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Evangelical Ethiopian Helps End Orthodox Schism

Ethiopian Cross

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on August 14.

Ending 27 years of schism, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in their homeland and in America reunited the two feuding branches of one of the world’s oldest churches.

Ironically, the push came from the Horn of Africa nation’s new evangelical prime minister.

“It is impossible to think of Ethiopia without taking note of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which is both great and sacred,” said Abiy Ahmed at the July 27 ceremony in Washington, reported the Fana state-run news agency.

A member of the World Council of Churches, the Tewahedo church split in 1991 due to political manipulations.

After the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) removed the Derg military junta from power, Patriarch Abune Merkorios was forced to abdicate.

He later fled to the United States, where dissidents and diaspora Ethiopians formed a rival patriarchate. According to church tradition, the position is held for life…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Nation, City, River

Flag Cross Quran

God,

To present an idea, men come together. To discuss, they meet. Three conferences this week convened weighty issues.

Human contact helps relations. Human hubris may drive apart. But the ideas matter, and make a difference.

President Sisi presented the accomplishments of his four years in office. From national projects to economic reform, it may be the prelude to his reelection campaign.

God, give eyes to the people to see Egypt rightly. Where there is success, to celebrate. Where there is question, to examine. And whether or not he runs again, to vote.

The Azhar rallied for the sanctity of Jerusalem after US disruption of the status quo. Muslim and Christian, Palestinian and Arab, it aims to increase pressure from the international community.

God, give eyes to the world to see Israel rightly. Where there is negotiation, to encourage. Where there is posturing, to expose. And whether or not an embassy moves, to seek justice.

The Nile River commanded the attention of Egypt and Ethiopia. The two presidents met to revive deliberation on a steadily constructing dam.

God, give eyes to the nations to see water rightly. Where there is complication, to study. Where there is stalling, to speed. And whether or not consensus emerges, to drink.

Let the ideas settle. Let the conviction impact. Let the people reflect.

And in the end, God, reveal the right path forward. Let men meet and talk, but first pray. Be not absent, in any conference.

Amen.

 

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Current Events

Top 10 Persecution Stories at CT

Many thanks to readers who have followed my articles at Christianity Today. CT just published a year-end summary of the ten most read stories about the persecuted church, and I am pleased to report my articles placed at numbers 1, 3, 6, and 10.

That the articles needed to be written in the first place involves little of pleasure, but I am glad that in most there have been moments of grace amid the suffering.

1) How Libya’s Martyrs Are Witnessing to Egypt

Murders spark largest outreach ever amid new freedoms and new threats.

3) Forgiving ISIS: Christian ‘Resistance’ Videos Go Viral in Arab World

Ten-year-old girl from Mosul becomes Christian broadcaster SAT-7’s most-watched interview ever.

6) Libya’s 21 Christian Martyrs: ‘With Their Blood, They Are Unifying Egypt’

As Coptic Christians mourn ISIS beheadings, they praise the response of their government and Muslim neighbors.

10) Why Christians Are Fleeing One of Africa’s Oldest and Largest Christian Homelands

Beyond the search for a better life, evangelicals and Orthodox in Ethiopia increasingly share even more.

And this story came in at #16 of the 20 most read ‘Gleanings‘, subtitled ‘important developments in the church and the world’.

16) More Martyrs: ISIS Executes Dozens of Ethiopian Christians in Libya

Propaganda video released the same day Justin Welby arrives in Cairo to honor the previous 21 victims.

For what it is worth, none of the articles made the overall top 20 most read list, which was dominated by US domestic trends, though some with international aspects.

As for this list, in general I do not like the word ‘persecution’ or a focus thereupon. Though these articles certainly qualify, the word risks setting Christians into an ‘us versus them’ mentality that risks violation of many Gospel principles. The struggle, says the scripture, is not against flesh and blood.

But without doubt the next mentioned ‘principalities and powers’ have employed flesh and spilled blood. I am grateful to be in a position to help tell these stories, and pray they may result in greater love both for the church around the world, and those who stand against her.

Thanks for reading — and within your power — acting accordingly.

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Current Events Religion

Why Christians are Fleeing One of Africa’s Oldest and Largest Christian Homelands

Ethiopian Christians at prayer at a rock-cut church, via NBC news photo blog.
Ethiopian Christians at prayer at a rock-cut church, via NBC news photo blog.

From my new article at Christianity Today:

April was a terrible month for Ethiopian migrants. Tescma Marcus and his brother Alex were burned alive during xenophobic attacks in South Africa. One week later, Eyasu Yekuno-Amlak and his brother Balcha were dramatically executed in Libya by ISIS, along with 26 others.

One reason Ethiopians were involved in high-profile tragedies at opposite ends of the continent: Their nation is the second-most populous in Africa as well as the second-poorest in the world (87 percent of Ethiopia’s 94 million people are impoverished).

Roughly two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians. The majority of these belong to the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church; the rest primarily to Protestant denominations such as the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Makane Yesus (which recently broke ties with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over theological concerns).

The Orthodox and Protestants have long had in common the search for a better life. Increasingly, they share even more.

Veteran SIM missionary Howard Brant celebrates that “the two groups are coming closer and closer together” in Ethiopia, which he calls “one of the great success stories of evangelical Christianity.”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

There is no ‘Nation of the Cross’

Message Signed Blood ‘To the nation of the cross, we are back again.’

So boasted the black-clad narrator of the latest ISIS video, this time chronicling their slaughter of 30 Ethiopian Christians captured in Libya. Two months earlier, the victims were Coptic Christians, whose beheadings came entitled: A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross.

But what is the ‘nation of the cross’?

Some have embraced the terminology. The Christ Church United Methodist of the Woodlands, Texas, posted a Je Suis Charlie inspired message of support: ‘Here am I, I too, am a member of the nation of the cross.’

But Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK thinks they are making a grave mistake.

‘This divisive terminology implies that we as a “nation” of Christians are at war with the “nation of Islam”,’ he wrote to the youth of his church.‘Of course this is not the case, and we must not be coerced into a state of enmity.’

ISIS labeled the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church an ‘enemy’, likely for the ongoing Ethiopian military response against the Islamist terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia. Likewise, the Coptic Orthodox Church is targeted to a great degree for the Egyptian government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

But ISIS is not just after these churches. ‘Our battle is between faith and blasphemy,’ the narrator declared. ‘We swear to Allah: You will not have safety, even in your dreams, until you embrace Islam.’

In seeing itself as a caliphate, Angaelos told Lapido Media, ISIS wants to put itself at war with Christianity.

Alarmed

‘Because there is a Muslim ummah, there must be in their eyes a Christian ummah, the nation of the cross,’ he said, using the Arabic word that can be translated as ‘nation’.

‘This is why I am very alarmed when people use it naively, because they are buying into a rhetoric that is not ours.’

And according to Muslim scholars, ‘nation of the cross’ is not part of Islamic rhetoric either.

The word ummah is used 62 times in the Qur’an, sometimes referring to ‘peoples’ in general. But over time it becomes more specific to the Muslim community, according to Frederick Denny’s chapter, ‘The meaning of ‘ummah’ in the Qur’an’, in The History of Religions.

Christians and Jews are viewed as an ummah as recipients of divine revelation, but Christians are labeled ahl al-kitab, or ‘people of the book’.

‘This phrase [nation of the cross] is unknown, ISIS has invented it to divide people,’ Muhga Ghalib, dean of Islamic Studies at al-Azhar University told Lapido Media. ‘We have the three religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and we are brothers in humanity.’

The editor-in-chief of the Muslim Brotherhood’s official English website agreed. ‘I cannot really make any reference of “nation of cross” to Islamic heritage, or history, and I’m not sure what the origin is,’ Hazem Malky told Lapido. ‘It looks like something they use in their own literature to serve their needs and ideology.’

But even where the rhetoric turns negative in Islamic history, terms like ahl al-dhimmah or kuffar are employed, to refer either to a protected community paying jizya tax, or to infidels.

ISIS’ video also highlights the fact that Syria’s Christians admit paying the tax, having been brought to the point of submission. Rejecting the nation-state system, ISIS sees the caliphate at war with distinct religious communities with the aim of subjugating them.

Obscure

Its extremist scholars have made a science out of reviving obscure concepts in Islamic history, like the selling of sex slaves and the burning of captives. These are rejected by the vast majority of Muslims today.

But even a group with traditional animosity against Christians finds the term ‘nation of the cross’ unfamiliar. Hany Nour Eddin, a member of Egypt’s dissolved parliament with the formerly militant al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, told Lapido Media ISIS tries to invoke the Crusades in its effort to pit East against West.

‘ISIS uses the logic of power and jihad in order to create conflict,’ he said. ‘They are trying specifically to recruit the Islamist current to their side, telling them the democratic experiment has failed.’

Bishop Angaelos, on the other hand, interprets it as the recruitment of an enemy.

He says ISIS wants a military response motivated by Christian sentiment. ‘The West must not give in. This ideology must fall, otherwise those killed will be replaced by others,’ he says.

Instead, those motivated by Christian sentiment have a responsibility to exhibit their faith.

After the beheading of the Copts by ISIS, Angelos tweeted #fatherforgive, and it quickly went viral. When BBC and CNN reported it, the popular discourse shifted.

Angaelos is calling for his own redefinition of terms to be taken up more broadly, to prevent the world being sucked into a false dichotomy.

‘When we disengage from this language, we move away from the simplicity of Christian West versus Muslim East, because it’s wrong,’ he said. ‘I find this concept of the Muslim world quite offensive. Do I not have a place? For millions of Christians, this is our world also, plus Baha’is and non-believers beside.’

He adds that ‘the nation of the cross’ does not fit the West in its religious diversity. Coining a phrase foreign to Islam, Christianity, and modern civilization, ISIS is threatening to set the terms.

‘They are killing Muslims not just Christians’ says Angaelos. ‘This ideology considers everything unlike itself an enemy.’

This article was first published at Lapido Media.

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Current Events

The Archbishop of Canterbury in Cairo: Offering Condolence, Bearing Witness

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

Archbishop of Canterbury Rev. Justin Welby visited the Anglican All Saints Cathedral in Cairo and opened his sermon with a surprising comparison. Earlier he visited Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyeb, and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

“It has been an interesting and useful day,” the archbishop told the packed cathedral of his high profile itinerary, “but worshipping with you is the most important part.

“Here we meet with Jesus Christ and become his witnesses.”

Welby’s visit was to offer condolences for Egypt’s most recent witnesses, the twenty Coptic Christians and one Ghanaian martyred in Libya in February. The word ‘martyr’ is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘witness.’

Symbolically, Welby delivered to Pope Tawadros twenty-one letters written by grieving British families. One is believed to have been related to David Haines, the aid worker captured in Syria and beheaded last year.

“Why have the martyrs of Libya spoken so powerfully to the world?” Welby asked. “The way these brothers lived and died communicated that their testimony is trustworthy.”

The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, archbishop of the Anglican diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, hosted Welby and welcomed him warmly.

But an unfortunate symbolism coincided his visit with the release of another video from the Islamic State in Libya, this time of Ethiopian Christians. Two groups totaling twenty-eight people were martyred, one beheaded and the other shot in the head.

Welby paid tribute to them, along with others killed for their faith in Kenya and Nigeria.

He noted the certainty of their resurrection, but stated, “We must grieve for them, support their families, and seek to change the circumstances that lead to their deaths.”

Welby’s sermon did not go into specifics, but he has earlier defended military strikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, while urging local governments to exercise their mandated use of force to restore order.

And concerning the flood of refugees to the region, “Europe as a whole must stand up and do what is right,” he told the BBC, and share the burden of accepting them.

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, over 125,000 Syrians have fled to Egypt. Refuge Egypt, a social service arm of the Anglican Church in Egypt, extends food and medical care to those the UNHCR designates as of particular concern.

Welby praised the Christians of the Middle East for their trustworthy witness. But in order to be communicated, it must be acted out.

“If the church hears the world’s cries for help, but turns its back,” he said, “they will not believe in the love of Christ.”

Visiting with President Sisi, the archbishop heard him emphasize that Egyptian Christians are not a minority, but enjoy their full rights as all other Egyptian citizens.

Visiting with Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyib, he heard that love and mercy are the two elements that must characterize both international and human relations, and that the true picture of Islam and Christianity must be presented to the world.

“When a community is full of light,” Welby said in his sermon, “people will see through it and perceive God, and know they are loved by Christ.”

During communion, he sought to demonstrate this. Aware the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic bishops present could not share in full fellowship, Welby went to them and knelt down, asking for a blessing. In response, the two reciprocated and each prayed for the other in turn.

So many are having hard times in this region, Welby said, he wanted to come and offer condolences. Finishing his sermon, hepromised the audience that he was praying for them in the Middle East, but closed with a request of his own, for the West.

“Please pray for us, that in our comfort we do not forget to be faithful witnesses.”

This article was first published at the Anglican Diocese of Egypt website.

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Current Events

More Martyrs: ISIS Executes Dozens of Ethiopian Christians in Libya

Ethiopian Christians LibyaA few excerpts from my article for Christianity Today, published April 20:

Once again, ISIS has orchestrated and filmed the dramatic mass killing of African Christians who refuse to deny their faith.

This time, the approximately 28 men targeted by the Libya affiliate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as Daesh) were Ethiopian Christians. In February, the killing of 21 mostly Egyptian Christians drew widespread horror and fears of future massacres, but also led to Egypt’s largest Bible outreach.

The video was released the same day the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, arrived in Cairo to offer condolences for the previous martyrs in Libya: 20 Coptic Orthodox Christians and a sub-Saharan African. (CT reported how their deaths were unifying Egypt and inspiring Muslims throughout the Arab world, as well as honored in the Coptic calendar.)

“Why has Libya spoken so powerfully to the world?” asked Welby during a public sermon. “The way these brothers lived and died testified that their faith was trustworthy.”

The Ethiopian government has not yet been able to confirm the video, or certify the victims are its citizens.

But Grant LeMarquand, the Anglican bishop of the Horn of Africa, says they certainly appear to be.

“If they were given the chance to convert and did not,” he told CT, “they should be considered what ISIS calls them: ‘People of the Cross’, and therefore true followers of the crucified one.”

Bishop Angaelos, the general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, underscored the Ethiopians’ testimony.

“Once again we see innocent Christians murdered purely for refusing to renounce their faith,” he said in a statement.

“As Christians, we remain committed to our initial instinct following the murder of our 21 Coptic brothers in Libya, that it is not only for our own good, but indeed our duty to ourselves, the world, and even those who see themselves as our enemies, to forgive and pray for the perpetrators of this and similar crimes,” he said. “We pray for these men and women, self-confessed religious people, that they may be reminded of the sacred and precious nature of every life created by God.”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Regional Agreements

Flag Cross Quran

God,

It is good for men and nations to agree. It demonstrates the fruit of relationships overcoming the thorn of interests. But it is only the beginning, and more hard work must follow.

Of course, not all agreed upon is necessarily good. Weigh recent decisions, God, and spare the region from harm.

With Ethiopia and Sudan, Egypt agreed upon a set of principles concerning an upstream dam on the Nile River. The dam is feared to reduce Egyptian water capacity. It is lauded for increased energy production. The principles help guide continuing negotiations, which had been contentious.

With the Arab League, Egypt agreed upon a preliminary commitment to create a joint regional military force. With ISIS in the background and Yemen in the immediacy, supporters hope Arabs can take responsibility for their own stability.

God, some prayers are easy. Let Egypt drink. Let Ethiopia develop. Let the Arab world enjoy peace.

But agreements are not. With a dam, Ethiopian leverage increases dramatically. With a military, Arab discord threatens greater risk. Be in the details, God.

And be with the people negotiating them. Give them good hearts to seek the common good. Give them sound minds to guard the sound interests. And give them keen discernment to sniff out the keen manipulations.

So much in the region is out of order, God. Force can solve only so much, but agreement can multiply effectiveness. Bless these recent efforts, increase trust among the leaders. As they talk, deepen their relationships.

As thorns prick, may fruit nourish. But with hard work help them till the ground for peace.

Amen.

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Current Events Jayson

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Dam, Servicemen Voting

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Trouble in Egypt this week is long term, but there are always some to make it short. In an effort to develop domestic water and energy resources, Ethiopia began redirecting the Blue Nile in preparation for dam construction. Downstream, Egypt fears a reduction in water – a severe problem for a desert nation with a rapidly growing population.

Meanwhile, in domestic politics the High Constitutional Court ruled against the draft elections law, in part because it continues the previous disenfranchisement of military and police personnel. Yes, it seems all should have the right to vote. But in a nation undergoing a democratic transition, some fear the voting of servicemen might reverse recent revolutionary gains.

In fact, many Islamists see a conspiracy, and have called for a referendum to disband the High Court altogether. An even broader swath of political Egypt sees conspiracy in Ethiopia, declaring the dam to be an act of war.

God, perhaps principles mean little in politics and international relations. Interests often trump all, even if they must be disguised within principles. But where in these issues is the right and the just? Where is the balance, and who makes the determination?

God, develop and provide for Ethiopia, using the resources you have placed in her land. But Egypt is the gift of the Nile; forgiver her for being often a wasteful and ungrateful recipient. Teach her to conserve, but the issue is beyond proper management. According to studies a 50% increase in Nile water quota will be needed by 2050.

Help the government of both nations, along with all others in Nile Basin, to succeed in mutually fruitful negotiations. Water is life; if desperate men will fight and kill for it. But keep greed and rivalry from being a part of the equation, God. Give wisdom to the president to neglect this issue no longer. Egypt’s future is at stake, but may cooler heads prevail. Hard choices will be necessary and are more easily passed into the future. But curb any who wish to exploit this issue for short term gain.

And so, similarly, for the servicemen. It seems right that all should vote. But, where democratic culture does not yet exist, institutions often function as blocs; is it wise to invite the recently disempowered military and police into a democratic exercise, possibly manipulating it to their own ends? Abstract principles rarely exist in practical policy, God. What is best for Egypt?

But if there is an institution to distill issues into principles, it is the judiciary. Servicemen are citizens, and should not be discriminated against. But if the judiciary is corrupt, the corruption is deep; if motivated by interests, they are skilled in disguising through the language of law.

But in this are Islamists above board, God? Are they seizing on legitimate debate to remove a politicized opponent, or an obstacle to their domination? Are they motivated by principle, or interest? This question repeats itself over and over again since the revolution, God. Provide an answer to the people upon whom sovereignty depends.

Make this sovereignty real, God. In water and politics, have an informed people sort properly both interests and principles. Give them the faith necessary to do so according to your will.

Amen.

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Current Events Jayson Religion

Ethiopia’s First Africa-Trained Pediatric Surgeon Gives Children a Glimmer of Hope

From my latest article in Lapido Media:

Surgeons

If not for Frehun Ayele, Fatima would still be wet with urine. The eleven-year-old native of war-torn Somalia traveled over 500 kilometers to Addis Ababa for an operation on her bladder, which was completely open to the skin since birth.

‘For children in need of surgery, it is a big challenge,’ Dr. Frehun told Lapido Media, describing waiting lists of over a year. ‘The most vulnerable in terms of disease severity, poverty, and distance, suffer much. Only the fittest survive.’

Frehun is unique as the first Ethiopian to be trained as a pediatric surgeon in Africa. Three months ago he halved the waiting list by opening the nation’s second pediatric surgery clinic, BethanyKids, in cooperation with the Korean-founded Myungsung Christian Medical Hospital.

‘Before the arrival of BethanyKids, there were three pediatric surgeons for over ninety million people,’ said Dr. Dan Poenaru, Frehun’s training surgeon and now partner in the clinic.

This was a very fun article to write. It was also a challenge, done remotely, relying on email. Many thanks to the people of PAACS for helping. PAACS, by the way, stands for the Pan-African Association of Christian Surgeons:

an organization dedicated to the training and discipling of African surgeons to provide excellent, compassionate care to those most in need.

Their work is for the good of the continent and all its religious adherents, but a very clear commitment to Jesus is part of their methodology, one which they believe makes all the difference:

Gray helped arrange the exchange of residents with the national training center in Addis Ababa University, which is open to students of all faiths. But according to Dr. Bruce Steffes, the executive director of PAACS, it may have been the organization’s Christian commitment which made the difference.

Speaking with a particular government minister who was suspicious of the missionaries, Steffes pointed out all twenty-eight PAACS graduates were serving in their local context, often in rural areas.

‘I may have influenced his decision,’ he said, ‘by pointing out that their desire to serve Jesus is what motivates them to serve in those areas.’

By contrast:

‘Many of the brightest and best medical students leave for training abroad, but after five years of training put down roots and stay there,’ he said.

Thompson said there is a greater than ninety percent attrition rate, a significant brain drain costing Africa the surgeons it needs. Even for those who do return, he says, most cannot function for more than a few years, as they were trained in ideal conditions in the West.

‘We train them in these resource poor environments,’ Thompson said, ‘so they know how to operate here.’

Please click here to read the entire article on Lapido Media, and have a look at the PAACS website as well. Do consider them for your support.

PAACS