May 1, 2007

Ethiopia - A Wrap

Here is a write-up I did for folks who were relatively unfamiliar with what Anthony is doing in Ethiopia...and why Scott and I went. Most of it is probably familiar to all of you...but maybe it will be something you can print up and use to remind yourself to pray over the next two years (and more!

Over the last two weeks of April, a fellow pastor (Scott Duley) and I traveled to Ethiopia to assist missionary Anthony Mathenia in the training of 80 church-planting pastor trainees. In this country whose landmass is approximately twice that of Texas, there are over 80 million people in 80-plus different tribes. Official statistics show that roughly half the population is Ethiopian Orthodox and about a third Muslim. Actual on-the-ground estimates say that the number of Muslims is closer to 40% and growing.

In the midst of this largely unbelieving populous sits the evangelical community. The believers we worked among are strong in many respects. There seems to be an absolute certainty about the exclusive claims of Jesus. The singing in our worship times was always done with great enthusiasm. There was a servant spirit evident everywhere. The men were eager to learn and usually on the edge of their seats to drink in the teaching of the Word. And (how encouraging!) the director of education (Alem, pictured below) for the Addis Kidan Baptist Church (the denomination with whom we worked) said to us on the second day: “You are reformed theologians! I like reformed theology!”

Amid these encouraging signs, there are definite areas for concern and prayer among the evangelicals in Ethiopia. The residue of several false ideologies still clings to a significant number of believers. The Orthodox background of many of the believers has left behind (in only a few of the men, it seemed) a false dichotomy between Old and New Testaments…almost as though God changed His personality between the two. The surrounding pagan culture has also left behind a whole host of tangled knots in the area of sexual ethics—particularly in the more rural communities. Western culture has bred an unhealthy emphasis on theological education in English—and this in a country where only 36% of the people are literate in their own language (Amharic)! In addition, there is a great need to strengthen many of the pastors in the areas of ecclesiology, robust hymnody, expositional preaching, and the doctrine of sin.

All these facts point to one great need—sound, careful, reformed theological training in the Amharic tongue. Enter Anthony Mathenia. Anthony has been traveling to Ethiopia for the last seven years. Two years ago, he and his family made the capital city, Addis Ababa, their permanent home. His pursuit? Amharic-based theological training for local pastors and trainees. This past winter, the Addis Kidan Baptist Church approached him with an offer. “We have 70-plus men who have committed, if we can provide them theological training, to plant churches, two-by-two all over unreached Ethiopia. Would you design and head up the training program?”

Would he ever! The result of that initial meeting has been Pastor’s Training Institute. PTI will consist of eight 2-week training modules over a two-year span. The trainees are housed and fed through a local church in Addis Ababa, and attend Institute classes for six hours a day, five days a week. The curriculum is arranged systematically, beginning with the doctrine of God and moving forward the way any systematic theology text-book would. Interspersed are practical seminars and sermons as well. For this first two-year round of PTI, the training will be mostly done by English speakers and translated into Amharic by able men.

Scott and I traveled from the US in April to be the inaugural teachers at PTI. Scott taught the Doctrine of God, while I taught the Sermon on the Mount (taken out of the systematic order because I also taught it as a Christian Ethics class in the English-based Baptist Bible School). The hope is that Scott’s class began the men on a sound, God-centered footing heading into the rest of the systematics courses. The Sermon on the Mount, we hope, served a dual purpose: as a solid course in Christian ethics; and as a practical example of the fruitfulness and process of expositional preaching. The men seemed to listen eagerly, intently, and with teachable hearts. Many of their questions were incredibly perceptive. The Spirit was surely at work on behalf of Christ’s church in Ethiopia.

Eventually, Anthony would like for PTI to transition completely into the Amharic language. This will require his own mastery of the language, as well as selecting and training of a group of Ethiopian men who will become the instructors in a long-term Amharic PTI. Would you pray with us about all that the Lord is so graciously doing in Ethiopia? A few requests…

  1. Successful long-term progression to an all-Amharic based PTI.
  2. The next PTI module happens the last week of May and first week of June (Jordan Thomas and Nathan Sawyer of Memphis, TN teaching).
  3. Lasting fruit through the eventual planting of up to 40 Christ-centered churches in the unreached corners of Ethiopia!
  4. Hosting logistics, travel, finances, and other nuts and bolts the Mathenia’s will be dealing with as they organize round after round of PTI.

Thank you for your interest and prayers. I may stick an audio version of all of this (and more) on the blog sometime in the next few days...

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