Ethiopia: Starving Christians denied government aid

July 30, 2020 by Lindy Lowry in Africa

In rural east Ethiopia, we meet Pastor Adane*, who for the last 20 years has served a church in the Muslim-majority region. His church is made up of mostly believers who left Islam to follow Jesus. Because the Muslim community there is always at odds with the Christians, these believers require non-stop support.

 

Even in the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantines and sweeping locust plague in Ethiopia, persecution against Christians has not decreased. The pandemic has opened up Christians, especially converts from Islam, to even greater persecution as tribal communities exploit the pandemic to punish them for what they see as betrayal of family, tribe and nation.

Pastor Adane meets us wearing a face mask—a sight that has become familiar throughout his country and the globe. The pastor is unassuming in his appearance, dressed in a red, blue and white plaid work shirt. But his story is extraordinary: 20 years of fruitful ministry large enough to support evangelists and pastors in the surrounding areas; 20 years of enduring violent acts against him and his family.

He tells us that pastoring former Muslims in an area hostile to Christians and those who are discipling them is not easy. Both he and his congregation have suffered severe persecution for their decision to leave Islam and follow Jesus.

Though Adane does much of his work discreetly to protect new believers (and himself) from unwanted hostility, the Muslim community noticed his involvement with those who have left Islam to become Christians. As a result, they began targeting him. At the beginning of this year, he was assaulted.

“Just outside the gate of my office, someone came from behind and punched me in my face and knocked me out,” he says. “[A] guard came to help me. I do not know who attacked me … .” Fortunately, Adane escaped with only a few bruises.

Two attacks: father and son

Adane now requires a hearing aid because of damage he sustained in a brutal attack.

But the next time was different. He recalls the details: “On my way home, I walked past a mosque. Three men, their faces covered, approached me and started asking, ‘Why are you doing this to our religion and our people?’ I answered that I didn’t do any harm to anyone.”

The questions weren’t new. Adane has received threatening phone calls with the same questions before. The men pushed him to the ground.

“One shouted, ‘Kick him, kick him!’ The other guy kicked me in my head with his shoes. They repeatedly kicked my head and struck me on the ear.” The attackers eventually fled, but their blows had caused severe damage.

Still, his persecutors weren’t done. The next day, Adane’s six-year-old son was attacked. Boys in his school pulled his son aside and forced him to swallow a pen cap.

“As soon as I arrived, the boys who did this escaped,” Adane says, adding that his son’s attackers were the children of his attackers.

Adane and his son went to the hospital together, each suffering severe wounds. Doctors were confident that with a little medicinal help, the boy would pass the pen cap on his own, Adame says. Thankfully, he did. But the damage to Adane’s ear was not fixable. Doctors told Adane that he had suffered irreparable damage to his ear and would need a hearing aid for the rest of his life—essential assistance that neither he nor his church could afford.

“My church has limitations on how they can help with this problem … ,” he says.

When our Open Doors Africa team heard about Pastor Adane’s injury, we paid for his treatment and hearing aid. “If it were not for Open Doors, I would not be able to face my problems,” he says. “I thank the Lord for intervening. He kept me alive and solved all my problems. God also brought Open Doors into my life. Thank you for helping me receive medical treatment and helping our church. May God bless you for all your help.”

Forced out for their faith

Ethiopian citizens in Addis Ababa wear protective masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While helping Adane overcome his injuries, our team learned that the coronavirus pandemic has caused additional suffering to him and his congregation.

The pandemic has severely affected the church’s ministry, Adane explains. Churches in this area are not only dependent on tithes and offerings to support ministers, but also to aid persecuted believers who have lost their jobs and community support due to their conversion. The local Muslim leaders make the community disassociate from believers by ordering shop owners to refuse to sell them any goods, including food and medicine, Adane explains.

“Because of COVID-19, the church is in great trouble,” Adane says. “While churches were closed [as part of the government lockdown], nobody could come to church … we had no income to pay the pastors and evangelists. Before, there were people who helped support ministry workers, but now they have stopped. The church used to have many streams of income—it has all stopped.”

It has also offered persecutors an added opportunity to cause suffering. At this extremely difficult time, local extremists persuaded Adane’s landlord to evict him with only three days’ notice. When he tried to rent a new place, Muslim radicals threatened those potential landlords.

“They told them, ‘If you rent your house to this person, we will attack your house and cause damage.’”

Eventually, Adane was forced to rent a place in another town.

Help Christians survive COVID-19!

Around the world, persecuted Christians like Adane are enduring attacks and oppression—even as they deal with COVID-19 and lockdowns. People are desperate for help. A gift of $65 could help a family in Africa for a month. Can you give a gift and support these brothers and sisters?

Give now

An unthinkable ultimatum

COVID-19 and the increasingly difficult living conditions created by the pandemic and the coinciding plague of crop-destroying locusts that have swept across East Africa have wreaked havoc on an already bad situation. For Christians who are mostly day laborers and are already unable to access local services, the pandemic gives way to another layer of persecution.

Despite registering with the government for help, Ethiopian Christians in Adane’s area have been deliberately left out of any aid, Adane says. “There were different kinds of support in our area from the government. They gave oil, rice and dough to some people. When people register, they exclude the Protestant community. Especially if they are believers from a Muslim background … we have not seen them give to Protestants. We asked our church members, both in the rural and urban areas, but they have not received any of the government support.”

This lack of aid causes distress for believers like Ebrahim*, a believer in Adane’s church, who usually provides for his wife and son through farming. Unfortunately, Ebrahim’s crops were badly affected by the locust plague. When Ebrahim went to register for relief aid, the officials chased him away saying, “You are infidels!”

The only way they would allow him to register for government assistance, Adane says, was if Ebrahim and his family returned to Islam.

Ebrahim’s family also pressured him to come back to Islam in return for their help; his wife’s family pressured her to move back home with them instead of suffering as a Christian with Ebrahim.

“He has nothing to feed his family, and the people are pressuring him to return to Islam to receive help,” Adane says.

The local government often excludes believers because they believe Christians receive support from outside Ethiopia. Adane shares about Girma*, a father of three. “Girma does not have a farm … he has nothing. At first, the [government] registered him for support but removed his name from the list because they found out he had become a Christian. He is in great trouble and the church has nothing to give him.”

Adane’s lifeline

Adane holds the hearing aid packet he was helped with by partners of Open Doors.

The challenges are overwhelming, Adane says. God’s Word has become a lifeline for the pastor. “In September last year, God gave me two scriptures to meditate on. First, Revelations 3:8 that says, ‘I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.’ And Psalm 91:1: ‘Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.’

“God’s words are inside my heart. When I pass through all these troubles, they encourage me. I tell myself that God is the One who gives purpose and I will not go anywhere else, because He has a plan for my life. In whatever situation, He has a solution and He is my protection.”

Open Doors is in the process of delivering relief aid to 1,500 Christian families in urgent need of help across sub-Saharan Africa. Please pray for this work and if you’re able, support our efforts. For $65, you can give a family critical help, including food, soap and cash for essentials like rent and medicine, for a month.

Pray with Pastor Adane and his congregation

  • Thank God for Pastor Adane’s ministry and his willingness to share the gospel under such difficult circumstances.
  • Pray for Pastor Adane and his family’s safety and protection.
  • Pray for healing, both physical and emotional, for Adame and his family.
  • Pray for this congregation, that they would continue to gather and grow in Christ. Ask God to give them both boldness and discernment as they share their testimonies.
  • Ask God to open the hearts and minds of the leaders and Muslims in this region to His truth.
  • Pray for provision for believers in Ethiopia who are rejected by their communities and haven’t received support from their local government.
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