Encouragement in Ethiopia
Ethiopia, in the horn of Africa, is five and a half times the area of UK and has a population of 70 million. It is a poor country with an average life expectancy of only 39 years.
Half the population belongs to the Coptic Church, one third is Muslim, and over 13% are evangelical Christians. The communist era brought persecution to the church but united various evangelical groups. The Christian Brethren Church of Ethiopia (CBC) is part of that evangelical community, with roots going back to 1952.
Today there are 90 CBC churches with 15,000 believers. These churches are clustered around four settlements – eleven in and around the capital Addis Ababa, 12 around Ginchi (west of Addis), 60 near Chobi (further west) and 2 in Banti, to the north east. The Banti churches have recently experienced Muslim persecution, with some church buildings being burned down.
The growth of the CBC is encouraging. Over the past four years, an average of 1100 people per year have joined it. Many churches have 300-400 in their congregations and all are reaching out and planting new fellowships. Their current needs lie in the funding of new buildings and the training of church leaders to minister the Word of God to adults and children.
Mulugeta Ashagre is CBC’s General Secretary. He was host to David Sercombe and me for a two-week theological teaching visit on behalf of Pastor Training International (PTI) in autumn 2007.
We were met in Addis Ababa by Mulugeta, along with another pastor. Mulugeta was the perfect host and an excellent organiser. He speaks fluent English and has a burden to train young men and women for future church leadership.
Our three translators were Mulugeta, Degaffi (Mulugeta’s right-hand man and Children and Youth Coordinator for CBC), and Yergo (a full-time worker for Wycliffe Bible Translators, who also ministers within CBC). All three had had Bible College training.
Each day we were taken to the conference centre in Addis. Between 50 and 60 full-time church workers attended the sessions. There were young pastors, evangelists, youth workers and teaching elders. Five or six were women leaders, who ministered amongst women in the congregations but did not preach to the whole congregation.
David and I found the students bright and keen. Their English was good and they often understood what we said without translators. Their questions at the end of each lecture or during question time at the end of the day showed they had understood the lectures and their Bible knowledge was good.
It was exciting and encouraging to be with them. Three spoke on behalf of the group at the end of the week to say that they now saw the Bible in a new way – they needed to let the Bible speak for itself rather than make it the ‘servant’ of what the preacher had already decided to say.
Mulugeta has already invested much time in training believers. He has gathered groups in different parts of the country to instruct them in basic Christian doctrines and Bible overviews. Degaffi has also trained Sunday school teachers.
After the first week in Addis we drove 70 km west to Ginchi. David and I preached on the Sunday morning in nearby churches, and our second conference began on the Sunday afternoon.
In Ginchi there was a larger group of students. One hundred had been invited but in the end 110 attended. This group were all men and most were either pastors or evangelists. They were less well educated than in Addis, some with schooling only up to the age of 12.
They were not as fluent in English, yet their Scripture knowledge was good. They too were keen and godly and a privilege to teach. They were very thankful for the PTI study books in Amharic.
The Ginchi compound acts as a centre for such events. It has basic accommodation and catering facilities for about 100 students, and also a church building and an office for the Christian charity, Compassion. Compassion supports 241 children from the poorest families, making provision for their education, clothing, medicine and food.
During the week we spoke at a meeting for 200 school and college students in the church. David and I felt privileged to visit Ethiopia and spend time with our dear Ethiopian Christian brothers and sisters.