Ever been involved in some outreach projects in your town? You know the deal: your church does a bunch of stuff from open air music to social action stuff, like gardening or litter picking, to show your community that Christians care about where they live and the people they live alongside. It’s a great way of starting conversations about faith, and highlighting that the Church really does care.
Well, what if in doing that sort of stuff you ran the risk of getting arrested? Would your vicar or church leader let your youth group do it? Probably not – and for good reason!
But in Ethiopia, that is exactly what has just happened. Recently 15 young believers travelled 430km from Addis Ababa to the Eastern Ethiopian town of Karamile in the Muslim majority area of Oromia state to meet other Christian youngsters and do outreach work.
The group encountered trouble on their first day when some local people who were opposed to them speaking about Jesus publicly physically assaulted two of the girls in the group. Police intervened but instead of taking action against the aggressors they arrested and jailed all of the 15 visiting youths. Sound unjust? It is.
Thankfully, local church leaders intervened and advocated for their release which happened later that day.
The leaders and the group of youths thought that would be the end of the story. But the next day important people in the town summoned all church leaders in Karamile to a meeting and ordered them to stop all evangelistic activities outside of the church premises.
The officials said the Christians could no longer talk to anyone about religion outside church premises. They also said although the Christians had the right to pray privately in their homes with their families, they were not allowed to invite other people to such prayers.
These rules contradict the Constitution of Ethiopia, which guarantees freedom of religion and protects freedom of expression without interference. Church leaders in Karamile asked us to pray for them as they consider how to respond to these restrictions.
Ethiopia is 22 on Open Doors 2015 World Watch List. The situation is pretty complex. Recently several church leaders who spoke out about corruption and persecution have been imprisoned – but this has been for speaking out against the practises of the traditional Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC). For many years, the EOC has been persecuting Christians who left their ranks to join (mostly) non-traditional Protestant churches, or Christians who joined the renewal movements within the EOC. However, along with members of these non-traditional protestant churches the church has become increasingly vulnerable to pressure on all spheres from Muslim extremism in eastern, western and these south-central parts of the country where Muslims constitute the majority.
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.