Tribune Staff Writer
You would never guess by looking at her that Janet Hicks came as close as it gets to being killed in the Ethiopian revolution that spawned the country of Eritrea.
Janet was born in northern Ethiopia where her parents, George and Dorothy Middleton, worked for 25 years as missionaries providing famine relief. In 1974 civil war broke out in Ethiopia and the family was forced to flee the country.
Janet was just 16 when the fighting began in earnest. Janet and her boyfriend, Eddy, who was half Ethiopian and half American, had driven out of the city to pick up some people at the airport.
“While we were at the airport the first attack came … and we didn’t know it,” Janet said.
“We heard the announcement that the plane had been cancelled, which wasn’t unusual, so we got in the car and we drove into the city. It’s a fair sized city. Nothing was moving. All the streetlights were out.”
Janet and Eddy had two choices on how to get home: drive around and into where the rebels were located, or drive straight past the the army base.
They chose the shortest route, past the army base.
As the pair drove by the base in their Volkswagen mini-van the army opened fire on them.
“What we didn’t realize is that while we were at the airport the rebels had made an attack on the army base,” Janet said.
“It was kind of like when you are in a movie and it’s like slow motion. The first shot — there was a factory there — hit the wall. It was like my guardian angel just pushed me down to the floor of the car. The second bullet went through the window and into my seat and it would have hit me right about here,” Janet said, pointing to her chest.
Narrowly escaping the bullets Janet’s boyfriend also dove to the floor of the van.
“Up until that point it really was kind of silliness. I was thinking ‘Oh, I borrowed Amanda’s blouse and if I get killed in it she’ll be upset.’ But when Eddy came down I thought he was dead and it was just like a nightmare where you are trying to scream and you can’t.”
After what seemed like an eternity of gunfire, Eddy and Janet reassured each other they were okay.
Eddy began to pray.
“Everything stopped, almost with the word ‘amen,’” Janet said.
Outside the van, the army had moved in with a tank and was preparing to fire on the vehicle.
At this point, Janet said, the soldiers decided to check if anyone in the vehicle was still living.
“When they pulled me out and saw that I was a foreigner they were all worried, I guess.”
The soldiers deliberated on what to do with them.
“They decided they were going to shoot us and say it was the rebels,” Janet said.
At that moment three people came around the corner on bicycles.
“A lot of people say they were guardian angels, but the the soldiers just shot them. Just shot them,” she said.
The distraction provided enough time for a message to come from one of the generals to leave the couple alive and bring them up to his office.
“Eddy started off by saying, “’God saved us to tell you that he loves you,’” Janet said.
She thought the words would spark their death.
“The general just sat for a moment and goes, ‘I don’t have a better explanation. Nobody could have come out of that car alive.’”Although the couple escaped relatively unharmed that night, a little less than a month later Janet received a phone call from a journalist.
“I have to write a story and they are accusing you of carrying guns for the rebels and that that’s why they fired on you,” he had said. “You have to get out of the country.”
Five days later Janet left Ethiopia for good. Although she has wanted to go back, life events have prevented her from returning to her home country.
Following their experiences in Ethiopia, Janet’s father started an organization to try and provide trained personnel for disaster relief areas. Her father wanted to train people so that their first experience wouldn’t be in a crisis. It would be in a cultural setting to see how the individuals interacted with other cultures and learned a new language, etc, before they actually got into a crisis situation where they were needed to go into instant action, Janet said.
After training as a nurse in Ontario, Janet took her father’s training course where she met her future husband, Jim.
They married soon after the training and spent their first year of marriage living in a tent in Nigeria.
It wasn’t always easy, adjusting to each other and a new culture at the same time but they worked on building their relationship, starting a family and accomplishing their missionary work together.
“We work on our strengths,” Janet said. “His strengths are my weaknesses.”
In Nigeria they were part of a team helping villagers at harvest time, providing mosquito nets to prevent malaria, and tapping springs to provide clean, uncontaminated water.
They also organized a program for children that had 300 participants. After Nigeria the couple moved to Pakistan where they worked at a refugee camp for Afghani people escaping the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
In Pakistan Janet followed Afghani refugees through the medical system to make sure they were getting proper care, and helped with eye operations.
Jim, her husband, taught English in an all girls school in Pakistan that was bombed twice by the Taliban before most people in North America had heard of the Taliban. Janet and Jim lived an adventurous life as missionaries all the while raising their three children, Tyler, 29, Kyle, 27 and Jenna, 11.
Exactly one year ago Janet and Jim followed Janet’s brother Mel Middleton and his wife Sharon, to Williams Lake. Mel and Sharon are also missionaries who were inspired to settle in the lakecity eight years ago to be close to their daughter and her family who lived here.
Mel and his father are still travelling missionaries. Mel recently returned from visiting and writing reports on projects in Ethiopia and other countries, while their father continues doing what he has always done, working to improve the lives of those in poverty and crisis around the world.
With Williams Lake as home base, Janet now works as international director for International Coordinated Christian Ministries (ICCM), an organization started by her parents in 1985.
It is a small, personal organization, first started to support Christians and pastor’s families who experienced persecution in the countries in where they worked.
“It was all very quiet,” Janet said. “It was not something we could really advertise that we were doing.”
Now the ICCM also works to set up programs for people in developing countries who have been denied education so they can gain marketable skills needed to provide for themselves and their families.
“We’re primarily in Ethiopia because that’s like a second home to us,” Janet said. “We work primarily to bring people out of poverty and despair and get them self-sufficient and independent, so instead of being just receivers they can start giving back.”
Most of the Bible training that they do is focused on forgiveness, Janet said. “There was just so much hurt.”
Now, for the most part, Janet’s work takes place in Canada.
“Eighty per cent of our donors give to us because of my mom and dad,” Janet said. “They knew my mom and dad and over the years they’ve been their supporters. I need to turn that around so that they are supporting our work.” Janet said.
“I know most of the sponsors and if I don’t, my dad does. We pray for each other and support each other’s work. I like that smallness. I don’t look forward to a day when we do get big and we lose that.”