What one RCA missionary learned about God’s people from their church building

By Donna Swart

For 20 years, in our little corner of the world in southern Ethiopia, we have worshiped with the seminomadic Daasanech [DAH-sen-etch] people group under the shade of an old acacia tree. But last fall, we had the privilege of helping the believers here build a church building.

Dick, my husband, wanted this building to fit the harsh climate, the terrain, and the culture of the Daasanech. He is a master builder and can make something out of nothing. So as he imagined this building, he looked around at what things he had available—the “leftovers” of other projects. In the way that only he can do, he has taken a lot of rough-looking possibilities and turned them into just the right thing.

The roof support structure is made from cast-off water pipes from our windmill irrigation project, which has given food to the ever-hungry Daasanech as they strive to survive in the desert. These pipes were dotted with pin-sized holes, so they were no longer useful for carrying water.

The trusses were portions of trusses leftover from building a house for our son Caleb and his family, when they came to join the ministry. Pieces of old windmills were added to the trusses to add extra strength to support the roof structure.

The walls are only half-walls to allow for good ventilation. They’re made of wood that the Daasanech Christians gathered in the brush at the edge of the desert, an hour’s walk away. These pieces are crooked and thorny, but they’re the only wood around.

The pews are huge logs that we dragged out of the river after they traveled who knows how many miles from the highlands.

And there, in the middle of the far wall, so conspicuous you can’t miss it, is a crude, rust-red cross, made from metal tubing left over from the windmill towers, reminding us of the cost of it all.

All these parts—these leftovers—came together to form the perfect building.

At first we thought of painting everything, but after thinking about it, we decided to leave it as it was—some grey, some windmill green, some anti-rust red, and some plain—giving character, each piece a reminder of where it came from, scars and all.

When I look at this mismatched but perfectly whole building, I am reminded that this is very much what the church is: a coming together of worn out, differently gifted, and differently wounded people who are made into a perfect whole in the hands of the master builder, Christ.

Every Sunday as I sit on my river-worn log, my body pressed up against the ones beside me, and as I strain to understand the message of the Daasanech evangelist, speaking in a tongue that is not my own, I am given the best lesson of all, the one that requires no words.

I look around me at this building, this mismatch of leftover parts arranged to complete the whole. Leftovers that held such potential in the eyes of Dick, the builder.

I look around at the people within its walls and I know each one. I know their pasts, their wounds, and their scars, and I know the potential they each have in the eyes of their creator, Christ.

Then my eyes finally rest on that rust-red cross in the middle. When Dick placed the wood to form the wall, he told me I would be surprised by the one he chose to go under the cross. Of course I expected it to be the straightest, biggest one, so I was moved when I saw a thin, crooked piece, with a terrible knot halfway down it, evidence of a trauma early in its growth. I was moved beyond words. What a perfect illustration of how the cross transforms broken and wounded lives, leftovers, and makes us into disciples, a living sanctuary, through the power of the crude, rust-red cross.

Donna Swart works with RCA Global Mission to minister to the Daasanech people along the Omo River in Ethiopia.


Praise God for 34 new Daasanech believers last year.

Pray for Daasanech evangelists Nanuk and Aster, and for more people to come to Christ.

Support the Swarts’ healthcare and agriculture ministry at www.rca.org/dswart.