Empty Hands Receiving the Word of God in Ethiopia
“Dear Friend, We can never place too much emphasis on the Word of God, it is as David says in Psalm 119 v. 105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path”. Many people in our world live in darkness due to a lack of Scripture. In this report you will see the hunger from people who are religious but who have lacked the Word of God in their own language.
On the 11th of March Samuel Adams and Gary Bolton travelled to Ethiopia. The following is their report. The first few days were spent at an “Every Home for Christ” Conference in Addis Ababa where they met the leaders of the organisation from 20 African nations. During the Conference we had the opportunity of discussing literature needs in quite a number of these countries. We also received numerous requests for supplies of literature. Ananie from Rwanda brought with him the entire set of children’s Bible lessons translated into the Kinyarwanda language with a request for 4,000 sets of children’s Bible lessons.
At the same time we were delighted to renew fellowship with Mr Gerald Gotzen who has spent many years working in Ethiopia and is highly respected among many of the Christian leaders of Ethiopia. He also wanted to introduce us to many leaders of churches and denominations who are also looking for large supplies of evangelistic literature.
Gerald also initiated a couple of years ago the printing of a Gospel in the Somali language. He also has many contacts with those who are working among the Somali people. We were greatly encouraged and challenged as we met one of these Somali pastors and to see his zeal to witness to his fellow people but also knowing that, as he travels in and out of Somalia, at any time he might lose his life as he witnesses for the Lord. More cannot be written due to security reasons.
On Friday morning we brought in all the organisations with whom we have been working and we also brought together church leaders to inform them of the availability of literature which we will be printing. We therefore allowed Child Evangelism Fellowship, Bible Educational Services and Emmaus Bible correspondence courses friends to share a little about their ministry and what we are planning to print for them. This was very informative to the church leaders and much excitement was generated as they realized that literature for young people is becoming available and that the Emmaus courses are already available in Addis Ababa.
On Friday afternoon we flew to the city of Mekelle to spend the weekend with Gabe with whom we have been working and supplying Gospels of John in the Tigrinya language. The province of Tigray has a population of about 5 million of whom 95% belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This Church has a very powerful sway over the people and many attend services every single day. The Church dates back to the 4th century and have some Jewish practices. Each church has a holy of holies with a replica of the Ark of the Covenant. Salvation is based through work, on attending services, giving to the Church and the poor, fasting at certain times of the year and living a good moral life.
Gabe has been involved for the past 10 years in Bible translation as he understands the vital importance of people having the Word of God in their own language. Over one year ago the New Testament was finally printed for the first time in the Tigray language and, at that time, he requested us to print a container load of Gospels of John in the Tigray language. These Gospels are now being distributed carefully and methodically all across the State of Tigray. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church do place a great emphasis on reading the Word of God in their services. However, this has always been done in the Geez language which is not understood by the people – only by the clergy.
Gabe has been viewed very favourably and with respect by the leadership of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Tigray State with the result that the New Testament has been widely accepted in these churches. At present he is making arrangements for one New Testament and 50 Gospels of John to be given to everyone of the 5000 churches in Tigray State and we do pray that these Scriptures will be read during their services.
Throughout Ethiopia there has been a tremendous number of Ethiopian Orthodox people applying the word of God in their lives. This resulted in submitting their lives to the Lordship of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In some parts this has resulted in new denominations springing up and in other places it is talked of as a renewal movement. Overall this has caused a certain amount of tension between those who seek to follow the traditional route and those who are placing an emphasis on the Word of God.
On our first Saturday morning we visited a service that started at 5 a.m. and lasted until 8 a.m. Around 6,000 people were attending this service. It was amazing to watch these people as they followed through their traditional worship. Nine boxes, approximately 5,000 Gospels, had been brought to the front of the service where the leaders announced that the Gospels were available and would be distributed to the people. A group of Orthodox Bible College Students proceeded to open the boxes and started the distribution. Very quickly the whole crowd started to surge forward in order to get a Gospel with the result that the people at the front were pushed forward. A dangerous situation was developing so they immediately stopped distribution in order to control the crowd. The boxes were then taken to different points in the whole area and, once again, the people then flocked around the different boxes. A lot of pushing, shoving, reaching, begging and shouting commenced as the people pleaded for a Gospel of John! Frequently the men that were distributing the Gospels told the people to sit down so that they could give them out in an orderly fashion. Often the older ladies would all sit down and plead for a Gospel, while the men and young people pushed in over the top of them – all trying to plead their case to get a Gospel! Such scenes were being repeated all over the area. After the whole 5,000 Gospels had been distributed there were still people pleading with us for a Gospel even though there was none left.
That afternoon we were taken to a Sunday school meeting where all of the boys and girls had been given a Gospel of John a few weeks previously. Many of the children have already taken their Gospel and put an extra cover onto the Gospel in order to strengthen it. This was the only literature that the children had for their Sunday school and they had commenced to study one chapter of the Gospel of John each week. As per the suggestion of Gabe and his colleague, the leaders each week gave the young people open ended questions such as “What do you understand from this chapter?” And how can you apply the truth in your life? They also encouraged the boys and girls to memorize one verse every week from each chapter. Clearly the Gospels of John were appreciated by the young people and we pray that, as they study the Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit will illuminate the light of the Gospel. We were told that this idea of giving the Gospels of John to the boys and girls was being tried in this particular church, but already it was proving very successful. So they plan to give out the Gospels of John with questions to study on each chapter to many other Sunday schools conducted by the Orthodox Church. As there is no other material available for the Sunday schools the leaders are more than happy to receive these Gospels.
On Sunday morning we attended two more churches where the leaders had given permission for Gospels of John to be distributed. The first service had several thousand people attending, but this time they got everyone to sit down on the ground. Then they announced that the Gospels of John would be given out and, instead of the people moving forward to get a Gospel of John, they had young men who went up and down the rows of people giving each one a Gospel.
After these services it was amazing to watch both young people and older people standing or sitting reading the Gospel of John knowing that this is the first time that these people have read the Word of God in their own language. This, for us, was truly staggering and filled us with awe!
On Sunday afternoon we decided to visit one of the rock churches. These are extremely old structures and basically consist of an entire church that has been hewn out of the rock. Inside there are the same normal pillars that you would see within a church, with the high ceilings and to realize that this has not been built, but rather hewn out of solid rock is truly amazing! We had driven out of the city and had driven as near to one of these churches as possible. We then took some bundles of Gospels of John to leave at the church, but when we arrived we discovered that there was a funeral service being conducted at the church. We simply stood at the side of the road in the shade of the trees and waited for the service to finish.
The moment the service finished the people started to walk down the road and, as soon as they saw there was Gospels of John, they asked for copies. It appeared that in one minute there were two or three people receiving Gospels, followed a minute later by a dozen people all asking for a Gospel – and, within another few minutes, we had a crowd of hundreds pushing and shoving in order to get a Gospel! The crowd simply pushed us right back off the road and into a pile of bushes! Because so many hands gripped a bundle of Gospels, it was totally impossible therefore to distribute the Gospels, but it was also impossible to move! Eventually the bundle of Gospels was taken like a rugby ball and passed out to one of the young men that was with us. He ran through the bushes and then back out onto the road where the people were and immediately started to distribute the Gospels. Two men then started to fight over about 10 Gospels and eventually one of them ran off with the small bundle of Gospels! As he looked around, he suddenly realized that the crowd was following him so he simply turned and threw the Gospels into the air with the result that the Gospels were quickly distributed and grabbed by the people! This immediately finished our distribution. As we had some more Gospels still in the car these were given later to a priest who was in charge of 3 churches in the town to distribute at a later date.
That evening we attended a young people’s meeting where, once again, Gospels of John were distributed to the young people so that they could commence studying the Gospel chapter by chapter. As we watched all these young people we could not help but notice the great respect that they have for the Church. Young people sang for us but once again we could see no real joy and peace. We pray that as they read the Word of God that their lives are impacted by the truth to live vibrant lives that they are longing for.
On our last evening in Mekelle a local pastor located us in our hotel. He had heard from a friend in Addis that we were around. He told us that on Saturday morning he had noticed many people in the city walking around with booklets and he wondered what had the Ethiopian Orthodox Church given to the people. He started to ask permission to see the booklet from some people, but each one refused as they were scared that he would take the booklet and keep it for himself! Eventually he managed to see a booklet and was amazed to see that it was the Gospel of John! He said he simply wanted to come and thank us on behalf of the people for these Gospels as he knows that the Lord will bless His own Word.
Gabe asked us to pass on a message on behalf of the beneficiaries that longed for the Truth in their own language “we say a heart felt thanks for your prayers and support. May the Lord bless you as you continue to be a blessing”.
We would like to thank Gabe for the tremendous work which he is doing and for taking time to show us around. As we listened to his testimony, we realized that this man has sacrificed a lot in many ways in order to be able to bring the Word of God in the Tigray language to his own people. He has understood the importance of Scripture knowing that the Lord can take up His word and use it in a mighty way. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” – this is exactly what these people are receiving and we pray that the light of the Word of God will direct their paths to eternal life.
Please continue to pray for all aspects of the ministry, for the staff, for the finance, for shipments as they travel, for those who receive and distribute the literature. Please pray that the Lord will continue to richly bless His word as precious souls receive it.
Yours for a Great Revival,
Samuel Adams Clive Allen