For many of us, another holiday season will come to an end following New Year’s Day. However, for over 100 American families that have adopted children from Ethiopia, the festivities will continue through the first week of January.
For the past seven years, Ethiopian Evangelical Church of Denver has hosted an Ethiopian Christmas event as a way to reach out to these families. The event falls on the closest Saturday to Jan. 7, Christmas Day according to the Coptic calendar, which is used in Ethiopia.
Associate pastor Ermias Amanuel, who has served at Ethiopian Evangelical Church since 2000, says the event began as a way to thank and encourage adoptive parents and to provide their adopted children with a day of community and connection with their culture.
“About seven years ago we said, out of good will, let’s gather; let’s invite these parents with their kids just to have fellowship and to say thank you,” Amanuel says.
Between 17 and 20 families attended the first event; the total number of attendees in 2017 was between 400 and 500, with families coming from many states including Texas, Nebraska and Wyoming.
Ethiopian Evangelical is a USMB congregation of about 900 people, nearly all of Ethiopian descent. The church holds two services, one in the Amharic language spoken in Ethiopia and one in English for the younger generations.
Even for a church the size of Ethiopian Evangelical, the Christmas event is a large undertaking. The women in the church divide into small groups and spend the week before the event preparing food, while others use their gifts of storytelling, playing with the children or greeting the families.
“By the grace of God these festivities are able to happen and the whole church is galvanized to help out,” Amanuel says.
Advertising for the event begins in November, primarily through social media and word of mouth, as well as through support groups for adoptive families with which Amanuel is involved.
The families that attend enjoy a day of Ethiopian culture, from activities and games like painting and soccer, to traditional music and food like the popular flatbread injera. Two favorite activities are hair braiding and an Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Local Ethiopian hairdressers volunteer their time for the event. Amanuel said this allows parents to make connections, and they often take their children back to the hairdressers after the event.
The coffee ceremony takes two to three hours and features different stations where families can participate in the entire process of preparing the coffee beans, from roasting to grinding to boiling.
The January event is not the end of the church’s efforts to serve adopted children and their families.
“It’s more than just this event; it is a community,” Amanuel says. “We help out where there is a need and the connection is ongoing.”
At other times during the year, the church holds kids’ clubs for local adoptive families in which high school students from the church are able to connect with young adopted children and provide mentorship.
The process of international adoption can be tedious and intensive, and many children come from traumatic environments.
“The children come from orphanages, from single-parent homes, from HIV homes, from the street,” he says. “[They are] very challenged kids, but beautiful, wonderful children.”
Amanuel says the church’s hope is that these events can be an encouragement to children who may feel alone as the only Ethiopian member of their family.
He adds that adoptive families are interested in the church continuing to expand their events, should the resources become available in the future.
“We want this church to be a home for some of the kids,” Amanuel says. “We want them to know they have a community.”
The events and resulting relationships are also a primary way that Ethiopian Evangelical Church lives out its mission of “reaching members of the Ethiopian and Eritrean community, as well as members of the larger Denver/Aurora community with the salvation, wholeness and healing found in Christ.”
Jessica Vix Allen is a freelance writer living in Blue Springs, Missouri. She and her husband, Joel, are both graduates of Tabor College. The couple has three children.