In the summer of 2004, Andrew DeCort traveled to Addis Ababa for the first time between his junior and senior years at Wheaton College. Andrew’s passion for community service in East Aurora, IL now led him to East Africa. During that summer, Andrew spent two months working as an intern at the Mercy Center, a Christian social center for the extremely poor in the heart of the city. His host Dr. Betta Mengistu also invited Andrew to teach an intensive course at the Addis Ababa Bible College. At the end of his internship, Andrew had the chance to travel to Ethiopia’s historic northern capitols, Lalibela and Gondar.
When Andrew left Ethiopia to begin his senior year at Wheaton, it was clear that he wanted to devote his life to working at the intersection of Christian community, service for the poor, and theological education. It was also clear that he had fallen in love with the Ethiopian people and their beautiful country. The summer of 2004 was the season in which the vision behind the Institute for Christianity and the Common Good began being born.
Over the next decade, Andrew would spend four years of his life living and serving in Ethiopia.
The later months of 2005 proved to be an especially formative moment in Andrew’s life and the birth of ICCG. Soon after graduating from Wheaton College, he moved back to Addis to rejoin his Ethiopian mentor in planting a new church in the city, Beza International. Early in November, protests were held in the city in response to perceived irregularities in the national election earlier in May. As Andrew developed discipleship curriculum for this new church, machine-gun fire rang out across the city, and it was soon announced that 193 people had been killed in the violence. Andrew watched as pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted to their roofs patrolled the city. Tens of thousands of people were imprisoned. It seemed like everyone knew someone who had either been killed or disappeared. People began speaking in whispers whenever they talked about what happened.
In the wake of this experience, Andrew found himself asking new questions as he worked on a new church’s discipleship curriculum: what is the relationship between the believer’s death in baptism with Christ and the death of neighbors in the streets? What is the meaning of Christ’s command of neighbor love in the midst of crisis and violence? How can Christian reconciliation help heal and restore trust in the wake of such terrible events, which had left the body politic dismembered? Is there a common good that Christians and others can commit to and pursue together for the wellbeing of the city across bitter divides?
These questions are what drove Andrew’s decision to enroll at the University of Chicago for graduate study in theological ethics and the history of Christian political thought under Jean Bethke Elshtain and William Schweiker. In many ways, his doctoral dissertation (2015), which examined the ethics of making new beginnings after devastating moral ruptures, was a direct response to the violence and death he had witnessed in Addis Ababa ten years before.
The year 2007-2008 was another decisive season in the birth of ICCG’s mission. Andrew was again pastoring at Beza International Church and wrestling afresh with the intersection of church, society, and Christian education. In August of 2007, Andrew started an intensive bible study for college students and young professionals called FLOW (“For the Life Of the World”). FLOW attempted to study the relationship between Christian faith and social problems with special attention to the crisis of street children in Addis Ababa. With twelve other brothers and sisters, FLOW met, cooked meals, and dialogued every Sunday afternoon. Eventually a ministry for street children was born that grew into a rehabilitation program that served some of Addis’s street boys for several years. The members of FLOW have gone on to work for organizations and start businesses that serve street children, unemployed youth, commercial sex workers, and other vulnerable members of the city.
In addition to building life-long friends and partners in FLOW, Andrew met his future wife, Lily Atlaw, in 2007. Three years later Andrew and Lily were married on July 8, 2010 in Addis Ababa. Andrew had recently been admitted to University of Chicago’s Ph.D. Program, and Lily courageously supported the decision to relocate to Chicago where Andrew could complete his academic training.
This relocation to Chicago had a second step of faith hidden inside of it. Prior to moving, Andrew had spent the previous months fighting for a dear friend Eyob’s life and wrestling with the meaning of this life-changing encounter in which human suffering, service, and god’s salvation collided. After meeting Eyob, whose dream was to become a professor and pastor in Ethiopia, Andrew had the dream of taking his education and training from the University of Chicago and returning to Addis Ababa to help train a new generation of pastors and other leaders to wrestle with the meaning of Christ’s command of neighbor love in the face of suffering, violence, and a rapidly changing city.
Through a series of unlikely events in 2013, Andrew was invited by Dr. Steve Ivester, Dean of Student Engagement at Wheaton College and a founding board member of ICCG, to design a new program at Wheaton College. This program would immerse students in Ethiopian history and the ethics of leadership, and then lead students on a trip to Ethiopia for three weeks in the summer. With the help of outstanding colleagues, Andrew designed the “Authority, Action, Ethics: Ethiopia” (AAE) program. AAE freshly refocused Andrew’s attention on the intersection that was so formative in the summer of 2004: church, society, and theological education in Ethiopia. This program has now run for three years at the college and has proven to be a life-changing experience for many Wheaton students.
While preparing to launch AAE at Wheaton in late 2013, Andrew received a formal invitation from the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST) to join their faculty upon the completion of his Ph.D. EGST’s specific proposal was for Andrew to collaborate with other faculty in developing Ethiopia’s first masters program in public theology, a program that would study the intersection of faith and society. This invitation fanned the flame of Andrew’s vision to return to Ethiopia, and Lily and Andrew started praying about committing the next season of their lives to service in Ethiopia.
Early in 2014, Graham Smith (a mentee who had become a close friend), Graham’s fiancée (now wife) April, and their friend Marissa Kang provided counsel and resources to catalyze a vision that Andrew had been discussing with Graham. Andrew was calling it “The Institute for Christianity and the Common Good,” and he envisioned ICCG as an organization that would strengthen theological education and serve the suffering in Addis Ababa. Thus, in April of 2014, the dream behind ICCG started to be clarified and defined.
Later that year, Professor Donald Levine, Andrew’s mentor in Ethiopian studies at the University of Chicago, invited Andrew to edit and write the foreword to his last book on Ethiopia, “Interpreting Ethiopia: Observations of Five Decades.” The hundreds of hours spent editing Levine’s manuscript and crafting its foreword again focused Andrew’s attention on the challenges and possibilities facing Ethiopian society today. Throughout conversations with Professor Levine, Andrew’s dream of devoting his training to serve the church and society in Ethiopia only intensified.
Then, on New Year’s Day of 2015, nearing the final stages of his Ph.D. Program at the University of Chicago, Lily and Andrew committed to one another that they were indeed going to move back to Addis and devote themselves to the work of ICCG after Andrew’s graduation. Andrew then formally accepted the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology’s offer to join their faculty and to take up the work of ICCG’s mission.
On May 1, exactly five years after Andrew met Eyob, Andrew and Dan Boyce began talking about formally launching ICCG as an initiative of Bosko, a foundation that Dan established with the mission of teaching and promoting in every way the welfare of the church established by Jesus Christ. Dan and Andrew met years before at a public lecture Andrew gave at Wheaton college on his vision for ethics and Christian service. Extended conversations revealed how deeply Bosko’s and ICCG’s missions were aligned, and thus Bosko decided to formally launch ICCG with Andrew as its leader.
Now, having completed his Ph.D. At the University of Chicago and having established ICCG as an initiative of Bosko, Andrew and Lily took the step of faith to move back to Addis in 2016 and to begin fulfilling the mission of the Institute for Christianity and the Common Good in Ethiopia.