Since today was Good Friday and most ministries we would visit were not operating, we decided to have a cultural immersion day. We wanted to visit an Ethiopian Orthodox Good Friday service. The Orthodox Church is loosely related to the Coptic Church in Egypt and emphasizes tradition and ritual. Ethiopia has been a Christian nation since the 4th century AD, though it is about half Muslim now. Women must cover their heads in church, so we went to the garment district to buy some of the big gauzy white shawls they wear. Dozens of tiny shops compete for business, and behind them was a large open-air chicken market with clumps of grumpy live chickens tethered together. Foreigners rarely come here, so we were the object of much curiosity.

Suitable swathed in shawls, we entered the Orthodox church compound. The church itself was full, so the service was broadcast via loudspeaker to the hundreds of people seated on blankets completely ringing the building. Someone offered us a blanket, so we sat and took in the scene. Many people were performing ritual prayers of penitence, which involve repeatedly standing, kneeling, and touching the forehead to the ground. The Orthodox fast from all animal and dairy products for the 40 days of Lent, then stay up until 3 am the night before Easter, when they break their fast with a feast. Again we were the center of curious attention.

In the evening we ate traditional Ethiopian food and watched a show demonstrating styles of dance from five different areas of the country. The finale was a girl whipping her head in figure-eights so quickly that her features were a blur. We didn't know necks could do that!

Dancers and musicians at the Crown Hotel gave a dinner show of traditional dances and songs, as we enjoyed Ethiopian food.