An ancient and venerable faith

Ethopia's Orthodox Tewahedo Church traces its foundation to the Bible itself

To write an account of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is not an easy task. Our church is one of the oldest in the world, if not the oldest.

Christianity came to Ethiopia in the early part of the first century, without the use of missionaries or the shedding of apostolic blood.

In the Holy Bible, the name “Ethiopia” is well known and referred to in several places. For the Ethiopian Church, the basis of belief and religious practice can be found in the teaching: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Ps. 110; Pro. 1:7)

Ethiopia and Ethiopians occupy a prominent place alongside other well known countries and places from the Holy Books, historical manuscripts and archaeological research from the Red Sea and the Nile Valley.

According to ancient history, the word Ethiopia denotes a geographical stretch of land which represents the area south of Egypt as far as the Indian Ocean. The term Ethiopian is also used to describe the shade of skin colour for the people dwelling there.

The geographical expanse of Ethiopia appears to have covered different areas and sizes at different times, but the centre has always been the area around where the Blue Nile has its source.

The Bible says: “And the name of the second river is Ghion: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia” (Gen 2:13) and the Lord’s prophet King David says also “Ethiopia stretches out her hands unto God.” (PS. 67:31)

It is almost 2,000 years since the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church came into being out of the First Apostolic teaching. According to tradition and historical evidence, Christianity in Ethiopia developed out of Judaism which gloriously proceeded from the true faith and worship practised by the Patriarchs of the old ages.

Our particular church was founded when the Holy Spirit spoke to St. Philip and directed him to the Ethiopian Eunuch, the treasurer of Queen Candace of Ethiopia (The Eunuch had travelled to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel as was the tradition of the Ethiopians).

After St. Philip explained the good news of salvation of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Eunuch believed him without any doubt and requested Baptism immediately (Acts 8: 26 – 40). Then, on his return to Ethiopia, he spread the good news to his government and people.

Even today, and ever since the historical meeting centuries earlier between our Ethiopian Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, many Ethiopians continue to make the yearly pilgrimage trip to Jerusalem.

In the fourth century (328 AD), Christianity became the official religion of the country, after Judaism, established by the Aksumite King Ezana. Since then, Orthodox Christianity has not only been the faith but also the source of identity for a significant proportion of the Ethiopian population.

This faith has inspired some of the most important artistic creation of the country, be it the monolithic churches of Lalibala, the icon paintings of the medieval and early modern periods or the elaborate illuminations adoring manuscripts. Moreover, the Church has also served as a repository for these artistic treasures.

Arch Deacon Dawit Gebreyohannes Woldetsadik, moved to London from Ethiopia as a young man. He writes in the faith column about the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
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Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.


Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.


Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.