by Joy Casey in Ethiopia
Reaching people groups who have never heard the Truth of Jesus and whose religion is hostile to the gospel is tough. I guess it goes without saying. Jesus said there would be persecution and suffering for His sake, although most western Christians have never experienced even a twinge of suffering for the gospel, myself included.
But today we sat amongst brothers and sisters who put themselves on the line daily for their Lord. They serve in areas where it is dangerous to declare oneself a Christ-follower. Prayer meetings are broken up and people are beaten. Churches are vandalized and in some cases completely destroyed. NewLife works with some of the most dedicated people I have ever known. I can’t share details of names or places for security reasons, but let me introduce you to three villages within an unreached tribal area.
I enjoyed getting to the first village. Our trusty 4WD took us over hill and dale for about 1 ½ hours and then we had to walk for another half-hour to a village tucked away in a beautiful hillside. There is no water, no electricity and no school. Two missionaries work in this village, and church for the 50 adult converts (150 including kids!) is held outdoors under a shade tree in front of one missionary’s house. A nearby church (an hour walk away) has been praying for this village for the last 10 years. The pastor of that church was there to greet us and give God glory for what He is doing and to thank us for sending the missionaries who have been actively sharing God’s Word these last 7 months. A piece of property to build a church has been donated; the need for a building is evident.
But what really impressed Jason and I and the rest of our team was the school the missionaries have started in the missionary’s home. The church an hour away donated a blackboard, chalk and some exercise books and pencils. About 50 children of all ages sit on the floor and the missionaries take turns teaching them Amharic and Oromo phonics and writing. The nearest school is two hours away by walking and this trek is not possible until a child is about 12 (four hours walking a day). As you might surmise, few people from this village get much education at all. We will help this home school effort as best we can with supplies, but I wish with all my heart we could build a real school for them.
Our second village was easier to get to (although I loved the walk through the countryside to get to village #1!). But this one we could drive to and missionary “T” has a rather unique mission. He and his wife have been assigned to an empty church to revitalize it after believers scattered when a mob of fundamental M*slims broke the windows, smashed the ceiling and burned or destroyed absolutely everything inside the church.
It is an empty shell with tin siding nailed over the windows and the remnants of burned bibles swept into a corner. Fear grips this area and many could not stand up to the pressure and returned to Isl*m. Missionary “T” and his wife are visiting each known believer in their home and slowly people are returning to the church.
But persecution is still very high. The man who gave his land to build the church is ostracized and is regularly subject to beatings by his neighbors. His daughter was captured and given to a M*slim man as one of his wives. I don’t know how, but somehow this brave man got her back and she is once again living with her mother and father.
What this village needs is community development of some sort, such as child sponsorship. Doing something substantial for the village will curry favor with the people and earn the right to speak into lives. Without some sort of humanitarian effort, the church is viewed as a threat and an enemy. Compassion International will not consider this village because the church is struggling and the area is difficult. I understand the need for organizational criteria… but without something, the Good News of Jesus Christ will not be credible in this village. I think of what James 2: 14-16 says:
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?
Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say,
“Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing.
What good does that do?
The next visit was to missionary “J”. He is of the tribe we are trying to reach and lived in the main town. But his heart was drawn to a certain village some distance away, and he traveled there weekly for a year just to pray with one other tribesman who was a Christ-follower. Last April “J” moved to the village and started sharing about Jesus. Slowly, a family at a time have come to Christ even though it is very dangerous for a M*slim to convert and become Kefir. Twenty-one Christians now meet in a new believer’s house for silent prayer. They never gather at the same time or on the same day as it is too dangerous to do so. They cannot sing out loud. Because they are not recognized as a licensed church, the local government (all M*slim) and/or the neighbors will break up any Christian gathering and severely beat those attending saying, “You are not legal. You cannot meet.” The need for this struggling band of Christ-followers is to secure a religious license from a recognized denomination and acquire a facility. M*slims are very tied to their mosque and, when they convert to Christianity, find it difficult to meet in homes. Some say, “When you get a building to pray in, I will come.”
There are so many challenges reaching this tribe for Christ! It is slow, arduous and dangerous work. We came away from each visit overwhelmed with the complexities of breaking ground in a new place. But we are comforted knowing it is not for any one person to fix problems and meet every need. God is able to further His purposes His way and in His timing. We need to be faithful to pray. And we are praying fervently for U.S. churches and individuals who have a heart for the persecuted church and are willing to invest their resources to further God’s kingdom in an unreached people group.
I will keep my eyes only on the Lord,
with Him at my side I will not be shaken.