Meeting the staff of Lutheran Hour Ministries, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Since 1996 Lutheran Hour Ministries has been carrying out missionary work to the Ethiopian people through hour ministry center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Director Berhanu Moges has been there since the very beginning, providing direction and oversight. Having come from a career in hotel management, he knows how to organize, motivate, and work with a great team of people who make up our staff in Addis Ababa.

ILLL President Mick Onnen and wife Nila are greeted by Mr. Tesfaye Dinsaa of our staff in Ethiopia

Devotion time with the staff--enjoying hymns in Amharic and English

Ethiopia has a very rich Christian tradition, dating back to the 4th Century A.D., when King Azana (320-356), of the Axumite Empire, converted to Christianity. The culture and society dates its connection to the Biblical world to the 9th Century B.C., when its first emperor, Menelik I, who was the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, was crowned emperor. It was he, according to legend, who went back to Israel to bring the original Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia for safe keeping. According to tradition, it is still kept here, under the watchful eye of only one monk, who has the task of burning incense on holy occasions within the Holy of Holies where the Ark is kept.

The site where the Ark of the Covenant is located in Axum, according to tradition.

It was Menelik I’s descendent, Menelik II, who, in 1896, scored a decisive victory over the Italian colonial power at the Battle of Adwa.

Berhanu with Mick and Nila Onnen, in front of the statue of Menilik II, who stopped the Italian colonizers.

That victory was celebrated today, as it is on each March 2. It is not legal to carry out religious radio or television broadcasting in Ethiopia, but that doesn’t stop the word from spreading through the other activities carried out by this ministry center. Some of the strategies for outreach include prison ministry, providing evangelism training seminars to the congregations of the Mekane Yesus church, distributing evangelistic literature, training for ministry to Muslims, drama teams, musical groups, and Bible correspondence courses (BCC). In fact, since its inception in 1996, Lutheran Hour Ministries in Ethiopia has had over 105,000 graduates from the BCCs!

Map showing locations around Ethiopia of our Ministry Center activities

We were able to meet the ministry team on Tuesday, February 31, at our ministry center—a property that belongs to the church but which they make available to us at a nominal cost. It was great to finally meet the people I had only read about in the past, and I look forward to a great ministry event this weekend in a village called Buuma, near the town of Hoseana, about a six hour drive to the southwest of Addis Ababa.

Later Tuesday morning we visited the headquarters of the Mekane Yesus Church, the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia. In the 1950s there were only about 20,000 members of this church body, but now it has swelled to over 5.5 million members, making it one of the largest, if not the largest, single church body in the world. The General Secretary, Berhanu Ofgaa, was my student at Concordia Theological Seminary, where he earned his Ph.D. in Missiology degree. Although he was serving as an LCMS pastor in Columbus, Indiana, he was called back to Ethiopia by his mother church to take up his current responsibilities. We enjoyed lunch with Dr. Ofgaa, President Idossa, and other functionaries of the church. They indicated how much they value the partnership between LHM and the Mekane Yesus church.

Seeing my former student, Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa, after many years--"Finally in Ethiopia," he says.

Dr. Ofgaa explains the history and status of the Mekane Yesus church to Mick and Nila Onnen

A map showing the locations and growth of the Mekane Yesus church.

In the office of President Idossa

Enjoying dinner conversation with President Idossa.

We also were taken to the seminary for a visit. Had I not accepted the position to serve as International Director with Lutheran Hour Ministries, I was slated to spend a significant amount of time on a sabbatical to the seminary helping to work toward the full accreditation of the Mekane Yesus seminary.

Mekane Yesus Seminary

Mick Onnen with a 1931 copy of Lutheran Hour sermons, found in the seminary library, Addis Ababa.

–Douglas Rutt

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