Countrywide Initiatives
in The Horn Of Africa

A new day in Ethiopia

On the eve of the Marxist takeover in Ethiopia in 1974, the eleven major evangelical denominations within Ethiopia formed a coalition. Their purpose was to creat a spiritual platform on which the Body of Christ could build a united vision for the Church in the country. As representatives of the various evangelical churches came together, they agreed on a "harmonized vision for the nation". Students were instrumental in birthing that vision through spontaneous aggressive evangelization. An integral part of this united vision was a burden to reach the ethnic peoples of Ethiopia with the Gospel.

The rise of the new communist regime in 1974 brought a great wave of violent persecution that many viewed as an insurmountable barrier to the Gospel. Soon, however, it became clear that the Marxist persecution was not a barrier, but a prime contributor to an amazing spiritual breakthrough. The Marxist persecution did not destroy the Church, but purified it. The registered church ceased to exist, removing any temptation to compromised faith. Church buildings were destroyed, but the Church itself grew stronger. Few church buildings remained open, but the door to the Gospel was thrown wide. Thousands of people walked through that door and came to Christ. Christians were tortured, beaten and imprisoned for years at a time, but their faith only grew deeper. Trust between Christians increased; they learned to depend upon one another for their very survival. Today they still trust each other and work together in close cooperation toward the goal of seeing their whole country evangelized and the unreached peoples reached with the Gospel. When the Marxist system finally collapsed sixteen years later, Ethiopian Christians were prepared to reap an unprecedented harvest.

The development of cell groups and house churches during the Marxist persecution was a major factor in the breakthrough. During those years Christians met in small groups with a high level of commitment to Christ, His Word and each other. Individual Christians grew stronger in their faith, and small groups of intensely committed Christians proliferated across the country. One local church turned itself into 500 cell groups. This new circumstance called for new concepts of evangelism, follow-up, discipleship, teaching and training in righteousness. Thousands of small goup leaders were trained in inductive Bible study. The "priesthood of every believer" was taught and each Christian was called to a personal ministry of evangelism. They were to live a prophetic life, so that whereever they went, they would make an impact on society.

During the ten years since the fall of the Marxist regime, the community of evangelicals in Ethiopia has become one of the fastest growing churches in the world. In 1960, there were fewer than 200,000 evangelicals in all of Ethiopia; less than one percent of the population. By 1984, they numbered seven percent... then 11 percent, or 6 million in 1994. By 1997 there were 8 million Christians in Ethiopia; 14 percent of the population.

The Ethiopian Church has adopted the slogan: "Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." The Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia (ECFE) represents 97% of all born-again Christians in the country. The eleven full-member denominations represent approximately 7.4 million people. The largest is the three-million-member Kale Heywet Church (KHC), which grew out of the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM). The second largest church, with approximately 2 million members, is Mekene Yesus Evangelical Church, a union of the Presbyterian and Lutheran related churches in 1972.

The national initiative that sprang from the<> years of Marxist repression continues to grow. Of the initiative's several tracks, the largest and strongest is Evangelism and Missions. Other functional tracks include Leadership Development and Training, Prayer, Women, Youth, Family Life, Peace, Justice and Reconciliation, AIDS, and Communication and Media.

An important component of the national strategy has been to focus their efforts on the most needy areas. In response to the unreached people survey results, a call was issued for Ethiopian missionaries from all denominations to reach the unreached peoples by the year 2000. The leaders of the coalition agreed to reach twenty ethnic groups in 1996, another 20 in 1997, and the remainder in 1998. The results have been astounding. In 1996, twenty ethnic groups were reached as planned, with sixty-one churches planted. More than 6,000 people who came to Christ out of those groups are now being discipled. In 1997, by God's grace, another twenty groups were reached as planned, and almost 12,000 people came to Christ and are being discipled.

Varied and creative strategies have been used to reach the unreached Ethiopian peoples. One missionary came to a people group previously untouched by either the Gospel or the government. Witch doctors dominated the entire group. If a woman lost her husband, she became the property of the witch doctor. The missionary began walking and praying in the sub-districts among the people. One desperately sick woman had spent all her resources going from one witch doctor to another for healing, but to no avail. She heard about this "one who prayed" and found the missionary. He prayed and she was healed.

One of the witch doctors heard what had happened and sent a horse for the missionary saying, "I could not heal, but you could." Many people gathered at the witch doctor's home. A lady who had many evil spirits was brought to the house. When the missionary prayed, the spirits cried out and the woman was delivered. The witch doctor came to Christ. A second witch doctor heard this story, sent a horse for the missionary, and also was saved. Then three more witch doctors came to Christ the same way. Today nearly 500 people who formerly had followed those five witch doctors are now followers of Christ, and five churches have been planted.

Assayehegn Berhe, General Secretary of the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia (ECFE), says: "This is the right time for Ethiopia. Our country is ripe for this vision and strategy." For further information about this remarkable movement, contact Assaye at ecfe@telecom.net.et.<>

Unique challenges and opportunities in Sudan

The complexity of Sudan defies simple explanations. Geographically it is the largest nation in Africa. Is is the geostrateic brdge that links the Middle East and North Africa with the Sub-Saharan African peoples. Geopolically, it sits at the center of radical Islam, threatening to undermine politically moderate Muslim regimes and energising itself in strident rhetoric against the West. Sudan's economy is near collapse. A costly civil war continues, and hostile neighbors are issuing warnings and making threats. The military government, under the control of the Radical National Islamic Front, is increasingly alienated from the international community. Sudan's future looks bleak, yet neither persecution, starvation nor civil war can stop the Christian church in Sudan.

In reality, six distinct wars now rage in Sudan. There is the civil war between the governing National Islamic Front regime and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army. There is an ethnic war of the Arabs in the north and the Africans in the south. There is a religious war in which the Muslim population in the north seeks to Islamize the Christian and animistic peoples of the south. There is a political war raging between three principal political factions in the north -- the traditional sectarin (and presently opposition) parties, the fundementalists, and the "modern forces". War rages "intertribally" within the south itself. This interfactional fighting even pits Christian groups, such as the Dinka and Nuer, against each other because of long standing ethnic differences. Finally, there is an international level of war. The stated goal of the current regime is to spread Islam in Africa and abroad. To achieve this goal, the regime has launched destabilization actions in neighboring countries. Recent reports confirm allegations that Sudan provided direct support to the terrorists responsible for the assassination attempt on Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in June 1995.

The toll of death and destruction in Sudan's many wars is beyond accurate accounting. However, a study by the U.S. Committee for Refugees estimated that 1.3 million people had died through war, famine, and resulting disease between 1983 and 1993. An estimated 2.6 million people risk starvation, and 4 million have been displaced from their homes and live in overcrowded refugee camps. Those who are abducted are often made into slaves.

Sudan has been engaged in civil ware for most<> of it's 42 years of independance. In the last fifteen years the Islamic government has sought to wipe out of forcibly convert the people of the Christian and animist south. Yet God continues to grow His Church in Sudan. A respected missionary who spent 25 years in Sudan reports that in 1955 about 10 percent of the Southern population were Christian believers. By 1998 about 75 percent of the population in the south is estimated to be believing Christian. The war, persecution, and famine have not deterred the church from bringing spiritual hope to this tragic country.

Cush for Christ:
2000 and Beyond

The last week of September 1998 could very well prove to be an historic turning point in the work of the kingdom of God in the nation of Sudan. During that week eighty Christian leaders from all denominations met to launch a national initiative to establish a Church Planting Movement among the remining unreached tribes in Sudan.

The gathering sprang from the stunning realization that it is time for Sudan to become a missionary church. The leaders issued the following statement: "We as the Body of Christ in this land must work together in a national initiative (a co-operative effort among the evangelical churches) to plant churches among these unreached groups. We have realized that while general and parachurch ministries are important, that is not enough. We must have specific efforts aimed at specific ethno-linguistic groups that result in a Church made up of that people. This is going to require research, prayer, and the sending of missionaries."

Specific actions in this broad strategy include:

  1. Extensive research.
  2. Each participating church should select one of the unreached groups listed in the report.
  3. Each participating church select a missionary couple or missionary team to go and live among this tribe and to plant a church among them.
  4. The church will be responsible to support this mission endeavor both in prayer and in finances.
  5. Two one-month training sessions will be held for these missionaries.

The report concludes with this commitment: "Let us covenant together that by the year 2000, each participating church of 'Cush for Christ: 2000 and Beyond' will have begun a church planting movement amongst one of the unreached people groups of Sudan."

Conclusion

Images of famine, poverty, and conflict haunt the Horn of Africa. 2.4 million in Sudan linger on the verge of starvation... skeletons walking. They linger in our minds and hearts, prompting us to do something, to get involved.

We must pray. We are called to give humanitarian relief. We are invited to partner with the growing, vital national churches. We are to take spiritual ownership for an unreached people or strategic town.

Jesus Christ is the answer. There is hope in Him, and that hope is self-sustaining. Technology breaks down. Food aid runs out. Infrastructure decays and crumbles. But the Light of Jesus Christ illuminates even the darkest corners. We must not ignore the urging within us to do something to help the millions of desparate people of the Horn of Africa.

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8/4/99