Church Ethiopia

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Missionaries in Ethiopia

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Haile Selassie, in his decree in 1944, prohibited missionaries from attempting to convert Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, and they had little success in proselytizing among Muslims.

During the time, the focus of most missionaries was on adherents of local religions–but still with only small success. In the 1960s, there were about 900 foreign missionaries in Ethiopia, however many were layperson.

One obstruction to the missions’ achievement in the rural areas may have been the imperial government’s insistence that Amharic be used as the medium of religious instruction except in the earliest stages of missionary activity.

There was also some proof that Ethiopian Orthodox priests residing outside the Amhara and Tigray heartland, as well as local administrators, were hostile to the missionaries.

In 1960, there were around 350,000 to 400,000 Protestants and Catholics in Ethiopia, out of which 36 percent were Catholics, divided among those adhering to the Ethiopian rite (about 60 percent) and those following the Latin rite.

Protestants were divided among a number of denominations. The largest, nearly equaling in number the size of the Catholic congregation, consisted of adherents to the Fellowship of:

• Evangelical Believers, the Ethiopian branch of the Sudan Interior Mission.
• The next largest group, about half as large, was the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, an entity that was promoted in cooperation by Scandinavian, German, and American Lutheran groups. This group claimed 400,000 members in 1970 and had an Ethiopian head.
• Numerous other groups, including the Bethel Evangelical Church and the Seventh-Day Adventists, had between 5,000 and 15,000 members each.

Many missionaries and other spectators claimed that the Marxist regime opposed missions and harassed the clergy and communicants. But the regime didn’t accept these accusations, its approach to those accused of not accepting its authority suggests that the mission churches and the regime had not reached a modus vivendi.

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