Ethiopia – Four Governments and the Gospel Part 1

The present time is characterized by global confusion. This can also be seen in my home country Ethiopia – one crisis has not yet been overcome, and the next problem is already crashing down on the people. I would like to give an overview of the development of Christians in Ethiopia over the last decades, knowing that this is only a brief insight.
I was born and raised in Ethiopia, and in my nearly 70 years of life I have experienced four different governments. I was born during the time of the Empire, i.e. in a monarchy. When I became a student, the Marxist-Leninist communist regime followed; at that time I had to leave my country and came to Germany as a refugee in 1977. With the fall of communism, its rule also ended in Ethiopia, followed by a seemingly democratic government, which, however, took on dictatorial features over the years. Lastly, today we have a democracy whose leader even bases his government on biblical principles.

In all these years and different governments, the country has gone through many things. The steadfast attitude of Ethiopians can be traced back to a deep religiosity. The breakdown of religions in the country: the two major religions include Coptic Orthodox Christians (43%) and Sunni Muslims (34%), then there are 20% evangelicals in the country; in addition, there are Catholics and followers of natural religions (animists) as well as Jews.

When I started my missionary service in Ethiopia in 1994, there were about 50% Coptic Orthodox and 35% Muslims, plus 10% Evangelicals, lastly a small part of followers of natural religions as well as Jews. So a lot has happened in the last 27 years. The evangelical churches were able to attract up to 10% of the souls of the two major religions. One reason for this was the steadfastness of the believing Christians in the difficult times of persecution under the atheistic communist regime. The Coptic Orthodox compromised, and many of their members felt abandoned. Young priests attended the newly opened modern Theological College. Here they were given the opportunity to research the Scriptures and find the truth. After completing their studies, they founded an underground movement called Tahadisu (Reform or Renewal). This reformation movement within the Orthodox Church developed rapidly, despite initial persecution. Three years ago, they announced their beliefs and separated before their mother church. Publicly, they gave testimony that they have returned to the original church with the Bible as its foundation – it is reminiscent of Martin Luther’s Reformation (sola scriptura – Scripture alone).

In Islam, the development was different. In the Emperor’s time, they were more like liberal Muslims. The emperor’s famous statement was, “One country is for everyone, but religions is for each individual.” Thus, during the imperial period, followers of all religions lived together relatively peacefully. This principle of the emperor was also an opportunity for the evangelical churches and opened the door for many missionary works from abroad. During these years (1946), Mennonites from America also came to Ethiopia as missionaries, sent out by the Eastern Mennonite Mission. They built schools, hospitals and Bible schools. However, when the emperor was overthrown and the communists came to power, all foreign missionaries were forced to leave the country. The local evangelical churches were closed. Many believers went to prison at that time, and the churches had to survive the 17 years of communism underground. They did not bend their knees for Mammon. This steadfast faith made a good impression on other religions whose leaders compromised with the government and paved the way for the missionary work that followed.
To be continued. The Last Two Governments and the Gospel.

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