By Peter Meier | August 15, 2018
This past June, I was privileged to take a trip to Ethiopia with some great ministry partners – Dr. David Maack (Exec Director, Lutheran Mission Society, Baltimore), Dr. John Denninger Southeastern District President), Dr. Tesfai Tesema (Pastor, Addis Kidan Church, San Francisco) and Dr. Yared Halche (Southeastern District Mission Facilitator). Our purpose was to visit some of the Evangelical Mekane Yesus churches and leaders to consult with them about mission and ministry, and to gather with pastors and evangelists for training, prayer, and encouragement.
For many years, I have heard of the phenomenal growth in the Mekane Yesus church (EECMY). They are a case study in multiplication, having grown rapidly since it was officially constituted in the late 1950s. In the past ten years, EECMY has grown from 2.3 million members to over nine million today (an increase of over 290%!)
In my own relationships with the EECMY in Diaspora (Lutheran Ethiopians in the US), I have also come to appreciate the deep spirituality and prayer life which grew out of a combination of African Christian spirituality and the days of persecution under communism in the 1970s. If there is a church that understands the power and blessing of prayer, it is the EECMY and her people.
We traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city, and from there, south to Hawassa and Dilla, where we listened, learned, and shared with church leaders. Returning to Addis, we participated in a four-day training on Missional Discipleship and Church Planting.
Originally, when I was invited to come and present, I was hesitant – what could I share with the church body that has outshined nearly every other denomination in terms of church planting? I decided to go and learn. I was not disappointed by what God taught me. Lessons from the Ethiopian church for the North American church are abundant! Here are several of the lessons I brought home with me.
Ethiopians are beautiful people in so many ways.
Besides their physical beauty, they are very friendly and helpful. Yared taught me this Sidamo phrase, Dae bushu, meaning “I will die for you” (literally, “go to dust for you”). It is the greeting used among Sidamo speakers when meeting another person. From what I could tell, it’s true. Yared’s family and friends, the EECMY pastors and leaders, and those we met everywhere we went proved this to be true. When traveling, we could stop anyone on the street and ask directions which were gladly given. From a missional perspective, this quality is one to be desired; always willing to help, to give generously from what we have, to be a neighbor to all, opening the door for spiritual conversation and action. Dae bushu!
The EECMY is the penultimate multiplying Lutheran church.
They have done this in several ways worth noting and emulating…
· they utilize the gifts of the priesthood of all believers. Lay evangelists are used to preach and plant. Elders and Lay Leaders serve as worship leaders as well as congregation leaders, leaving the pastors to do the work of pastoring (Acts 6)… How are we engaging the priesthood in ministry?
· they have multiplied rapidly through community development projects – health, agriculture, income producing projects. Through these projects, people’s lives are blessed and doors are opened for the Gospel. “Mekane Yesus” means “the Place of Jesus,” a name aptly describing what these service projects portray, and Who they intend people to meet through community development. … How are we seeking to bless and serve our communities in ways that they desire?
· they are a praying church. The political trials of the past have led them to deep prayer for their country and leaders, for the Gospel and their church, for the Lord’s intervention and help. We experienced this first-hand. One of the most moving prayers I heard was sung – I didn’t know what it was, so I asked, “What was that beautiful song?” It was The Lord’s Prayer! While I didn’t sing the Amharic words of the prayer, the music and words carried me along in my own prayers. Do we recognize and use prayer as the deep connection to God’s heart and presence in our lives and ministries?
· the people of the EECMY expect to multiply. Church planting in new places to reach new people is simply understood as the work of the Spirit through His church. There is no question, “Should we plant?” The question is “Where is the next place we will plant?” “Who shall we send?” Planting is a way of life for EECMY Christians.
The EECMY is mostly a rural denomination.
Missionaries from Europe concentrated on areas where the Orthodox Church was not present, which were mostly rural. Many of these rural areas were Muslim-dominated. God has used this rural denomination to gather His harvest home! Rural churches can multiply! Rural churches can reach their neighbors and family members well.
Ethiopian food and coffee is awesome!
Injera bread, lentils, fish and goat, eaten with your right hand (no utensils) along with the richest, freshest coffee was a feast we enjoyed every day. Coffee time is particularly a special time, and a “coffee ceremony” gives friends the opportunity to sit and enjoy each other’s company and conversation. I’ve always encouraged “Food Evangelism” as a great means to connect with neighbors and friends – introduce them to new foods as you introduce them to your good Friend, Jesus!
Intentional Discipleship is an essential part of church planting.
With the rapid growth and multiplication, many new people have been baptized. However, our Ethiopian friends readily acknowledged that they are in need of deeper and more intentional discipleship training. We see the same need here in the States. When many of us were growing up, discipleship happened naturally in our homes – family devotions and Lutheran schools were an important part of my experience. Our children also benefitted from these discipling tools. While in Ethiopia, I recovered a deep respect for the Small Catechism as the teaching tool for families that Luther intended it to be. While passing along the teachings of God’s Word, the family is the place where faith is lived and modeled in real-time. How does discipleship take place in your family? How could our churches help equip our parents for home discipleship?
There is so much more of course. Perhaps a future trip will draw out more lessons. For now, these give us plenty to work with. How can The Center help you with multiplication of disciples and groups of disciples? I’d be happy to talk about it with you!
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