legislation incorporates basic principles of protection (including freedom of movement, the right to work and access to basic social services), relations between the refugees and host country populations are sometimes strained.  Many of the refugees have become shopkeepers and entrepreneurs, and in a country with high unemployment, there is a fear that immigrants are taking local jobs. 

Of even greater concern is the animosity the Ethiopians face from certain other groups of refugees, where past prejudice has resulted in Ethiopian stores being burned and their owners killed.  In response to these attacks, Father Teketil and Bishop Alan Kenyon-Hoare have worked to bring the dangers faced by the Ethiopian community to the attention of the South African authorities in the hope that greater awareness will result in better protection. 

But Father Teketil is more than an advocate to the government.  He and his fellow priests travel within the Ethiopian community, celebrating mass and performing works of mercy.  At present, he is seeking to help Yeridi Durnodo, a young man with a heart condition.  Though Yeredi has been able to attend classes in the past, his strength is limited, and without an operation he cannot finish school and go on to university.  With funds from the Anglican Mission Society, Father Teketil hopes to help a promising young man to a better life. 

To read more about the Ethiopian community and the work of the MDSA, please see the next issue of The Trinitarian.