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Educator returns to native Ethiopia on mission of 'Hope'


Courtesy of Cathy Platt
Speaker Dr. Minas Hiruy, center, is pictured with Dr. Doug Holland, a former professor at HOPE Enterprises’ University College in Ethiopia, and Deb Kilner, a Menlo Church member who volunteers with HOPE. Kilner oversees a Roggie Village Child Sponsorship Program, which she started 14 years ago, and leads trips to Roggie Village.

It was a time of great turmoil in Ethiopia. Young men were frequently rounded up by the military and killed. And Ethiopian-born Minas Hiruy, who had spent the past 20 years pursuing higher education in the United States, had a decision to make – stay in the safety of the U.S. or return to his dangerous, war-torn nation of birth.

Hiruy had received a call from Jack Smith, founder of Hope Enterprises, which served the extreme poor. Smith asked him to return to Ethiopia, a land in much need of hope, and run the organization.

Hiruy recently regaled close to 100 women, from the Mountain View Mother’s Together group for Menlo Church, with stories of calling and courage and progress in a fight against poverty.

He said he talked to God: “Lord, that place, they torture people. They line people up by the wall and shoot them. You want me to go there?”

And Hiruy clearly heard, “Yes.”

“I started to develop a courage I never knew before. A boldness. And a love of neighbor,” said Hiruy, who, dressed in a gray suit and dress shirt, and of average height, comes across as a soft-spoken, humble man, belying the strength he spoke of.

Hiruy said the Bible passage that has been central to his life, John 15:1-8, is about staying connected to God. It includes the verse: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. …. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

He described this tripartite arrangement, with God the Father as the gardener, Jesus as the vine and people as the branches, as “what keeps us together, moving forward, repelling darkness. … Just allow the Lord to bear the fruits through you.”

The fruits of his labor

And this man has borne much fruit.

Born in Dessie, Ethiopia, in 1950, Hiruy got his first taste of the United States when he won an American Field Service Scholarship, giving him a chance to complete his final year of high school in Pennsylvania. He returned to Ethiopia for a year of college and a year of work, then returned to the U.S., where he earned degrees in business, public administration in city management and higher education. He completed his doctorate in public administration and policy studies at Kent State University in 1987.

Hiruy moved back to Ethiopia in the late 1980s and led an organization that started with a single elementary school in Addis Ababa. Over his 25 years of leadership, it has grown to seven elementary schools and six high schools serving more than 4,000 students. He founded Hope University College, Ethiopia’s first not-for-profit liberal arts college.

Hiruy also launched Ladders of Hope, which Hope Enterprises’ website describes as a “holistic sequence of interventions … to help the underprivileged climb from poverty to prosperity.” The first rung of the ladder is meeting basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, clean water). Subsequent rungs include psycho-social fundamentals of character development (reinforcing values of self-worth, self-acceptance and determination), academic, vocational and micro-enterprise training. The final rung is connecting people with jobs or helping them start their own businesses.

A thought-filled man, Hiruy commented on a current-day issue that can interrupt this life of staying connected to God and loving people. He recalled flying across the U.S., sitting between two people, with no words spoken. He noted that people are immersed in their cell phones, their personal worlds, and are “imprisoned not to care.”

“He was truly inspiring,” said attendee Lisa McLean, a Los Altos mother of three and grandmother of three, who added that she was struck by his comment that with social media and technology, “the world has shut our mouths.”

Jacqueline Sweet, a mother of two who attended the event, said she was inspired by Hiruy’s trust in God as he developed “courage, boldness and love for the unloved, equipping him to return to Ethiopia during a very unsafe time to do his kingdom work.” She added that his presentation “emboldens me to live out God’s love and kindness to those around me.”

The story of Hope Enterprises’ birth is a sweet, and courage-filled, one. In 1971, two American missionaries to Ethiopia, Jack and Evangel Smith, noticed the children living in the streets in Addis Ababa and invited 20 of them in – feeding, clothing, providing shelter, educating and loving them.

Menlo Church is one of Hope Enterprises’ sponsors, and periodically teams of church members travel to Ethiopia to support Hope.

For more information, visit hopeenterprises.org.

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