Urgent Need for the Lord's Church in Zobechame, Ethiopia
Where were you 4 years ago, on Feb 17, 2007? To jog your memory, this was before the Great Recession hit us, our army was active in Iraq, President Bush was in the White House. It seems a long time ago, doesn't it?
That date is important in the history of the Lord's work in Ethiopia because on that date, the believers here in America sent $5,000 to the Lord's people in Alaba for the purpose of buying property to build a church. Actually, the Church was already built, by the Lord Jesus. It consisted of about 250 individuals. They were renting a very small building with a large yard attached. On Sunday mornings and several times throughout the week, the believers gathered, easily overflowing the building out into the yard for their services. The fence around the property was porous...just some branches thrown together...so as people walked by in the street, they could witness worship of Christ the Lord. Since this rented building was located in the Zobechame ("Zoe-bah-chah-mee") section of the town, it became known as the Zobechame church....not unlike the Ephesian or Philippian or Colossian churches in the Book of Acts.
A portion of the congregation by their rented building in 2006:
Three elders of the Zobechame congregation in 2006:
Then the Church leaders received notice that the Alaba Town was doing an improvement project, and the building would be confiscated for that improvement. They had one month to vacate. It is difficult to find even small buildings to rent in Alaba; most of the land-owners are Muslims, and they refuse to work with Christians, especially in church matters. So the congregation moved to a leader's farm on the outskirts of Alaba Town. This required about an hour's walk, but it was their only alternative.
However, soon the neighbors in this rural area began complaining to the authorities about the congregation disturbing the peace with their singing and preaching. So the congregation was banished from there. They became known as the "homeless congregation."
In the meantime, the Mother Church in Alaba Town was rigorously trying to find property to purchase for a permanent home for the congregation. Do you remember our prayer alerts during this time period? "Zobechame church" was on the forefront. And God, by pure miracle, gave us the absolute perfect property. It truly was amazing!!!! This was a large piece of land, in perfect building condition, being flat and clean. It was located in the "upper crust" Muslim residential section, smack in the middle of the movers and shakers of Alaba society. It was directly across from the proposed site of a new hospital. And it was at the junction of some main roads. And the miracle of miracles, is that the Muslim owner was willing to sell the property to a church!
Discussing the land, on site, in 2007:
Two pictures of the Zobechame land:
The witchdoctor's home, bordering the land, in 2007:
So Feb 17, 2007, the believers in America forward $5,000 to the Mother Church in Alaba to begin the purchase process. A year later, we advanced the final portion of $1,000. So this large, perfect piece of property was purchased in a key area of Alaba Town for a mere $6,000. At that time, a couple in VA gave $3500 for the building of the church building; this was combined with another $1500 to provide the estimated cost for construction.
Then we entered a period of 3 years of haggling with the those who were upset with the purchase. First, the neighboring Muslims complained to the government. Then the Town decided to stop everything while they looked at re-zoning. And from the beginning the Witchdoctor next door began his personal assault.
Now, let us think biblically about all of this. First truth, the Church of Jesus Christ will be built; nothing will prevail against it. This means that the individual believers who make up the Body can never be destroyed; it has nothing to do with the materials attached to the believers...like buildings, ministries, programs, etc. No amount of persecution in Ethiopia will destroy the believers of Jesus Christ, His Church. This is His promise to us, and He cannot break His promise. He cannot be unfaithful.
Second truth, the Enemy of the Church of Jesus is NOT people. In Alaba, we are not "fighting" Muslims, or followers of the Witchdoctor, or government representatives. All of these people are individuals who are loved by our Lord with the same degree as He loves us. And all of these individuals were in the heart and mind of Jesus as He voluntarily breathed His last breath on Calvary. And all of these individuals are invited to the Throne of the Father by way of the Only Way, our Lord Jesus. So we do not "fight" against them.
Instead, our fight (which is really the Lord's fight, not ours) is with the Enemy of souls, with Satan, with the Evil One, with the Lying One, with the Deceiving One, with the Author of Death. So we must direct our "ammunition" against him, not against the people who are in his awful power. We do not harbor any anger or bitterness against the individuals who fight against us in the work of the Kingdom. We love them. We pray for them. And we share the Way of Life with them.
Third truth, in the culture of Africa, especially in the culture of Islam, the "staking of territory" is a very important concept. Let me illustrate this: Shortly after our government saved the country of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein (also known as the First Gulf War), the Islamic government of Kuwait donated millions of dollars to the Muslims in Ethiopia. This money was earmarked for one thing: erecting mosques and minarets at key crossroads. The goal was also to place such a building every few kilometers along major roads. The fact that there were no Muslims living near the building was irrelevant. In fact, in many areas, the joke among the Ethiopian people was "That's Mohammed's mosque, because no one goes there but him."
Although the buildings were somewhat mocked initially, they spoke loud and clear to the local residents and to those travelling by: "This is the land of Islam." "Only Muslims may live here." It was outright, direct intimidation. Day after day, seeing that building, hearing loud prayers emanating from its spire, has had the effect of softening the heart towards Islam. Now those empty buildings have devote attendees.
The Muslims of Ethiopia have a 5-pronged plan to take over Ethiopia. One of those prongs is the building of mosques and minarets all over Ethiopia, even where Islam is not currently active.
We do not fight the Evil One with material things like buildings. But we are called upon to be good stewards of the grace of God. A good steward will analyze a situation, and consider the best manner of achieving a goal. The best manner of doing Kingdom work is to consider the culture, the world view, the thinking, the operation of a people. The Gospel always stays the same: Jesus is the one and only representative before God, He is the only source of salvation, He alone becomes Righteousness to us. But the manner in which that Gospel is communicated changes from culture to culture. In Burji, our clinic, solar loudspeakers, showing the Jesus Film, and evangelistic treks are some of the ways it is communicated. In Alaba, which is almost exclusively Muslim, building buildings that represent the work of Jesus in His Church, is one of the ways of communicating the Gospel. In Alaba, any Muslim who comes to Christ is absolutely guaranteed severe persecution, even to the point of hunting and death, even by family members; such is the shame associated with conversion. But a building in their culture stands for Strength, Support, Choice, Alternative, Safety, because it is a visible expression of Christ and His people. Believe it or not, many rural Muslims believe that the whole world has only Muslims in it....because until we came, there were almost no church buildings in the rural areas! The testimony of a church building in a Muslim area cannot be under-rated.
Now, let me bring you back to the Zobechame congregation. For 3 years (2008-2010) the Mother Church leaders met with the Town authorities; eventually they had to take the disagreement to the higher, Regional authorities to get validation of the purchase and permission to build. They used the $5,000 we sent for building the church on a 2-room school building, and began a kindergarten school; local families sent their children for education, and this softened the hearts of the local population against the church people. The Lord, in His own amazing way, had the Witchdoctor convicted of financial fraud and put in jail. The elders of the Mother Church began visiting him in jail, and every time Dave goes to Alaba, he visits Mohammed the Witchdoctor. (The last time, the jail authorities freed him for a day, so that he could host Dave in his home for coffee!...God is softening this man to the Gospel.)
Dave with Mohammed the witchdoctor in his home, 2010:
Two-room classroom building, 2010:
Typical rural Ethiopian kindergarten, Alaba, Ethiopia:
So this time last year, 2010, all lights were "go" on construction. But now a new problem had arisen. Its name is INFLATION. This means what used to cost x amount, now costs xx or perhaps xxx. The cost for accomplishing the same job doubles or triples. In the case of the building for the Zobechame congregation, the cost is now xxxxxxxx! Did you count those x's? Count them! There are EIGHT of them! The price for construction the same building is now EIGHT TIMES the cost of what it would have cost us if we had be able to build in 2007 when the property was originally purchased!
So instead of needing $5,000, we need $40,000! Where is this money to come from? It is to come from the Master of the Harvest, from the Lord Himself. He always supplies the needs of His people and of His work. ALWAYS!
So let us be clear. We are not "fund raising." We are not beating the bushes to see how many dollar bills will fall out. We are not making you feel comfortable with good food, lovely music, and a nice setting, so that you will put a larger figure on your check.
No, we are letting you know the situation with your brothers and sisters in Zobechame, Alaba, Ethiopia. No one else is communicating their need. And the clear instruction of Scripture is this: Bear ye one another's burdens (Gal 6:2)...Let the stronger care for the weaker so that there is equality (Rom 12:13 and 2 Cor 8:13-15). In the early church, we have clear examples of how they obeyed these instructions. Within the Jerusalem church, those with resources supplied the needs of those without resources, giving through the church leaders for distribution. Within the network of early churches in Asia Minor, those in areas without famine supplied the needs of those in areas of famine. (Read the whole book of Acts!) But they could not have been obedient to these instructions from the Lord of the Church if there was no communication of need.
And so we are simply communicating the need of the Lord's church in Alaba, Ethiopia to the Lord's church in America and beyond. We in America are the financially stronger, despite our recession, unemployment rate, foreclosed properties; we are infinitely stronger financially than Ethiopia! And we have the ability through modern banking methods to transport funds instantly from one location to another. (Just yesterday I wired $6700 to the Burji church for a variety of urgent needs.) The temptation of today is to get all of our "risks" sorted out before we obey. If we wait until everything is arranged, so that there is no need for faith in the sufficiency of God to care for us and our home churches here, then we will never step out in confident faith to obey....and we will never see the glory of the Lord in operation. He reserves His glory for those who are obedient. And those who are obedient do not wait until all their ducks are in a row before taking action.
The Operation Ethiopia fund does not, frankly, have $40,000 for the Zobechame building. Will God send this necessity through you, through your church? All we ask if that you take time to lay this urgent need before the Lord and ask Him what, if anything, He wants you to do about the need.
Improved roads in Alaba Town:
New construction is everywhere in Alaba Town:
Why is it urgent? Because now a new issue has arisen. In the Town government's plan to improve Alaba, they are not happy with vacant land. They are now threatening to remove the land from the church if building does not begin quickly. Of course, if you have been on our email update list, you know the severe persecution that has come upon the church in recent months....murders, ambushes, beatings, robberies, riots, etc. So there is much pressure by these aggravated Muslims to take the property away from the church.
From our perspective, we must begin building, and we must begin quickly, or we risk losing not only all the money we have already invested, but also the potential ministry in this location.
Now is the time to pray. Now is the time to act. We absolutely must redeem the time for the Gospel in Alaba.
Will you pray? Will you obey whatever He impresses you to do? Will you risk investment in His Kingdom? Will you share the burden of your brethren, fulfilling the Law of Christ which is Love? Will you act as the stronger one to the weaker one?
Dave discussing situation with mother church elders, 2010:
The elders of the mother church, bonded with us in the work:
Rejoicing in His work,
February 25, 2011