The Move of God in Ethiopia

April 20, 1998
Luis Bush
Nairobi, Kenya

Introduction:

"Ethiopia will stretch her hands to God" (Ps 68:31). With this promise from Scripture, and the question of the Ethiopian to the Apostle Philip, "How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?"(Acts 8:31), the vision of Ethiopian Christian leaders is to ensure that every Ethiopian hears the gospel.

Twenty-five serious papers have been two years in preparation for a consultation of 250 core evangelical leaders scheduled for September 1998. The purpose of this conference is to work toward the goal that every Ethiopian will hear the gospel by AD2000, and to plan national strategy for the next twenty years. This will be phase three of the national initiative already having a major impact on the nation.

During the "Finishing the Task 2000" East Africa Consultation in Nairobi, I spoke at length with General Secretary of the "Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia," Assayehegn Berhe (Assaye), in anticipation of the September gathering. His report of what has been taking place there was one of the dramatic stories of God's initiatives within countries in this generation. Beyond encouraging the Christian community, this is a compelling model of how Christians can respond and ride the wave of the Holy Spirit's move within difficult political circumstances

I. Birth of the Vision

On the eve of the Marxist takeover of Ethiopia in 1974, the eleven major denominations formed a coalition, creating a spiritual platform for the Body of Christ to receive united vision for the Church in the country. As representatives of the various churches came together, they came into a "harmonized vision for the nation."

An integral part of this united vision was a burden to reach the ethnic peoples of Ethiopia. Prior to 1974, rural missionaries had taken the gospel to other ethnic groups, but the vision became a conviction of the churches in new way.

Students were instrumental in birthing the vision through spontaneous aggressive evangelization. This strong student movement also served to bring evangelical churches together.

Two great waves of violent persecution under the Italians in 1936-41 and the Communists in 1974-1990 appeared to bring insurmountable barriers 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.

II. Breakthrough of the Vision

The Marxist persecution did not destroy, but purified the church. There was now no registered church, removing any temptation to compromised faith. Church buildings were destroyed, but the Church itself strengthened. Few church buildings were left open, but the door to the gospel remained wide. Thousands of people walked through that door and came to Christ. Christians were tortured, beaten, imprisoned for years at a time, but their faith grew. Trust between Christians increased rather than decreased. Christians learned to depend upon one another for their very survival. Today they still trust each other and work together in close cooperation around the goal of seeing their whole country evangelized and the unreached peoples reached with the gospel. When the Marxist system collapsed, Ethiopian Christians were prepared to reap the harvest.

The development of cell groups and house churches during the Marxist persecution was another major factor in the breakthrough. Christians met in small groups with a high level of commitment to Christ, His Word and one another through these years. Not only did their Christian life strengthen, but also the number of small groups proliferated across the country.

The cell group movement produced a lay movement. In 1974, the communist takeover forced churches to restructure into cell groups. One church became 500 cell groups. This called for evangelism, follow-up, discipleship, teaching and training in righteousness. Thousands of small group leaders were trained in inductive Bible study method. The "priesthood of every believer' was taught and each Christian called to evangelize. They were to live a prophetic life, so that wherever they went, they would make an impact on society.

III. Blossoming of the Vision

A. It is spiritual harvest time in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is experiencing great spiritual harvest, with millions coming to Christ. If not the fastest growing community of evangelicals over the past ten years, Ethiopia has been undoubtedly one of the fastest. In 1960, Protestants were fewer than 200,000, only 0.8% of the population. By 1984, they numbered 7%, then 11%, 6 million, in 1994. By 1997, they were 8 million, 14% of the population.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has been experiencing a revival movement. After centuries of isolation and unique traditions and theology, the advance of evangelicalism challenged the Orthodox Church. As it increased its use of the Scriptures, a major renewal movement occurred. This is a story of God Himself at work. The mounting responsiveness within the Orthodox Church has increased each year since the beginning of the Marxist regime. Radio transmissions from Kenya via the Seychelles brought the gospel to the remotest parts of the country. People, started coming to Christ. God had placed a hunger for righteousness in their hearts. They began to read the Bible with "eyes of faith." Those who came to the light of the gospel shared it with others. Numbers grew and grew to the remarkable response estimated today, 200,000 reported born again. These 200,000 evangelicals believe that God will save the approximately 35 million who still do not know Christ.

B. A Unified Christian Coalition has emerged.
The slogan is: "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. Eleven full-member denominations, representing approximately 7.4 million people, include the three-million-members of Kale Heywet Church (KHC), which came out of the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM). The second largest church, with approximately 2 million members, is Mekane Yesu Evangelical Church, related to the evangelical Lutherans.

There is great cooperation and unity in the ECFE. Working together is not a challenge for Ethiopian evangelicals.

C. Ethiopians are working together in a national strategy
A national initiative is underway. Several tracks (commissions) provide impetus for this initiative, the largest and strongest of which is Evangelism and Missions. Other functional tracks include Leadership-development and Training, Prayer, Women, Youth, Family Life, Peace, Justice and Reconciliation, AIDS, and Communications and Media.

An important component of the national strategy has been to research the needs and opportunities in country. The results of this research were summarized under four major challenges for the evangelical churches:

  1. The percentage of evangelicals compared to other groups 2. The ratio of Christians in each of the five regions
  2. The challenge of Islam, (by region, zone and district)
  3. The unreached peoples. In the process of researching, they discovered that there were ninety ethnic groups in Ethiopia, forty-five of which were found in the Southern Peoples Region. Until 1995, sixty of these ninety groups had never heard the gospel.

D. God has blessed the goals with successful missions
In response to the unreached people survey results, a call was made for Ethiopian missionaries to come forward from all denominations to seek to reach the unreached peoples by the year 2000. In September of 1995, 313 Ethiopian missionaries were trained together.

The Christians leaders on the coalition agreed to reach twenty ethnic groups in 1996, another twenty groups 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 6000 people who came to Christ out of these 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.

The approach to the Ethiopian unreached people has been varied and creative. One missionary came to a people 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 of 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 happened and sent a horse for the missionary, saying, "I could not heal, but you could." Many people were gathered at his 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 got saved. A third, fourth and fifth witch doctor came to Christ the same way. Today there are almost 500 followers of Christ who had been previous followers of these five witch doctors. Five churches have been planted.

E. The association of evangelical churches in Ethiopia has designated 60% of its total budget for missions and evangelism, including missions beyond its own borders.
The Ethiopian national strategy includes a vision for seven Arab nations where numerous Ethiopians reside, as well as for Israel.

Conclusion:

Assaye today says: "This is the right time for Ethiopia. Our country is ripe for this vision and strategy." The Church is ready to launch phase three. The working consultation planned for the end of September 1998 will strategize and prepare the twenty-year plan for the Church in Ethiopia. This effort aims to mobilize the whole Church to fulfill the Great Commission by sending out missionaries within and beyond the borders. For further information, contact Assaye ECFE@Telecom.net.et

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