In the year 2050 2 Billion people will live in Africa. That is an estimated 22% of the world population and 80% more people than live on the continent today. Now consider that at the same time half of the world’s youth will call Africa home.
The 2010 population of Ethiopia was 85 Million and is estimated to more than double to 190 Million by the year 2050.
As Christians we have a role to play in the future of the church in Africa. We must step into that opportunity. At “Harvest in Ethiopia,” we are going to begin this work in one of the most vulnerable places – the rapidly growing city of Mekelle in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.
First, let’s begin with some history of the religious climate in this region. In Tigray, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the predominate church (96% of the population).
The origin of the Ethiopian Orthodox church is a mystery that was influenced by two primary traditions – Hebrew and Eastern Christianity. Ethiopians date their religion back to the 4th Century AD. Hebrew was introduced as a result of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. Eastern Christianity was introduced by Bishop Frumentius who first administered sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism in the country. Nine Syrian Monks are generally credited for most of the translations of the bible and other church literature from Hebrew into Ge’ez, an old Ethiopian language.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the pre-colonial Christian churches in sub-Saharan Africa and has a membership of 40-45 Million people. The Ethiopian Orthodox place a heavy emphasis on Old Testament teachings. The services of the church are in the Ge’ez language (this would be the equivalent of American Christians attending services in Latin). They believe in God, the angels and saints. When an Ethiopian Orthodox prays, they do so to angels and saints as well as to God. The Orthodox Church is steeped in tradition, rituals, icons, rules and a different version of salvation compared to that of Evangelical Christians.
While the Ethiopian Orthodox church remains rooted in their century old practices, the Muslim population is growing rapidly (4% of the population). While the Orthodox Church holds the numerical edge, the Muslim movement is gaining momentum because of its geographical location. The Muslims want to continue to isolate Israel and, because of Ethiopia’s position in relation to the Red Sea, dominating this region is high on the priority list for Muslims.
Ethiopia has had a long relationship with Islam. Some of the earliest disciples of the prophet Mohammed found refuge in the Tigray Region in the town of Axum. One of the refugees was set to marry Mohammed and was sent a golden dowry by Armah, the King of Axum. Mohammed later prayed and instructed his followers to leave the Ethiopians (Abyssinians) in peace exempting them from a holy war. Many words in the classical language of Ethiopia, Ge’ez, are found in the Quran. One of the principle Islamic cities is in Ethiopia. It is the famous city of Harar known for its mosques, Muslim shrines and tombs of several holy Muslim leaders of the past.
Muslims have traditionally occupied the eastern, southern and western parts of the country. Much of this can be attributed to the neighboring countries: Somalia (east) is 99% Muslim (9.2 Million people)
Sudan and South Sudan are (west) are 71% Muslim (30.8 Million people)
Eritrea (north) is 37% Muslim (1.9 Million people) and less than 1% Protestant
Kenya (south) is 7% Muslim (2.8 Million people)
Ethiopia is 34% Muslim (28.7 Million people)
In 2012, hundreds of thousands of Somalian refugees fled to Southern Ethiopia to escape famine and violence in their country’s civil war between Al Qaida ally Al Shabab and the Somalian government.
In early 2014, riots in South Sudan have displaced over half a million people into Uganda and Ethiopia. Heavy violence in this new country has pushed refugees into Western Ethiopia’s Gambella region.
In 2009, there was one Mosque in Mekelle. Today there are ten. In each of the larger towns in Ethiopia there is a new Mosque under construction. Most of the towns, even towns with 50,000 to 100,000 people have no Evangelical church.
There are no Evangelical Bible schools in the northern region of Ethiopia. In the state of Tigray alone, there are over 5 Million people with no schools to teach and train leaders about Jesus Christ. There is a desperate need to train church planters and strengthen new Christians, thus the need for a Bible Training Center in Mekelle.
The time is now.
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38
(1) Religious Change and Tension in Ethiopia – Lewis, Martin W. Geocurrents. (2013, June 21).
(2) As thoughtful African Christians fight the fatalistic worldviews that underlie poverty, they also face aggressive Islam – Olasky, Marvin. Africa’s Hinge. (2014, Feb.8). World, The Battle for Africa
(3) 2010 Pew Report