by Robert Revie
Last year, conflict between the Tigray region and the government raised questions about the problems facing Ethiopia. To answer these, it is helpful to remind ourselves of Ethiopia’s recent history.
After Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974, Ethiopia came under communist rule. In 1975 the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) began a protracted rebellion against the military government. In 1977 Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam led the ‘Red Terror’ against the regime’s enemies. All the missionaries left Ethiopia around 1978 and shortly afterwards the three assembly halls were taken over by the government and the believers went underground. They could only meet in safe houses, they never openly carried a Bible and were always careful to enter safe houses one at a time.
This situation continued until 1991 when the communist government was defeated and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front came to power. They ruled in a similar way to the communists, under the authority of Meles Zinawe. However, the new government did not discourage the spiritual activities of the assemblies and we became aware that there was a desire among evangelists to branch out into new territories west of Addis Ababa.
When I arrived back in Ethiopia in 1993 on a three-month tourist visa, assemblies had grown to six in and around Addis, in Batie to the northeast and in Willincomy and Ginchi to the west. By this time there were 12 evangelists with a burden to reach out to new villages. Soon there were many assemblies in the Oromo area west of Addis.
During this time, the government decided to build the largest dam in Africa on the Blue Nile, which has its source in north Ethiopia. There was increasing opposition from both Egypt and Sudan over concerns that the dam would reduce the water flowing into their part of the Nile. Finances for the project were controlled by army generals and sadly money was siphoned off, thus delaying the progress of the dam by a number of years.
After Meles Zinawe died in 2012, opposition to the government increased, especially from the biggest group in Ethiopia, the Oromo tribe. Problems came to a head between 2015 and 2017 and the prime minister from the southern tribes resigned. That left the position vacant for the next three weeks. There was much negotiation until Dr Abiy Ahmed was chosen with a large majority to rule the country.
there were 12 evangelists with a burden to reach out to new villages
Not long after Dr Abiy was appointed, he decided to negotiate with the Eritrean government and try to produce a peace plan as there had been antagonism between people in the Tigray Province in Ethiopia and Eritrea. For his work, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr Abiy comes from a mixed family, his father being a Muslim and his mother a born-again believer. In his first TV address, Dr Abiy made it very clear that he was following in his mother’s footsteps. Elections were scheduled to take place in 2020 but the board suggested to parliament that they should be delayed for a year due to Covid-19. However, Tigray Province decided to go ahead with their own elections. Shortly afterwards they invaded government army camps, killing soldiers and removing many of the weapons.
Dr Abiy felt that Tigray Province had crossed a red line so, after taking complete control, he stationed soldiers in these areas and offered a peace treaty with the Tigre people, which was rejected. They decided to take the law into their own hands and also moved into the adjacent provinces of Amhara and Afar. Sadly, there have been some serious attacks on civilians. The army of the TPLF began to move south with the aim of reaching the capital. They made advances and gained ground up to Showa Robit, 160 miles from Addis, but were soundly defeated when they reached Debre Sina. The now depleted TPLF army had to retreat to Tigray Province. All the towns that had been conquered were retaken by the government army.
Growth Under Pressure
The civil war only affected Kemisay and Batie assemblies in the north of the country. The work of God continues and new churches are being planted regularly with 16 new assemblies formed in the past year.
I was able to visit Kemisay and Batie early on in my most recent visit in 2022. The believers were under the terrorists’ control for one month. During that time they had neither electricity nor water and the prices of basic commodities made them out of the question for most. There was quite a bit of damage in the area, including to two hospitals. Thankfully, neither of the meeting halls were affected nor were the believers coarsely treated. However, one evangelist was imprisoned for a short time in a case of mistaken identity.
Training & Development
The work of the training centre in Chobi is most encouraging. Evangelists and elders can come for in-depth study of the Scriptures. There were some problems locally and the main road was closed to traffic in one area but such was the desire to learn more of the Scriptures, some of the evangelists walked 40km so that they would not miss the studies. This year 83 attended and 15 students received a diploma after having attended for the four years.
Over 50 elders and evangelists came from about 300km south of Addis Ababa for some Bible teaching. It was easier for them to come to the main office where we were able to provide food and beds for them. This work is growing and after only about six years, there are now 12 assemblies. Just over two years ago, a man who had previously been an imam trusted the Saviour and about six months later his wife also became a believer. They had to leave their village and, as a result, they lost everything but they both have real peace in their hearts. They are now witnessing in another village and are praying that a testimony will soon be established there. The week before I left, this believer, had the joy of seeing two Muslims trusting the Saviour. This man is in an assembly of 30, all of whom came to faith in Jesus from a Muslim background.
I have visited a good number of assemblies that have begun in the last year or two. I joined the believers at a place called Waliso, for a Sunday. They had been paying quite a lot for rented premises, so they decided to build their own hall. When I was there, they were halfway through and hoped to finish as soon as possible.
I also visited a place called Hirna, which is in a staunchly Islamic area. A former Muslim who is now an evangelist, Ahmed Said, commenced the work there. Already there are 30 believers in fellowship with six more who are being taught the meaning of baptism. Twenty-six years ago, there was a very small group in Ginchi who were subjected to a lot of opposition. Recently, I spoke at this assembly where around 500 now attend. Two young people trusted the Saviour that day and two more churches have been planted in the area.
The gospel work is also developing in west Keffa, an area that was controlled by 400 witch doctors. Although it is only six years since the work began, there are now three flourishing assemblies.
An Enduring Witness
Ethiopia was one of the first countries to receive the gospel and over the centuries the church has survived opposition and endured. Give thanks that God is at work and Christians are committed to reaching others for Christ – despite the risks, the Church is growing.
- that the believers in the 267 assemblies will grow in grace and in their understanding of Scripture
- for Dr Abiy and that he will be given wisdom in governing this strategically important country in east Africa
- for continuing development in areas where the gospel is yet to be proclaimed.