Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hand to God, Ps. 68. 31 NKJV
Robert Revie, Tarbolton, Scotland
Although the words of Psalm 68 verse 31 may have a prophetic application, God is blessing Ethiopia today as never before. This is all the more significant when one contemplates the position of Ethiopia in North East Africa. It has been rightly called ‘an island of Christianity in a sea of Islam’ and this has become more apparent with the increase of militant Islam in the region.
Assembly work in Ethiopia began when John and Martie Flynn arrived there in 1952, and, after a short time learning the Amharic language in Addis Ababa, they commenced a work in a town called Batie, about 400 kilometres north of the capital in a province called Wollo almost completely controlled by Islam. Conditions at that time were very primitive, but the Lord blessed the work and some souls were converted. In time, others joined them in the work, including Bert and Mary Lightbody, Monica Ramsay, Willie and Nan Milliken, John and Valerie McQuoid, Dick and Jan Hayward, Ron and Marie Cunningham, Bill and Kath Taylor, and some others who helped in a variety of ways to commence a clinic and a school. The history of the work and its present day circumstances are outlined in the following paragraphs, which have been collated into time periods, each with its own challenges and blessings. The hand of God has been evident here in a particular way, as seen in the significant growth in the assembly movement in the country.
Robert and Sheena Revie arrived in Ethiopia in 1969 and were initially involved in learning Amharic under the expert teaching of John McQuoid. They then moved to Addis Ababa with the McQuoids, who felt exercised to commence a work in the capital. Soon, a number of people started coming to the home that the McQuoids had rented, and some were converted and a small assembly was formed. After completing language study, the Revies remained in Addis when the McQuoids returned to the UK on furlough. Robert was involved in Bible studies with nurses in two hospitals and also in outreach work, until returning to the UK on furlough in June 1973.
On returning to Ethiopia in 1974 the Revies joined Ron and Maria Cunningham, who had just commenced a new work in a village called Dagan about 20 kilometres from Batie. They became involved with them in medical work, and in this way sought to build bridges with the community that was almost 98% Muslim. Soon afterward, Mary Breeze joined the group and established a six grade school in Dagan and, at about the same time, Eileen Semple joined the Flynns in Batie to help in the school there.
In 1973 a serious famine affected Wollo province. Bill and Kath Taylor were involved extensively in helping those who had been placed in camps set up in different parts of the province. At about the same time, there was a coup when Emperor Haile Selasse, who had been in power since 1930, was deposed. This introduced a reign of terror from a new communist government and they made missionary work almost impossible until, in 1978, all the missionaries had to leave the country.
At that time there were three small struggling assemblies in Addis, Batie, and Dagan with about 100 believers in total. Shortly after the missionaries left Ethiopia all the halls were taken over and the believers went underground, meeting in secret in one of the believer’s homes. They were only able to meet in groups of five as any more would have been classed as an unlawful assembly.
During this time there was very little contact with the believers but it became clear later that some of them had been badly treated, with some being imprisoned. However, the communist regime was short-lived and, as a result of the fall of communism in Russia in 1989, there was a domino effect in other countries and the Ethiopian communist government was overthrown in 1991.
Robert and Sheena returned to Ethiopia in 1993 to find that the small assembly in Addis Ababa of around thirty believers which they left in 1978 had grown to ten times its size, and they had to have two services on the Lord’s day in their relatively small hall, which was one of the first church buildings to be returned to the assembly in the capital. This was followed by the return of the Batie hall a year later, although it was in a very poor state of repair. Sadly, the assembly at Dagan had ceased to function and the hall was never returned.
The Revies have visited Ethopia for three months every year during the last twenty years, mainly to give Bible teaching to the first generation church. During this period they have seen an encouraging development in the Lord’s work there. In 1993 there were eight assemblies and six evangelists, all locally supported. This process has been maintained over the past twenty years, and there are now over 200 assemblies and over 200 evangelists who are supported by their commending assemblies. Many of them are ‘tent evangelists’, as Paul was, supplementing their income through work on small plots of land, particularly in the countryside. We thank God for the many who have come to Christ and for the many assemblies that have been planted during this time.
Around 1996, God raised up among the assemblies an evangelist with a great burden for work among children. At this time, unlike the earlier years, the assemblies had little in the way of Sunday Schools. Digafe spoke to his home assembly in Akaki and said he would like to engage solely in work among children. Although this was new to them, they finally agreed to his request. Soon there were Sunday Schools in all the assemblies in the capital and in the countryside.
One Saturday morning Digafe decided to bring all the children from the various Sunday Schools in the capital together into one large hall, and around 500 attended. Digafe was thrilled at this! He thought how wonderful it would be if they could have the children together for a longer period.
This formulated in the minds of a few brethren the idea of having a campsite. The best site would be in a place called Ginchi, about 100 km west of Addis. The brethren had received a large piece of land to build a kindergarten, but because of limited funds had been unable to do so, and this ground proved to be ideal for a campsite. Soon the building work commenced and when it was completed they were able to have 250 children at the camp for a week, followed by a week for teenagers.
The camp work continued until about four years ago. By this time the Sunday Schools had grown so much that the brethren felt that it would be better to hold Daily Vacational Bible Studies (DVBS) for a week in each assembly, and this has continued annually since then. This was beneficial as the children from the Addis area speak Amharic whereas in the countryside the children speak Oromiffa. It meant that both DVBS lessons could be undertaken in their respective areas at the same time. As a result of this, very many children have been taught the scriptures in their own areas.
In one sense the communists did God’s work a favour. Believers, particularly teachers, were transferred to new areas, and they took with them the message of the gospel. Soon they were working in areas that the missionaries had never been to, so that the work to the west of Addis began to develop and many assemblies were planted in this new area.
Many of the evangelists had been converted from animism1 and spirit worship. They had little or no knowledge of the Bible, and some of the more mature brethren in Addis, who had a reasonable knowledge of the scriptures, wanted to help in this matter. Because the work had developed so quickly in the countryside, the brethren decided to hold a small Bible school in a place called Chobi.
They decided on six weeks of intensive teaching each year, and when an evangelist had completed the course over three years, they would be given a certificate to show they had completed the course. In this programme during this year alone they were given an overview of Hebrews, Jeremiah, the Minor prophets, Romans chapters 1 to 3, and the First Epistle of John.
One of the teaching brethren from Addis would go to Chobi for a week and then be replaced by another Bible teacher. The evangelists who attend the course bring their own food and are supported by their commending assemblies. This little self-supporting Bible school has worked very effectively for a good number of years. There is now accommodation for about thirty-five evangelists at Chobi.
Over the years, there has been a need for the translation of suitable books for Ethiopia, and initially three concordances were translated. The first concordance in Amharic was similar to a Cruden’s concordance, and some time later a more detailed one was added. There was also a concordance translated into Oromiffa. This was followed by A. J. Clarke’s book New Testament Church Principles, John Campbell’s book Future Events, John McQuoid’s book Knowing and Doing, and many other smaller booklets. All of these have been translated into both Amharic and Oromiffa. The brethren are now in the process of translating the five books which give an overview of the New Testament, compiled by various authors and printed by Precious Seed.
The work in Batie has always been difficult as this is a predominately Muslim area. Over the years, some have been converted, but have had to move to other towns to find work. For some time, the brethren have been working with a support group called Compassion, which has decided to support the believers in Batie. As a result, a kindergarten was commenced and, at the moment, 250 children are being helped in various ways, in addition to being taught the Bible. This has brought quite a change in the community, and it is felt that barriers are being broken down. The believers are praying that the end result will produce blessing and salvation.
Many young people have trusted Christ in their local villages, and, when they reach university age, many have to leave home. To help support them, assemblies have been formed in Ambo which is relatively near where they live. However, a good number have been given places in Jimma and Awassa universities which are about 600 kilometres from their homes. The work in these areas is being developed and already new places are opening up for the spread of the gospel south of the capital.
As all this work is developing the believers are very conscious that things can change very quickly in Africa. On the borders of Ethiopia there are major worries from South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and parts of Eastern Kenya. Please pray that the current liberty in Ethiopia for the spread of the gospel will be maintained, and that many will still ‘quickly stretch out their hands to God’.
A contemplation of the last twenty years of the work in Ethiopia presents some interesting lessons:
- The missionary is not indispensable and, as Paul discovered when he was taken out of the way, the work of God continues to grow, energized and driven by local believers.
- Local evangelists are often more effective in reaching their own people with the gospel, and in Ethiopia they have taken the great commission seriously and have reached into many new areas which had not previously heard the gospel.
- A structured approach to Bible teaching and the establishment of the Bible school has been very effective in ensuring that local evangelists are well grounded in the fundamentals of the faith.
- Left to themselves, and in total dependence on the Lord, local believers have taken to the work with a spirit of maturity and real enthusiasm.
1 Animism: ‘the attribution of a living soul to inanimate objects and to natural phenomena’, Cassell Concise Dictionary, pg. 53.