Reaching the Orthodox: The Work of Evangelism
Paul once said, “To the Jews I became a Jew.” What he meant was that he adjusted his initial approach to any unreached people group so as to reduce barriers and distractions. This adjustment was made on his part for the purpose of gaining a listening audience. Once people believed the truth about the Son of God, then his pattern for the organization and conduct within the local church was uniform, and his expectation of the life of the believer was uniform. His teaching to the believers was the same in all cultures; we have this teaching in the New Testament. But we see that when he came to a new town, he adapted his initial witness to meet the culture of the people. He lived among them and became one of them even as he shared the Gospel.
We are approaching the presentation of the truth to these dear people in North Gondar in a 3-pronged manner. One of these approaches is as an open evangelist. We are sending men into this Orthodox area as open evangelists. What is it like to be an Ethiopian evangelist, an Ethiopian missionary?
These men will go to the village and rent a little hut. They will live among the people. They will probably hire a local woman to cook for them. She will prepare food once or twice a day for them and she will also wash their clothes. They will visit the people in their homes and shops. They will talk in small groups in the market place. They will share the Gospel one-on-one and ask God to show them those whom He has prepared. In Ethiopia, life moves slowly. No one is in a hurry. People converse freely with strangers while they are keeping shop, eating, walking, and tending their small herds of animals. Ethiopian culture is rooted in hospitality and courtesy. So as these missionaries are telling the Gospel, people are required by their culture to listen respectfully. And since few of these people know the Scriptures, they will likely be taught for the first time what the Scriptures say. The evangelists will give Bibles to those interested, so they can read for themselves. Perhaps a group Bible study will be started in a home. The focus will be on Jesus and the Scriptures, not church organizations or traditions.
At some point, people will come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and believe the truth of the Scriptures. They will be discipled personally and privately. After several have believed, they will gather for prayer and worship together, probably in the home of the evangelists.
This type of front-line, pioneer mission work is tough. It is lonely. It is vulnerable. It is important that the evangelists be connected to other Christians. It is important that people be praying for these evangelists. The churches in Gondar will send elders to visit the evangelists from time to time for prayer and encouragement. Twice a year the evangelists will be brought back to Gondar for more in-depth training in the Scriptures and for rest.
If the past is any indication, at some point it’s highly likely that the local Orthodox priests will discover the evangelists and will start opposition to them. What tactics have they used in the past? First they start with shunning. They tell the people not to have anything to do with the evangelists. Suddenly their neighbors stop talking with them, their cook resigns, the butcher refuses to sell them meat, the people in the weekly market ignore them; maybe their landlord tells them to move. Life gets lonely and difficult real fast. This order from the priests, however, quickly bonds the new believers, and their fellowship gets very sweet.
False charges might be brought against the evangelists. These charges could be thievery, or arson, or drunkenness. As mentioned in a previous report, the government officials and priests are closely tied. (This tight relationship is especially evident in distant rural villages.) The priests will get someone to file a false charge against an evangelist; he will be arrested and put in jail. Sometimes the evangelist stays in jail a long time before charges are even filed. And when the case comes to court, it is all rigged. Unless the Lord intervenes, the evangelist is sentenced unjustly. The evangelists we are sending know that unjust imprisonment is a possibility for them.
Personal attacks are very likely. At the very least these attacks are verbal insults, hollered loudly in public venues. With high loyalty to their priests, the people often physically attack the evangelists, perhaps beating them with stones or sticks. Perhaps they will try to burn them in their hut; the thatch roof of their hut burns very quickly, and if their only door is barricaded from the outside, they will die in the flames. Our evangelists are single men, but if they had wives and children, these would also be attacked.
As the evangelists stand strong, radiating the peace, joy and strength of our Lord Jesus, more and more people hear the witness of the Gospel. They see for themselves the difference that a living God makes! No matter what the persecution, the fire of the Holy Spirit spreads. More and more want to hear the truth, and a few are courageous enough to believe and accept the truth. These few are purified by the persecution. Their allegiance is only to the Gospel and the Lord Jesus. Their hearts are not divided by a desire for comfort, for personal security, for a good reputation, for material wealth. Churches born in persecution are strong, pure Churches. And by God’s grace, in His time, we will have some new strong, pure Churches of our Lord in the North Gondar area.
I have mentioned that we have a 3-pronged approach. These open evangelists are one of those prongs. The other 2 approaches are “undercover.” We cannot disclose these on the website without endangering the lives of the evangelists. So we will write a fifth report, but this will be distributed through our email prayer list. If you would like to receive this report or be updated with urgent situations, please send us an email to be added to the list.
When the Gondar church leaders came to us and asked for our help, they said, “We are willing to go, but we need funds for salaries and training.” We have met with these leaders, reviewed the Scriptures, and have set up a 3-year plan. We have committed to sending evangelists to this area, funding their salaries and training. What does it cost to support an evangelist in North Gondar? 50 dollars a month. That’s all! The cost of this venture is not heavy in terms of dollars, but it is very heavy in terms of commitment to go and commitment to pray. The evangelists are willing to go, and to suffer whatever the Lord has called them to suffer.
Are we willing to commit to pray? It is by our prayers that these evangelists are made strong in the Lord Jesus. It is by our prayers that the people are brought to hear the Good News of redemption, of freedom from fear and uncertainty. It is by our prayers that the Church is planted in this dark corner of the Ethiopia. Will you commit, as an individual, as a family, as a church to pray? Would you “adopt” these people in North Gondar as your own personal mission field? Will you hold the lifeline for these evangelists?
Report 5: The undercover evangelists (sent by email only: write to us to be added to our email prayer list.)
August 20, 2007