A unique country
Cultural and religious diversity
Ethiopia is home to more than 80 different peoples and ethnic groups. Unlike in Germany where we all speak the same language (except for some dialects and languages that are related to High German) these peoples speak different languages. Some of these languages are as different as English from Arabic. It is therefore impossible to speak of an Ethiopian people as one. As little as it is possible to speak of an African or an Asian people as one people group.
The Amhara and Tigre live in North Ethiopia. These two peoples make up a large part of the Ethiopian population. They are closely related and related to the Eritrean people. They belong mostly to Orthodox Christianity. The Amhara formed the social and political elite of the country for a long time. In East Ethiopia live the muslim Afar, Adal and Kereyu and even further east the Somali. Some of these peoples still travel as nomads through the steppes and salt deserts of East Ethiopia. The Oromo form the largest ethnic group. This proud people populate a large area stretching from the border with Sudan in the west to the nomads in the east and on to Kenya in the south. Only the subgroups of the Oromo form a fascinating variety of cultures. In the southwest part of Ethiopia live peoples that have been untouched for centuries by the civilization of North-Ethiopian cultures. The cattle-breeding tribes living in this area largely follow the ancient natural religion.
In summary Ethiopia is a country of tremendous cultural, religious and ethnic diversity. For our work this means a challenge that should not be underestimated. We can not learn all languages and understand all cultures. Our goal is to pass on the Good News to as many peoples as possible. How we succeed – read the Evangelists section to learn more.
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century the Ethiopian Empire managed to compete with the European colonial powers. Emperor Haile Selassie succeeded in establishing his empire as a strong, independent and modern state. The first evangelical churches were founded during this time by predominantly American missionaries. Unfortunately this upswing and freedom did not last. In the 1970s a communist movement with the support of the USSR managed to overthrow the emperor and established a socialist military government. Under the rule of Mengistu Haile-Mariam the people were oppressed, the economy collapsed and a terrible persecution of Christians began which threatened to stifle the seed of the still young evangelical churches. After a bloody civil war and a devastating hunger crisis the regime collapsed. Ethiopia was engraved as a land of hunger and poverty in the memory of the Western world. In the early 1990s the situation in Ethiopia began to stabilize again. The new government reintroduced religious freedom, built schools and roads, sought to create employment and tried to implement peace and society with a strict hand. Over the last 25 years the country has been plagued by minor disturbances and local hunger crises. In general, however, the situation remained stable.
Despite the efforts of the government and many aid agencies worldwide Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world today. The majority of the population lives from agriculture. Up until 50 years ago you could expect a big drought every 70 years. Meanwhile the east part of Africa is hit by a drought every seven years. What had caused a worldwide sensation at that time is today accepted as normal like “yet again a hunger crisis in East Africa”. For the Ethiopian farmers it becomes more and more difficult to secure their own existence and it is almost impossible to achieve prosperity.
A frequent question is if the Africans would not be better off if they would work harder. Apart from the fact that this bill is far too short on many levels it can not be applied to Ethiopia. The hillslopes of the Ethiopian highlands have been tilled for centuries partly in laborious manual work. The farmers build large dams without modern tools to create artificial lakes for irrigation. No poor, hungry Ethiopian is above the hard work to take care of the survival of their own family. Nevertheless, they are regularly struck by circumstances that are beyond their control. Climate changes, political unrest, fluctuating food prices, inflation and much more are causing that people are not able to save themselves from their situation by their own strength. It is as if one would call to a drowning man you were calling to a drowning man in the sea he only needs to make more effort to swim to the saving shore. Anyhow, that would have worked in the swimming lake at home.
What I love about Ethiopia
With all the misery people often ask what is so special about Ethiopia. Usually my answer takes a bit longer. I tell them about the diverse landscape, the high mountains and deep valleys, the wide plains, the hostile salt desert which seemed to be from another planet. I think of the historic places such as the mountain church from 6th century, the middle age castles of Gonder or the Axum steles which were built in pre-Christian times to honour the dead kings, the historic town of Harar for it is besides Mecca, Meddina and Jerusalem a Holy City of Islam. I remember the quiet and seclusion of the farmer villages and the crowded streets of the city of Dire Dawa. There are countless places and moments that make traveling to Ethiopia an unforgettable experience. What I personally miss the most when I’m in Germany is the people who are more and more dear to my heart: the community with the brothers and sisters in the churches and the time we spend with each other.
I remember well one evening sitting in a mud hut with Orthodox and Muslim village elders and one of our evangelists. We talked about all sorts of things until late, puzzling each other (traditionally putting puzzles to the test of others wisdom) and talking about our faith was no problem. On another trip by car over a pathless ground our car got bogged on a slope in the sand. The farmers near by came even if we didn’t ask them to and together we pushed the car up the steep mountainside for several hundred meters.
Of course we also experience hostility and difficulties with some people in Ethiopia. Nevertheless, many experiences have deeply impressed me. I’m curious on every trip what I’ll probably experience. My personal request is that you pray for the difficulties in Ethiopia. God can do great things.
News about Ethiopia
Ethiopia – Four Governments and the Gospel Part 1
Flood relief in Ethiopia
“…Cush will stretch out his hands to God.” Psalm 68:32b
Facts and figures
- Official language: Amharic
- Capital City: Addis Ababa
- Area: 1,104,300 km²
- Population: 96,633,458
- Religions: 65% Christians (57% Coptic Orthodox Christians), 31% Islam, about 3% tribal religions, 1% others
- Persecution: 18th place worldwide (according to information from the Open Doors World Watch Index)
- Foreign missionaries in Ethiopia: 669 with 60 mission societies