In February 2010 I was once again involved in church leaders’ training with the Ethiopian Full Gospel Believers’ Church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (The EBGBC is the country’s largest pentecostal denomination, now with around two million members across the nation.) Some two hundred leaders gathered for four days of input, feedback and discussion. This was my fourth visit, and the third specifically to help shape the growing cross-cultural missions initiative.
Pr. Tayey was an elderly and highly respected leader of a large church in the West of the country. He had been involved in the first program two years earlier which brought 70 key church leaders together to attempt to launch a national office to coordinate the separate initiatives that were beginning across the country and inspire others to action. Until that point, Pr. Tayey had shown no desire to be involved in anything outside his own area. But he heard God’s voice through that programme and determined that his church, too, would be a missionary church.
The following year he attended the training event and was encouraged to continue in the path he was leading the church on, as well as being further equipped for this task. And now, just two years after starting out on this wild journey of courageous faith, he was sharing what progress the church had made in that short time. What a story!
Church members were now giving regularly towards the new initiatives and were praying fervently for unreached peoples, both inside the borders of Ethiopia and beyond to neighbouring Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia. They were fully supporting fifteen workers in unreached areas, and planning to double that number over the next year.
His story is typical of an increasing number of churches across the denomination. Another leader from the north spoke of their new works along the Sudanese border, engaging with visiting Sudanese tradesmen, and training Arabic speaking Ethiopians for future work in Sudan itself. After India, Sudan is the nation with the second largest number of unengaged Muslim people groups, still waiting for their first opportunity to hear the gospel.
“Mission” is now firmly on the agenda of many churches, and not just the largest ones. Surprisingly perhaps, it is the churches in the countryside areas, and not the large and relatively wealthier churches of the capital, that are leading the way. They are sending “messengers of the gospel” — they don’t like the term “missionaries”, as it smacks to them of rich Westerners in air-conditioned vehicles, rather than poor Ethiopians with just enough to scrape by on — to remote and frontier areas of Ethiopia and are actively preparing to build on the experience gained to start to send workers across national borders. Others are catching the vision and are keen to engage with unreached peoples. A national missions ministry is coordinating ongoing work and has just published its first guidelines to help develop the work securely. The denomination has a growing sense of destiny and is enthusiastically embracing their role as a light to the nations.
Dereje, who heads up the missions department of the church, had just returned from Djibouti when I arrived. There are around 350,000 Ethiopians there, many of them believers. Their witness to the staunchly Muslim native population is beginning to bear fruit, and local fellowships are slowly being established, mostly strongly contextualized within their surroundings. Whilst Djibouti is only a long bus trip away from Addis, and is increasingly connected as the main commercial port for Ethiopia, these are very inspiring beginnings for a church that only recently emerged from the fires of communist persecution.
While much remains to be done, particularly in the area of training of workers specifically for cross-cultural ministry and structuring the whole program, faith rises whilst with them. Surely in believers such as these lies hope for the unreached peoples of the Horn of Africa, and beyond.