Persecution Causes Amazing Growth in Ethiopia Church

CURRENT FEATURE STORY
by the Editors at ReligionToday.com
February 17, 1999

The evangelical church in Ethiopia is among the fastest-growing in the world. Believers have doubled from 4 million to 8 million people since 1984, the international evangelization network AD 2000 and Beyond (see link #1 below) said. Evangelicals make up 14% of the population, up from less than 1% in 1960.

...Persecution became a "prime contributor to an amazing spiritual breakthrough," an AD 2000 report says. Churches were shut and Christians were arrested, tortured, and sentenced to years in prison during the 16-year rule of Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. The church grew stronger and millions reportedly turned to Christ by the time he was ousted in 1990.

...Christians went underground, meeting in cell groups and quietly evangelizing. Thousands of small group leaders taught believers how to study the Bible on their own and to evangelize. Believers learned to demonstrate the power and love of Christ, and to share the gospel with those who showed interest. The cells multiplied and between 2 million and 3 million people became Christians, Greg Groh of the Worldwide Leadership Council said.

...Protestant church leaders formed a bond that is enabling them to evangelize the country together. Eleven denominations formed a coalition prior to the Marxist takeover in 1974. When persecution came, AD 2000 said, "trust between Christians increased; they learned to depend on each other for their very survival. Today they still trust each other and work together. They are prepared to reap an unprecedented harvest."

...The Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia is pursuing a national outreach. It represents 97% of evangelical Christians and its 11 denominations have about 7.4 million people. Initiatives include evangelism and missions, leadership training, and ministries to youth, women, and families. "This is the right time for Ethiopia," General Secretary Assayehegn Berhe said. "Our country is ripe for this vision and strategy."

...Indigenous missionaries are bringing the gospel to unreached tribal groups. The ECFE set a goal of sending missionaries to 40 people groups from 1996-98. In 1997, the group reported that about 18,000 people had become Christians and about 100 churches planted. They are attempting to reach 20 more tribal groups with the message of Christ.

...Five witch doctors and their followers became Christians through the efforts of one missionary. The tribal group had been dominated by the witch doctors. When the missionary arrived, he walked through the territory's districts, praying aloud. One witch doctor sent for him after a woman claimed she was cured of an illness by the missionary's prayer.

..."I could not heal, but you could," he told the missionary. He then brought a demon-possessed woman and asked him to pray for her. The man put his faith in Christ when the woman was delivered by the prayer, AD 2000 said. Four other witch doctors and about 500 followers became Christians and started five churches after similar displays of God's power, AD 2000 said.

...There is a growing evangelical movement within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Five nominal Christians reportedly began experiencing a personal, vibrant relationship with Christ after studying the Bible together in 1990. They began a Bible study and asked the local Orthodox bishop if they could tell stories from the gospels before church services. Those who showed an interest in the stories were invited to attend the Bible study and began to experience a deeper relationship with Christ.

...The group has more than 200,000 people meeting throughout the region. Orthodox hierarchy has refused the group permission to meet in churches or address congregations. The group does not want to leave the Orthodox Church but to bring reforms and help people move beyond nominalism and experience a vibrant relationship with Christ, AD 2000 said.

...Ethiopia has a rich biblical heritage. It is mentioned in the Bible more than 60 times and was one of the first Christian nations. The rise of Islam in the 7th century led to conflicts with the Orthodox Church, and droughts and political repression in recent years have left people poor and desperate. Ethiopia is engaged in a border war with Eritrea. "It seems the nation has lost its sense of identity and purpose, leaving it divided on regional and ethnic lines," AD 2000 said. "Through all these difficulties, the church has continued to grow and flourish."

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