Church Strengthening in Ethiopia
Written by Charles Raven, Director of Relay 200
Dear Relay Trust Family
Recent news about Ethiopia has been dominated by the civil war being waged in the north of the country between the government and Tigrayan rebels, but there is another story of rapidly growing churches in Africa’s second most populous country which I was able to experience first-hand on a recent visit. Of a population of some 110 million, 72 million are Christians, mainly Ethiopian Orthodox but with a rapidly growing minority of Evangelicals. In 1970, Evangelicals were a mere 3% of the population but at 22 million they now account for 20%.
One of these evangelical churches is the Ethiopian Full Gospel Believers Church (EFGBC) which has about 5 million members and The Relay Trust is funding the construction of their Adola Bible College in a relatively remote area about 200 kms south of Addis Ababa. It is strategically placed as a mission hub for the largely unreached Burji and Borena regions which border Kenya and Somalia and will train pastors and missionaries up to degree level. We have also funded the construction of a primary school in the town of Sollamo some 50 kms to the west of Adola which doubles as a bible college at weekends, training to diploma level.
I visited both these projects and was greatly encouraged by the EFGBC’s commitment to equipping pastors and lay church members through biblically faithful training. The church is strongly evangelistic, but its commitment to sound biblical theology enables it to avoid the false teachings of the prosperity gospel while still sponsoring income generating projects to lift people out of poverty and working hard to overcome deeply ingrained ethnic hostilities.
I then flew to Gambella in the westernmost part of Ethiopia bordering South Sudan. The Anglican presence in the rest of the country is tiny, but here in the Diocese of Gambella there is a church of some 150,000 members. The Relay Trust is supporting a three-year programme to train 120 catechists based at St Frumentius Bible College to support this rapidly growing church drawn from the predominantly Sudanese population. Some are ethnic Sudanese who have always lived in the area, others are refugees from South Sudan. The community is made up of two tribal groups, the Nuer and the Anuak, who share a long history of hostility and during my visit it was clear that a deep work of reconciliation is taking place within the Anglican church.
During my visit, 60 pastors from the Diocese of Gambella and the Diocese of the Horn of Africa, which includes the rest of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia gathered for a clergy training retreat, also funded by The Relay Trust. Here, they were introduced to the training material that will be used for the catechists’ course and Prof. Ashley Null gave a series of talks on the relevance of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the Book of Common Prayer for Anglican ministry today. We are also working with the Diocese of Gambella to secure and develop St Frumentius’ excellent library and to assist the diocese in pioneering projects that will help to bring long term peace to a divided community such as the proposed Unity Anglican School to be built adjacent to the new Cathedral.
In Romans 1:16, the Apostle Paul declares ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’. The confidence of the Christians I met in Ethiopia in the power of the gospel for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, was inspirational and we are privileged to be working with such partners.