The history of the Dizi people of Maji is heartbreaking. An anthropologist wrote, Before the . . . forced incorporation of the Dizi into the Ethiopian empire, the Dizi probably numbered between 50,000 and 100,000. The conquest had profound consequences in the decades which followed—subjection to . . . economic exploitation and oppression: the abduction . . . of innumerable people as slaves, servants or carriers, only a few of whom were ever able to return: famine, disease and a growing sense of hopelessness and resignation, engendered by a total absence of justice. These things not only caused the number of Dizi to shrink (in 1974 there were probably scarcely more than 20,000) but shook their whole culture to its roots.
When I started going back to Maji in the 1990s, I was welcomed back as a Daughter of Maji. I was flattered—but thought it was just that, flattery. Then a Dizi friend, who went through the Presbyterian grade school in Maji and from there to become a doctor, told me that the Presbyterian era in the ’50s and ’60s was our golden age. But still, I was slow to understand what it really meant to the Dizi people to have foreigners care.
Now I understand. After Presbyterian allies (including my family from 1956-1966) were driven out by the Marxist regime, the Dizi people had no support from anyone–government or nonprofit.
My dad died in 2009. A year later, I sat down with Maji church leaders to tell them his memorial gift money would be passed on to them. The tiny, struggling Maji church matched the gift financially—a huge project in local currency. They went on to contribute building materials and labor. Young people from all over the district came after school twice a week to dig foundations, carry cement blocks and mix mortar.
The community built this church on their own gumption–I doubted, and thought they were being too ambitious! This was not the tiny, confused, defeated congregation my dad and other Presbyterian pastors had tried unsuccessfully to nurture. This was not the group who, under pressure from the Communist regime all became “comrades”.
Under the leadership of MDC’s project manager, Ato Markos, who volunteers at the church, and his new generation of Dizi Christians, the church has begun to grow. Sister congregations have been planted. Those new churches have started what they call preaching points in other rural population centers. People are composing songs being in their own language and music style. The sermon no longer favors Amharic, but is preached in both Amharic and Dizin, to include everyone. Young adult choirs sing in both languages.
Watching people at the church take charge of their own spiritual destinies gave me the first hints that the era of despair among the Dizi was passing. I began to believe that they really would do the local work it would take to make MDC’s empowerment efforts successful. When donors proved they were committed, MDC became a beacon of hope for the people of Maji. As Ato Markos said, the support of MDC for the Dizi people, is like a miracle to us.