God’s providence in Ethiopia
The reformed evangelical communities in Ethiopia are growing by leaps and bounds. From 1977-1992 the Mengisto communist regime banned foreign missionaries and limited religious activities by stringent legislation. This was a blessing in disguise since it stimulated a maturing, indigenous spiritual movement.
Prior to 1977 the Coptic Church enjoyed much power. Its syncretistic teachings combining Christian doctrine with animist superstition enslaved many. Also an enticing form of animistic folk-Islam was spreading rapidly. Ironically, Communism’s iron fist dealt major blows to Coptic control of minds and hearts and Islam’s advance.
At the same time, a vibrant, underground Bible teaching movement was bringing the gospel to bear among the population. This movement bore much fruit, and with the relatively peaceful collapse of Communism the country’s transition to freedom took place in an atmosphere of political stability and law and order.
Today there is disenchantment with atheistic communism and superstitious false religion, and the evangelistic zeal of Christians is bringing tremendous numerical growth to the churches. But only in-depth biblical teaching can consolidate and preserve this advance.
Several years ago, a group of Ethiopian believers asked Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF) to help with gospel broadcasts in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. They had been referred to MERF by a British pastor who had sponsored the group’s leader – Mengisteab Tegegn – for theological education.
Their vision and zeal came at an opportune time. First, a new short wave transmitter with a strong signal to Ethiopia was being launched by other agencies. Second, the Lord provided the funds and human resources.
After several months, a team of broadcasting staff was assembled. Suitable accommodation was prepared, with offices, studio and a training/study room. Faithful Amharic gospel broadcasts began to cover Ethiopia several times a week. Mengisteab’s contagious enthusiasm had borne fruit.
Responses to the broadcasts were encouraging. Typical listeners’ comments were: ‘Your broadcasts have given our lives many teachings. They are sweet like milk and honey. The word of God flows to me from your broadcasting like spring water, giving hope to our lives. Please carry on!'(GC).
And again, ‘Your spiritual teachings which you are broadcasting change lives – Because of your ministry, I have become a disciple of the Lord’ (BS, federal police officer). The work did not stop there. Even though Amharic is Ethiopia’s official language, the native tongue of the largest tribe (and most Ethiopian Muslims) is Oromo.
A young Oromo evangelist has been eagerly bringing the good news of salvation to his people over the radio. Earlier in 2007 Oromo programmes were broadcast for the first time over the same transmitter as the Amharic.
Oromo listeners write: ‘Your time of broadcasting is very good. We are listening to your programme after we eat our dinner and before we begin our study. Please make programmes all the days of the week’ (JT, college student); ‘There are few Christians in my village and no churches. Muslims are a majority and I can’t tell anybody I have converted from Islam – I need you to teach me about Jesus. Can you teach me to pray like you do?’ (MA, farmer).
The Somali people have also been sharing in the blessings. More than 90% Muslim, they live in the south-east Ethiopian province of Ogaden as well as Djibouti and, of course, Somalia.
Addis Ababa is the best venue for gospel broadcasts to these too. In Addis a mature Somali convert was waiting on the Lord to reach his people over the airwaves with ‘the whole counsel of God’. His prayers are now answered with four weekly Somali language broadcasts to the entire region.
Radio evangelism is not enough on its own. Biblical training has always been the backbone of MERF’s strategy for indigenous missions. An indigenous daughter organisation – Ethiopia Reformed Fellowship (ERF) – has been started for that purpose, with Ethiopian Hailu Mekonnen providing theological oversight.