The Gospel Coalition

 

Stories

Seeing a Sovereign God in Ethiopia

By By Patti Richter and Bill Walsh



Johannes Mohammed liked his new seminary teacher. But having to study passages from Romans on the subject of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will discouraged him. It didn’t seem like good theology—certainly not like the prosperity messages he’d been preaching.

 

The same teacher gave Mohammed two John Piper books to read. He hated the first one, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. But he kept reading, drawn by the in-his-face scriptures. The second book, Desiring God, put everything into perspective for the young pastor, who says: “I thought I needed things so that I would enjoy God. I had not seen the intrinsic beauty of God.”

 

Johannes Mohammed had come to Christ as a young teen and entered the ministry after high school. He became a prominent figure in prosperity-doctrine circles. His “word of faith” preaching grew to include many congregations. He shared popular messages centered on financial supply and “positive confessions” of health. Most families in Ethiopia have lost a member to HIV/AIDS. Mohammed lost many childhood friends to the epidemic. But when several people in the young pastor’s congregation died of HIV-related deaths--including his sister—he became unsettled. “I needed theology school,” Mohammed says, “to learn how to think.” Though warned that seminary “dries you,” he enrolled at Evangelical Theological College (ETC), in the capital city of Addis Ababa.

 

Crossing Paths

 

In the past few decades the numbers of evangelical Christians in Ethiopia have increased nearly tenfold.But churches there bear little resemblance to their American counterparts. Even traditional sounding churches have been infiltrated by prosperity doctrine. Ethiopia used to be the bread basket of Africa. But Marxist rule broke down cooperative efforts and, along with drought, destroyed the country’s ability to be self-sustaining. Great poverty continues, along with HIV/AIDS, which has resulted in over one million orphans. Many become engaged in this country through adoptions. “While waiting to adopt in Ethiopia, families become heartbroken,” says Mark Struck of Desiring God. “They see the huge need of street people. Afterward, they want to help the country financially and spiritually.”

 

One of those families, Jason and Cara Meyer and their two daughters, went to Ethiopia in 2010 to expedite an adoption. Meyer gave up his year of seminary teaching in Louisiana to stay in Ethiopia for as long as it would take. Aftersix pain-filled months, the family adopted two young boys. “We thought to take them off the broken road,” Meyer says. “But we came to realize that to be good parents, we had to experience that broken road.” 

 

During those months of waiting Meyer was directed to teach at ETC. A recent graduate sat in on his classes—Johannes Mohammed. The young pastor invited Meyer to guest-preach at his church. Meyer’s teaching at Bible Army Church focused on Christ’s supremacy: “In Him we are complete, lacking nothing” as opposed to “I have Christ, but . . .” The congregation had already begun turning toward sound theology; they embraced his message. But someone told him: “Two years ago you would have been thrown out.”

 

Full circle

 

Jason Meyer is now Associate Pastor for Vision and Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. But he’s maintained a relationship with both ETC and Mohammed’s church in Ethiopia. He is also a new member of the Advisory Committee for TGC International Outreach. Bill Walsh says, “I’m grateful for Jason’s enthusiastic support of our mission.”

 

The Meyer family recently hosted Frew Tamrat, Principal of ETC. They also set up meetings between Tamrat and International Outreach staff to discuss the first translations of resources into Amharic.

 

Most students at ETC can speak English. But when it’s time to go home they have a dire need for teaching resources in Amharic, the main language of most Ethiopians. Mohammed is continuing his theological studies and also hopes to help with Amharic translation—with good reason. “Ethiopian Bible schools have 100-200 graduates each year to minister to 50 million Christians,” he says. “But we don’t have resources. Not a single book.”

 

Two books, 50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, and For Your Joy have now been translated by Frew Tamrat. Many thousands of copies will be printed, funded through partnering churches and individual families (many that have adopted Ethiopian children). Jason has already been back to the school, bringing even more books. The mission of TGC International Outreach is to engage in Theological Famine Relief for church leaders in the Global South—like Johannes Mohammed.

 

 

Patti Richter is a freelance Christian journalist—a writer of news, essays, and profile stories for several publications. She and her husband, Jim, live near Dallas, Texas.