Brian Singer-Towns was one of a handful of U.S. Catholics working in youth ministry selected to visit Ethiopia to see projects supported by Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
Upstairs from pallets full of shrink-wrapped children’s Bibles, Spanish-language children’s games, and textbook tomes on “Catholic Ethics in Today’s World,” Brian Singer-Towns spends most days in an office, teleconferencing with writers. Last month, the Saint Mary’s Press department head traveled far, far away from the publishing house on Gilmore Creek, to places where his break-room water cooler would be an incredible luxury.
Singer-Towns was one of a handful of U.S. Catholics working in youth ministry selected to visit Ethiopia to see projects supported by Catholic Relief Services (CRS). In something of a coincidence, his trip came at a time when the Horn of Africa is going through one of the worst droughts in years, the latest in a series of droughts, and millions of people are facing hunger and famine. Singer-Towns said the parts of Ethiopia he visited were not as badly affected; southern Ethiopia and neighboring South Sudan and Somalia are worse. It was not a typical mission trip. Singer-Towns and his fellow Americans did not do any work to immediately help people, but U.S. Catholic youth ministry agencies and CRS sent them to see what life is like in developing countries, see what CRS does, and to share that with people back home in the U.S. and make it part of American youth ministry. To everyone who has contributed to CRS, Singer-Towns came back with this message: “I’m carrying the ‘thank you’ from villagers in Ethiopia.”
Singer-Towns said there are two kinds of service work: direct aid in response to hunger, disease, and disaster, and social justice work “addressing the causes that keep people poor.” He saw both in Ethiopia, but his trip especially highlighted development projects that empowered rural Ethiopians to better provide for themselves. CRS helped form village banks and farming cooperatives that make micro-loans to local people so they can buy livestock, for example, and CRS leads education programs on soil conservation, entrepreneurship, and nutrition for young mothers. “On a small scale they’re teaching people to support each other and pool their resources,” Singer-Towns said.