Challenge and Opportunity
A Word from the International Director
Does the Horn of Africa bring any images to mind? For many westerners the names of Ethiopia, Sudan or Somalia evoke harsh images of vast desert wastes, starving people, and brutal civil war. We vaguely remember Band-Aid, troubled efforts to feed thousands of Somalis, and frightening recent headlines concerning Sudan.
Some of the saddest words in any language -- famine, drought, war, genocide and proverty -- paint the most accurate picture of this corner of northeastern Africa. "Need" may be the defining characteristic if this hard, unforgiving land. Overwhelming physical need sits like a dark cloud on the people of this region; they are among the poorest in the world. Most subsist on the meager produce of tired land that has been farmed or grazed for millennia. They live a single harvest away from starvation, without access to tthe most basic medical care. Even that precarious exisitance is constantly threatened by ware and interethnic struggle.
The spiritual need of many parts of the region is less apparent, but just as real. Most of the people have little of no access to the Gospel. Low literacy rates, lack of infrastructure, harsh living conditions, remoteness and religious persecution all conspire to keep the people of the Horn from knowing the Savior. As in the rest of the 10/40 Window*, living and working in the Horn has been extremely difficult for Christian workers. The Horn of Africa represents a unique challenge to the Evangelical Church.
But even the most inhospitible desert is not entirely devoid of life -- or hope. God has done a miraculous work in this barren, rocky land we call the Horn of Africa. Miraculous spiritual harvest fields are flourishing in many unlikely places under the watchful care of the Master Farmer. Today the Horn is truly a land of great opportunity.
The seeds of this revival have taken decades to sprout. The work that began early in the twentieth century has progressed slowly but steadily. In some areas, the Evangelical Church has been refined through the fires of hardship and persecution. In Ethiopia, for example, believing Christians were forced underground from 1974 untill 1991 by the repressive Commuist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. Although the Communists were intent on stamping out the Evangelical Church, it flourished. When the Evangelical Church reemerged into the light in 1991 it had grown tenfold and had been purified. God's fields have begun to bear a tremendous harvest. The Ethiopian Evangelical Church has grown from 200,000 in 1960 to more than 8,000,000 today.
In recent months I have met with Christian leaders of the Horn of Africa, participated in the launch of a countrywide initiative in Sudan, and spoken in churches throughout the region. Rarely if ever have I seen such vision, dedication, sacrifice and faith as here.
* The 10/40 Window is the region between 10 and 40 degrees north latitude, extending from North Africa through East Asia. It encompases over three and one-half billion people, including most of the world's Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.
Today, the global Church at last is beginning to focus it's prayer and resources on this harsh region. After a century of groundwork, all of the elements that are necessary for a tremendous move of the Holy Spirit in the Horn of Africa are in place. In some of the most difficult areas the Spirit has already begun moving in a mighty way.
Relief efforts, many of them spearheaded by Christian agencies, have brought assistance to hundreds of thousands of people. God has gathered prayer warriors from the ends of the earth. The Bible is available in more languages than ever before but not yet distributed among many of the people groups. In the Horn, He has allowed war, famine, poverty, interethnic struggle, even an atheistic communist regime to break down the traditional self-reliance and isolation of the people. All of the struggles of the past decades were designed by the enemy to keep people from God. But the Lord has turned the tables, and today people are searching for answers as never before.
Christian workers are finding more ways to reach the people with the Gospel. Northern Ethiopia, for example, is now open to the evangelical world for the first time. The doors are still only partly open in other areas, but workers are finding that -- with a little creativity and a lot of prayer -- the people can be reached. Even ongoing conflicts, drought and tragic human need are making it possible for more Christian workers than ever before to minister among the spiritually hungry masses of the Horn.
There is a tremendous force of near-neighbor evangelists. These dedicated workers have an irresistible vision to reach the lost around them. They are on site. They speak the languages and are comfortable in the cultures. Often they can make the minor adjustments that are necessary for evangelizing a nearby culture with ease. In some parts of the region, local evangelists are the only ones who can actually live among the people.
Evangelical groups working in the Horn cooperate freely as their visions overlap. Such cooperation is not a new phenomenon in the region. Difficult circumstances such as war and famine very quickly outpace the physical resources of any single group. The same is true on the spiritual plane; the spiritual warfare and famine in the region are just as real and just as overwhelming as the physical crises. Local and international workers share information and resources because they also share a commitment to finishing the job of evangelizing the region for the glory of God. Christian leaders recognize that the new millenium brings both opportunity and challenge to the Horn of Africa. Bruce menser, after serving with World Vision in Sudan for 10 years, says "Despite these setbacks, I'm still convinced that prospects are good for the country's ultimate recovery." Clive Calver, president of World Relief, agrees: "There's been an incredily dark period, yet we have a window of opportunity through which the light is shining. This is the moment we have to touch the lives of the Sudanese people."
The job is only beginning. Perhaps the most significant indication that this is God's time for the Horn is the simple fact that so much remains to be done. The amazing harvest that is already beginning is only a promise of what God intends to do if His people will band together and seek His face. The Church has experienced unprecedented growth in a few places. Exciting people movements toward Christ have been taking place in the last seven years. Yet the God-starved masses in the Horn -- nearly 100 million people -- and of these, millions upon millions have almost no access to the Gospel. Peoples such as the Afar, Silte Gurage, Tigray and Amhara have not heard because they live in remote areas. They do not read. They do not have Bibles. The nomadic pastoralists of the Eastern half of the Horn do not even have permanent settlements. They need a gospel that they can carry on their camels. Proportionately, there are remarkably fewer Christians in the North of Sudan and Ethiopia as compared to the South. In Somalia there are only a few hundred Evangelicals -- most being secret believers. In a land where death is a familiar, everyday companion, the people of the Horn of Africa simply cannot wait. Now is the time... today is the day of opportunity for the Horn of Africa.
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