A letter from Carolyn Weber in Ethiopia
Grace and peace to you in the mighty name of our Savior Jesus Christ!
During Advent and throughout the year, the Benedictus voiced by John the Baptist’s father Zechariah in Luke 1:76-79 reminds us to both BE PREPARED to meet the Lord at any moment and also PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD, to open the way for Jesus to be known throughout the world. Twice weekly we read this at the Mekane Yesus Seminary English chapel service.
Recently my Spiritual Formation class viewed a video about this very topic and then discussed the presence of the Holy Spirit in Ethiopia’s Protestant church today. Let me tell you the story of how this came to be. In 2010 for our first Thanksgiving in Ethiopia, a mission delegation from Shenandoah Presbytery in Virginia brought a frozen turkey in their baggage for us to savor together at mission co-workers Rich and Marilyn Hansen’s home. While we dined Interim Executive Presbyter Randy Webb told us about the historic Gore revival of 1970. Since hearing that story, a desire of my heart has been to visit Gore in southwest Ethiopia. Then one year ago while sharing my Ethiopian mission with several Shenandoah Presbytery churches during Interpretation Assignment in the U.S., Dr. Bill Burslem gave me a video of Rev. Mershaa telling about that revival.
In 1970 Mershaa was a 12th grade student who lived at the Gore Missionary Hostel. Former Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus President Rev. Itefa, who was an evangelist at that time in the Mettu church, had been teaching the students from the book of Acts. During a Friday evening social gathering of students and missionaries, one of the students, a young man, was amazed when he heard about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at that first Pentecost, so he asked the missionary, “Why has this not happened today?” The missionary replied, “If you have faith, that would happen today as it did before.” Mershaa continues:
“After the social gathering ended, the young man who was touched by the missionary’s answer, along with Evangelist Itefa and one girl, went to the Gore chapel to pray.”
Meanwhile Mershaa was in his dorm room preparing to sleep when he saw a light in the chapel. Something (“felt in my heart”) drew him and the student in the next bed to go to the chapel to pray. They all knelt down and prayed. After a little while,
“something tremendous happened. The Holy Spirit poured down and we felt the power of the Spirit in us. The young man began shouting and crying and speaking in tongues and saying, ‘Jesus is coming soon. Repent. Jesus is coming soon. Repent.’ Then the missionary and all the students came and knelt down and were praying until midnight. Then they took out the young man who was still crying and shouting to his dorm and everyone knelt down in front of his dorm and kept praying.”
Finally they all went back to their rooms. The next day there was a 4 p.m. worship service.
“Suddenly after the service began, again the Holy Spirit fell down and filled the room. Everybody was shouting and crying. Then the missionary went and stood in the front and spoke to the people who came from the town to see what was happening to those students. The missionary said, ‘Nothing has happened to those students. It’s like Acts 2, the Holy Spirit fell down and everybody is filled with the Holy Spirit.’
“The following day was Sunday and Rev. Itefa came from Mettu to give the message. Then I [Rev. Mershaa] and the students who were filled with the Holy Spirit yesterday went out. Nobody told us how to witness. Nobody told me how to tell people about Jesus. We went to the stream where the Orthodox priest baptizes people and exorcises the evil spirit. There were many people waiting for the holy water. But we said to the priest, ‘Stop! Jesus’ name will cast out the evil spirit.’ Then we began preaching the gospel to the people and many people were converted that day… That was the beginning of the revival: to go out and preach and give testimony to the people to come to Christ. And beginning from that day we went to the near villages and the preaching points, to the bar, to the Sunday afternoon social gathering in the town. We preached the gospel. Nobody opposed us because the power of God forced us to speak about Christ… The Gore church had only 45 members because the hearts of the people were hard, like the stone in Gore, and the missionaries were preparing to close down the station, but when revival came, they didn’t.”
A few years ago when this video was made, there were over 400,000 members in that area as a result of the revival. Today its fruits have grown into two large synods!
Psalm 37:4 instructs us, “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This October 2013 God granted the desire of my heart to stand in the very place where revival broke out in 1970, when the Shenandoah Presbytery’s Opequon Church team invited me to travel to Illubabor Bethel Synod with them and visit Gore.
As my students reported, charismatic expression continues across the Ethiopian Protestant church in many ways. Where the Spirit is quenched, growth and healings slow. Currently church leaders are skeptical of false prophets coming in and misleading their flocks to obtain financial gain. It challenges theological educators when congregations may prefer a fiery message to a biblically sound well-exegeted sermon.
May the Holy Spirit empower us all to step out courageously and spread the Good News. Thank you for your companionship. I invite your continued prayers, encouragement, and financial gifts, which make my teaching ministry possible here in Ethiopia. Please pray for Mekane Yesus Seminary and pray for peace in this region, which continues to experience conflict. May God grant you the desires of your heart as you take delight in the Lord!
Rev. Dr. Carolyn Weber
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