The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - Tuesday 8th June 2004

The Road to Bethlehem

Given by - Gerald Gotzen

Reviewed by - Geoffrey Ben-Nathan


Gerald Gotzen is an evangelist. His love, knowledge and experience of Ethiopia bubbles out in infectious evangelical zeal. The infection is catching!

Gerald Gotzen knows Ethiopia like the back of his hand: during the 1960s, he ran the Seven Olives Hotel at Lalibela; he campaigned for the release of members of the Royal Family imprisoned under the Communist Regime; now, he journeys the country for humanitarian projects, including HOME - House of Mercy for Ethiopia - caring, supporting and educating children in need.

Nicknamed Ato Mengedenya, 'the traveller', there's hardly anywhere in Ethiopia Gerald Gotzen hasn't been. However, relaxing on holiday in Tunisia, he read Thomas Pakenham's recently re-published book, The Mountains of Rasselas (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998). The whole of chapter four is devoted to the village of Bethlehem.

But where is Ethiopian Bethlehem? Where had Pakenham been? Gotzen made it his task to find out.

Armed with the knowledge that Bethlehem was somewhere in southern Gondar, Gotzen returned to Ethiopia in January 2000 on a 'Christopher Columbus type journey'. He flew to Debra Tabor and hired a land cruiser. He thought the vehicle was four-wheel drive. In the immortal words of his driver: "I have it". "So why don't you use it?" "It doesn't work!" This was to prove critical.

Gotzen's biblical knowledge told him his search for Bethlehem was over when he stumbled into the village of Efrat. Ethiopians, with eagle-eyed attention, have duplicated the biblical setting: "Be worthy in Ephrath; be famous in Bethlehem" (Ruth 4:11).

Ethiopian Bethlehem is doubly famous: first, it escaped Achmad Gragn's destructive fury, and in doing so preserved for posterity a rare example of pre-sixteenth century wooden and rectangular church construction; secondly, and consequent upon this, Bethlehem's monastery founded by Yared, possesses the Ethiopian Church's finest collection of liturgical and musical manuscripts. Bethlehem is the centre for the study of musical notation (meleket) which marks the liturgical chant (zema).

Gotzen arrived on January 19th in perfect timing for temquet. Parading the tabot and dancing with their sistra, Gotzen told us how the priests and their deacons transported him back to the time of David and Solomon. The sublime turned ridiculous as Gotzen produced a slide of the schoolchildren playing football in Manchester United T-shirts (Arsenal would have been less ridiculous!).

His slides of the countryside were phenomenally beautiful as were his words describing them: "dawn of creation", "time and eternity meeting", "past, present and even the future coming together".

Most impressive of all was his belief in the power of prayer! He became stuck, stranded in Bethlehem: the land cruiser refused to cruise. He had a descending deadline to meet. For a village visited by ferendj (Europeans) three times in the last thirty years, Gotzen was stuck in the middle of nowhere. Lo and behold! Out of the blue a miracle: a Land Rover marked "South Gondar Region" came to the rescue!

Gerald Gotzen definitely has The Lord on his side. Long may this be; and long may the people of Ethiopia be blessed by his love and enthusiasm for their wellbeing as all of us were who had the pleasure of listening to him.

First Published in News File Winter 2004

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