The St. Louis Sisters arrived in Ethiopia in September 2013, not quite sure what they would find. The start of a new mission has had challenges, obstacles, frustrations

By Melanie Lidman (Global Sisters Report) |

“The St. Louis Sisters in Africa are booming with vocations and we could afford to expand, but instead of going to Europe, [we’re doing] as the Gospel said: Go to the ends of the world,” Sr. Justina Ihechere proclaims.

She pauses for a moment and looks out of the windows from her new mission in Dawhan, northern Ethiopia. In every direction, jagged mountains pierce the sky, scraggly brush barely clinging to the steep pitches. In the village below, mud houses are clustered together on the only flat plots available.

Dawhan is located just 15 minutes south of the Eritrean border, and the only connection to the rest of the world is a dirt road winding up and down the mountainsides. Every morning, a troop of Ethiopian soldiers patrols along this road to search for Eritrean infiltrators, a remnant from the devastating Ethiopian-Eritrean war from 1998 to 2000.

The Dawhan mission is more than an hour from a paved road and three hours from the closest large town. In the northwestern part of Ethiopia, the mountains are sprinkled with tiny villages, filled with farmers trying to coax sprouts of barley and teff (a local grain) from the rocky mountain ridges. It is in this place that three St. Louis Sisters, two from Nigeria and one from Ghana, are making their new home.

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The popular story in the international media is that the Catholic church is shrinking, losing vocations and packing up parishes. But as religious life grows at unprecedented rates in Africa, some congregations are expanding to new locations.

The St. Louis Sisters, after a long soul-searching process, decided to start a remote outpost in northern Ethiopia. They arrived on Sept. 19, 2013, not quite sure what they would find. The start of a new mission has had challenges, obstacles, frustrations, more than a few stomach issues, as well as touching moments of love and community. Three sisters who founded the mission look back on their difficult first three years and the adventure of starting a new mission in the middle of nowhere.

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