It’s a holy day, it’s hot, and there are people everywhere. God is so soaked into the bones of the people here that their very posture sings with millennia of identity colonized only by the love of black Jesus. 

By Sierra Mannie |

Amharic for baptism, Timket commemorates in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. In Bahir Dar, anticipation is tangible. The day before is marked by colorful procession: tattooed mothers with children and umbrellas in hand, unruly teenaged boys tossing lemons to young ladies who catch their eye, and solemn and beautiful clergy leading the pack in ritual rigidity. On the day of Epiphany, priests swathed in snowstorms of white robes stand on stage, microphones in hand, and worn Amharic syllables tumble over their lips and wash over the crowd. So does the holy water. From hoses connected to a hidden source, the blessed liquid sprays forth like T-shirts from a cannon, and the people rush forward eagerly to scrape their hands over their faces and cup it into their mouths. The reprieve on the faces young and old is the money shot, the epiphany — the eureka moment. Everyone is revitalized by the promise of God in the water.

But there is God in the ground here, too. From the flesh of the animals that feed from the earth, from the spongy injera farmed from there, the people eat. God is so soaked into the bones of the people here that their very posture sings with millennia of identity colonized only by the love of black Jesus. There is not, however, a homogeneous Ethiopian people. More than 70 ethnic groups live inside Ethiopia’s borders, encompassing national and racial identity. A burgeoning economy and infrastructure — the latter funded largely by Chinese businesses — has attracted international workers from Asia, mainly India and China. Highways carve a route for the growing number of tourists who visit Ethiopia each year for its religious significance, from the Lalibela churches to monasteries that whisper with ancient knowledge of the Ark of the Covenant. And although the country has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, wherever you are in Ethiopia, it’s six years and a day later than whenever it is in Mississippi. It is January, but on this side of the world, it is summertime, and like summertime at home, it is hot. People will still have Christmas decorations up, a friendly man in a fedora says at the airport. Fresh off of the plane and wobbling around on nearly 24 hours’ worth of accumulated jelly in my legs, I am surrounded by brothers and sisters loaded down with plane cargo that turns out to be gifts that I have never met before. The tongues in the mouths cartwheel over syllables in a language I have never met before, but the faces are like mine.

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