Growing up in an agnostic family in 1950’s Britain, I did not hear religion discussed. So it seemed odd that my parents sent my brothers and me to Sunday school. At home, as I was battling my father’s constant criticism and jealousy towards Eric, my younger brother, learning about Jesus thrilled me. Jesus seemed to love and value young children – what a hero!
Moving to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1962, deepened my faith. At Nazareth School for Girls, I practised Catholicism, recited the rosary, and devoured books about female Catholic saints. But the American sisters taught that our bodies were impure, not healthy; lustful thoughts about boys were wrong, and husbands were masters. Worst of all, heaven didn’t have any animals. To an innocent girl, God was now judging and condemning. I was very confused.
Confusion deepened to anger in apartheid South Africa, where we emigrated in 1966: a world away from Ethiopia’s tolerance. The Dutch Reformed Church reinforced white supremacy by preaching that blacks and Asians were: “now under a curse: You will never be released from service as woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God” (Joshua 9:23). My strong belief in equality made me unpopular and depressed.
Eric lapsed into drug addiction, while I withdrew into prophetic dreaming. I dreamt about friends’ car accidents, relationship breakdowns and the bombing of a Middle Eastern city. Many came true except the bombing, which I tucked into my memory. After graduation, I soon escaped back to England, ashamed of my white skin.
Faith now thoroughly rejected, I married a rational project manager, and built a successful career in corporate communications. All looked rosy, then severe endometriosis triggered prayers for a child, which were thankfully heard. A year later, James was born: a healthy, happy little boy.
When my mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, I quit work to care for her, bringing together the disconnected family. After her death, I returned to work, aware of something much deeper. Capitalism no longer enticed me; Eric was now my responsibility, and I was drinking too much: time to free my spirit and honour the God of my childhood.
In 1995, I made a covenant to find the connections between us all, rather than the differences. Initially, failure dogged me, but slowly, the prophetic dreams appeared to guide me. In 2000, a special one set out my destiny: I’d returned to Addis Ababa to help provide water. Another layoff provided funds for the ‘hero’s journey’ and the bombing of Baghdad, which I dreamt of 33 years earlier, triggered the actual quest.
I was inspired to find seven former classmates from Nazareth School, last seen in 1964, for my book, “An Ethiopian Odyssey,” with a goal of raising funds for WaterAid. My search kindled great compassion, even among ‘cynical’ journalists, and hundreds of men and women helped track them down. I was awestruck.
On the very day I returned to Nazareth School, I found the first of my classmates, Marta: she was school secretary! She explained that another, Hiruth was the daughter of Ethiopia’s president. Amazingly, he met me, and told me some of her tragic story. I also met Mary, a granddaughter of Emperor Haile Selassie. The web spread wider, from Buckingham, England (where I live), to France, Portugal, Egypt, Norway and the US. I met a classmate in Cologne, Germany: Fanaye; LA: Silva, and New York: Azeb. Two-thirds of my classmates now live in the US.
The book ends at St. Paul’s Chapel in Manhattan, the little church of such peace beside the World Trade Centre. After the horror of 9/11, it was a miracle that the church survived, unscathed.
The quest revealed a hyperconnected matrix, which I experience as the heart of all life. Signs, symbols and kind strangers emerged to guide me at exactly the right moment – unfolding from the field of infinite, unconditional love: the sacred feminine. I feel blessed and humbled by this synchronicity.
“An Ethiopian Odyssey” was self-published in 2006, as the literary agent found my dreams disturbing! Promoting it in Addis Ababa, the UK and US, I found that people were either fascinated or hostile. Sacred journeys arouse misunderstanding and fear – you already know this. My husband calls me ‘insane,’ but that’s because he fights his spirituality. James respects my journey – he’s a wise, compassionate man.
The book sold in 21 countries through word of mouth, web and radio interviews. I’m the only self-published author to have given a book talk at the UN to celebrate the Ethiopian Millennium: a great honour. (Appropriate, as two classmates had worked for the UN!) The book raised enough funds for three communities to have clean water and sanitation in Ethiopia, via WaterAid. I wish it had sold many more, but it’s a start.
Today, I’m writing a second book, about death, new beginnings, and the transforming power of suffering. It includes Eric’s story, who died in 2009. Funds will be donated to help addicts’ families: hundreds of millions of us suffer in silence, but fear and shame don’t heal anything.
Along with Jesus, ancient goddesses, and indigenous tribes, Carl Jung would have appreciated this journey. All of you on FAR inspire me: your pain, honesty and resilience. We are authentic people, prepared to talk about the Shadow Side and power, something which too many spiritual women, and men, avoid. The Third Millennium is time for us all to be strong and courageous in our knowingness.
Annette Allen is a prophetic dreamer, Christian, and social justice activist. Apart from raising funds for WaterAid, she supports Christian Aid, sponsored an Ethiopian orphan, Hanna Alemu, through university, and helped an Iraqi refugee family claim asylum in the UK. She has the courage to follow her dreams, believes that God is within everyone and that women’s spiritual gifts can heal the world, provided we put our beliefs into action.