Trial by Fire
November 1, 2003 - After a 1974 communist revolution in Ethiopia, Gebre Andu worked as a lay leader in the Ethiopian church. He led a house church in Addis Ababa, the capital city, and helped to plant churches in Ethiopia. In 1960 Ethiopia had fewer than 200,000 Protestant Christians. By 2000 that number had soared to nearly 12 million, and Protestant Christians accounted for almost 20 percent of the population. The following is Gebre's story of the Church's endurance during persecution.
by Gebre Andu
We called it Red Terror.
In 1974, a new culture came to Ethiopia—forcefully, without choice. People were killed because of their political opinion or their faith. Christians had to keep a low profile. Many were taken to prison, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for years.
Most churches were closed down. Worshipping in public was against the law, but we had to meet. Some of us had to take the responsibility of meeting in our own home. If anything happened, it would also affect the leader's wife and children.
Prisoners were not given food—family and friends had to provide it. If the husband went to jail, the family suffered. The Church did not have the means to support all those in jail. But God came through faithfully.
In offices, communist cadres would watch to see if you were a Christian. In my workplace, they called a meeting to cull out the Christians. But God caused the accuser to fall ill, preventing the cadres from acting on their allegations.
In so many instances the Lord intervened and protected us. We were not allowed to sing and shout freely as we do now, but many cheeks were wet while praying. As we went through the persecution, God was doing miracles. Many were saved, and many were strengthened.
Around 1989, the communist government got tired of its own philosophy and started to relax. My church had been closed down in 1980, but in 1989 we reopened the church and started development programs that gave us favor with the local community. When the regime was replaced in 1991, the people who had been watching the church from the outside flooded our compounds.
Everyone was hungry for the Word. Even the cadres started to come to the church. In no time our services were filled. We started to run two and three services. People started to worship freely and without hesitation. Anybody could come to the churches, and the churches would open their doors.
The meeting places were so crowded that we had to meet in rented buildings. We came out from the hiding places, and suddenly the Church grew. My church that had started with 11 people had more than 2,000 members—and some sister churches—by 1998.
The persecution in Ethiopia was a baptism by fire. The fire came and burned away the chaff and the unnecessary things. But what came out was clear, pure and solid. God allowed us to go through it not to cry, but to come out of it purified.