by Robert Revie
Sunday School Ministry in Ethiopia
In 1952 the first missionaries arrived in Ethiopia. John and Martie Flynn (N. Ireland) were not long in the country before they commenced children’s work. This pattern was continued by the mission workers who followed them and, before long, there were three large Sunday schools in Addis Ababa, Bati and Dagan. In 1971, assemblies were founded in Addis Ababa and Dagan.
In 1974, when the communists took over the country, an increasing amount of control was imposed on work among children. In the early 1980s, the three assembly halls were taken over by the government, to be used for other purposes, and sadly all Sunday schools were stopped.
The communist government was replaced in 1991 by a military government, and my wife, Sheena, and I were able to return to Ethiopia in 1993. At that time there appeared to be no Sunday schools in and around Addis Ababa. Believers told us that in 1991, they decided to promote three important ministries: the first was evangelism and church planting in new areas; the second was Bible teaching; and the third priority was children’s work. Due to limited resources, the children’s work was not initially as developed as they had hoped.
It was around 1995 that God raised up from within the assemblies a young man called Digaffe, who felt a call to recommence work among children. As a result, he asked the assembly in Akaki, in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia, to commend him to full-time service as a children’s evangelist. Soon, Digaffe began visiting churches in the capital, encouraging each to start a Sunday school; sometime later, churches in the countryside were urged to begin a similar ministry. As a result, many children were taught the Word of God.
In 1998, Digaffe asked me to visit his assembly in Akaki, as they were holding a special day event for children. Sheena and I arrived to help, to discover around 500 children present in the hall! We had a great day with the children. The women in the church had organised a meal for them, and we benefited from their hospitality and a much-needed break at lunchtime. During the break, Digaffe expressed how wonderful it was to have this meeting for children. He felt that it would be such a blessing if we were able to gather the children together, perhaps for a weekend or even for a week. This planted the idea of building a campsite.
Digaffe expressed how wonderful it was to have this meeting for children
A Campsite is Planned
The only place that was suitable for such a purpose was at Ginchi, where the communist government had presented believers with a large piece of land. This was given for the purpose of starting a community kindergarten as, at that time, the local people were hostile to explicit gospel ministry.
Together with a few responsible brothers from Addis, we went to Ginchi and met with the church leaders. When we spoke to them about our desire to build a children’s campsite, they asked me if I had any idea of what would be needed. As I had visited 40 camps in different parts of the UK, I had some idea of what would work best. The plans I envisaged included a dining room, dormitories, a kitchen, a large meeting hall and toilets. The believers at Ginchi asked if I would like to see the plans that they had submitted to the government and when we examined both side-by-side, they were almost identical. The wonder of it was that their plans had already been approved by the government and we could commence building immediately! We were thrilled at the news, but at that time had no funds to cover such a project. However, in faith we decided to commence building and looked to the Lord to provide the necessary finance.
The following January, Sheena and I returned to Ginchi to see how the work was progressing. Two dormitories were being built, but there were no roofs on the buildings. The believers were still keen that the first camp should go ahead that month. It was decided that they would hire a tent to house the boys and the girls would sleep in the existing hall. I agreed to this plan but stressed that the number should be limited to around 40; however, when we arrived at Ginchi there were around 60 children present. Despite the cramped conditions, we had a wonderful time and all who attended said it had been a success.
A Campsite is Completed
Shortly afterwards, the remaining buildings were erected. By this time, the campsite was able to accommodate around 200 children. Many memorable camps were enjoyed at this site and our youth leaders of today are the product of these first ventures. By this time the Sunday schools had grown, with many numbering over 200 children. God raised up dedicated young people, who volunteered to serve and teach the children on a regular basis.
In 2010, some of the believers came to me and said that a problem had arisen in relation to the camp work. Only 25 children from each assembly were now allowed to go to camp, but many of the Sunday schools comprised over 200 children. They proposed an alternative: instead of camps we could run a Daily Vocational Bible School (DVBS) in each assembly, which all the children could attend. I thought this an excellent idea. As a result, the DVBS was organised by age group for every church. In the countryside where the children spoke Oromo and not Amharic, there were over 1,000 children enrolled in Sunday schools. For such numbers, the DVBS was a good alternative to camp work.
God raised up dedicated young people, who volunteered to serve and teach the children on a regular basis.
However, many children’s leaders have expressed a desire for the camps to recommence. The camps made such an impact on the leaders’ lives and they wish this ministry to carry on to the next generation. Consequently, it has been decided to reconvene the camp in 2018.
Bible Educational Services
In 2013, I was contacted by Sam Balmer, Director of Bible Education Services (BES), who told me that the Bible booklets were being translated into Amharic. I was thrilled at this news as I knew that they would be very useful for our Sunday schools.
In 2015 I was drafted in to help translate the text into Amharic and to help edit previous drafts. Along with two brethren from Addis, we completed the task and the booklets were printed by Revival Movement in Northern Ireland, who print such literature free of charge for countries in Africa.
The Ethiopian Sunday schools received the first five booklets in May 2016 and eventually the remaining booklets to complete the set. These have been distributed to various areas throughout the country, where they are also being used by other evangelical groups. Teaching and training is given by an experienced children’s worker, before the booklets are distributed.
The Work Continues
We are in the process of completing the translation of the BES booklets into Oromiffa, as most of our assemblies in the countryside use the Oromo language. We pray this work will be a tremendous help for them.
As a result of past camps and the children’s work, God has raised up many young men who testify that through such ministry they realised the tremendous value of work among children. Solomon, a young man who wanted to please God, was a leader during the first camp. After some years, God placed on his heart a desire to work among children in the Somali region of Ethiopia, which is completely Islamic. Another, Biriket, who is now Mulugeta Ashagre’s son-in-law, came to camp as an 11-year-old boy. Biriket testified that it was camp that showed him the value of children’s work; now he is one of the main leaders among the young people in and around Addis. In 2017, Biriket organised a special day for the children called Question and Answer. It was so appreciated that they have decided to repeat it in 2018.
In January 2018, God brought together 28 leaders from all over Ethiopia, who were taught about the BES booklets and gospel ministry to children. We prayed that when they returned home, they would pass on this teaching to ten Sunday school teachers. Each Sunday school teacher, in turn, will be challenged to reach 40 new children with the gospel. At present, this movement has reached 6,000 children. We await yet more encouraging stories of lives transformed by God’s good news of salvation in Christ alone.