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A letter from Rich Hansen in Ethiopia

September 2012

Persecution, Research Institutes and Gospel Singers

Our fall semester at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST) is under way. Since I started teaching theology at EGST in the fall, 2010, I have made it a priority to invite students to meet with me personally for tea at the café across the street from the school. It's one aspect of my belief that ministry is centered in relationships. I meet with students for about 45 minutes either before or after each class session.  Many tell me it is the first time in their lives a professor ever initiated a personal meeting with them.  In my three classes this semester I have 75 students I hope to meet with personally...a lot of meetings!

Here are five stories from my first three weeks:

Alelign—a pastor in our M.A. in Leadership and Management program who used to be a local pastor.  He told me about the persecution he endured.  First, a bomb was thrown on his church building roof during a worship service.  Fortunately the blast went upwards, not downwards, so few were hurt.  Next, gangs broke all the church windows.  Finally, during the night the church building was burned down to the ground.  I asked about the church compound guard and he matter-of-factly replied, “Oh, he ran away.  If he tried to stop them, they would have killed him.” After the church was rebuilt, he was called to his denomination’s headquarters in Addis.  He now leads evangelism programs for his denomination and teaches at their Bible College. Such persecution of evangelicals is rare but it does happen.  Some think it is increasing.  Despite it—or perhaps because of it—his zeal to prepare new church leaders and plant new churches is undiminished.

Naod—a bright student who is partnering with a friend he met at Addis Ababa University to create a research institute.  He is currently seeking funding and government licenses (thus it is more than a “dream”). He told me about many arenas of their interest, including public health, but the one that caught my attention was church growth.  He readily acknowledged that although the church is growing fast here, it is doing so haphazardly with little or no planning and almost no thought to discipleship of new converts.  In a culture that rarely plans ahead or thinks holistically, I was amazed at the breadth of the vision of this research institute. If he succeeds, he will multiply his impact exponentially for the future.

Leul—a partner in his family business selling souvenirs at the airport.  Through the business he helps women with AIDS sell the homemade jewelry they create to become economically independent.  While AIDS is slowly emerging from the “curse of God” stigma it previously held in popular imagination, AIDS victims are still often segregated and shunned.  He joined our M.A. in HIV/AIDS program to address these needs and after graduation wants to build his own orphanage to care for AIDS orphans.

Rich with Sofanit and Yidnekachew.

Sofanit—a student who was on track to get a Ph.D. in biochemistry from a British university until she took some time off to begin studying theology at EGST last spring.  Now God has redirected her to give up a potentially lucrative career and become a theology professor.  She sees that most Ethiopian Christians—Orthodox and evangelical alike—are extremely dualistic or compartmentalized in their thinking, readily using all the benefits that science and technology offer but anti-reason or anti-science in their worldview.  Ethiopia desperately needs intellectual leaders like Sofanit who can bridge this gap for the next generation.  I am on the committee working to recruit the first female faculty candidates to be sent abroad to get Ph.D.s in theology, then return to teach at EGST—11 young women have applied, including Sofanit.

Yidnekachew—a well-known gospel singer who has already put out one CD of his original songs and is in high demand as a worship leader.  He led the worship at our opening convocation last month and was introduced as someone “famous” now studying at EGST. As he shared his vision to create more theologically grounded worship styles that will impact his generation, I was especially impressed with his soft-spoken humility and thoughtfulness.  With the average age of all 18 million Ethiopian Protestants somewhere in the 20s, singers like Yidnekachew are very powerful shapers of their theology. He has come to EGST to get the theological training he needs to be intentionally biblical in the songs he will write.

As you ponder the visions and potential of these five students, let me offer a statistic I discovered this summer. Currently Ethiopia is 10th in the list of nations in terms of their Christian population; in 2050, Ethiopia will be 3rd in the world, with a greater Christian population (Orthodox and Protestant) than all except two other nations (U.S.A. and Brazil).

As the only Christian graduate school in Ethiopia, the 30+ year future working careers of our current EGST students like the five profiled above will have an outsized impact shaping their churches and nation between now and 2050!  It is a wonderful privilege to have daily opportunities to influence and shape the theological worldviews of so many amazing leaders, not only for Ethiopia, but indeed for the future of worldwide Christianity. 

Thank you for your support, prayer and partnership in this great adventure!

Rich (and Marilyn)

Prayer Requests:

  • Please pray for a Spirit-led educational experience for our 206 students beginning a new year at EGST.
  • We especially are grateful for prayer for discernment about extending our time here beyond our initial three-year commitment, which will be completed this coming June 2013. This is an important decision we need to make this fall.

 

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 95

Blog: Meskel Musings

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