In remote northwest Ethiopia, 500 small churches have been built in the last 14 months. The remarkable church growthfrom just seven in early 2004in impoverished Benishangul-Gumuz province comes from the extraordinary collaboration of a government official, an association of Ethiopian evangelical denominations, and the energies of an 84-year-old American pastor.
The American minister is Charles Blair, for more than 50 years pastor of Denver's Assemblies of God megachurch, Calvary Temple. Blair heads the Charles E. Blair Foundation, which has worked in Ethiopia since 1990, when the Communist government fell. The foundation trains church leaders and raises money to support pastors in the poor nation (nationally, per-capita GDP is approximately $700).
Talargie Yeshidenberb was the national representative of the Blair Foundation in Ethiopia. Two years ago, Yeshidenberb, a veterinarian, looked up from his desk in the capital city, Addis Ababa. In the doorway was Yaregal Aysheshim, president of the Benishangul-Gumuz province and one of the few Christians in government.
Blair said Aysheshim was impressed by the transforming power of Christianity, and so "challenged us to help the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia begin 1,000 churches in that many villages in his province, before his current term of office ends this September."
Aysheshim said the government would donate the land for any church started in the province that reached 25 baptized members. The constitution respects freedom of religion.
"This is remarkable and probably possible only because of the region's isolation," said Joanne Brant, a longtime missionary in Ethiopia and now an executive at Serving in Mission. "The Ethiopians have a saying: 'You don't ...