Ethiopia: "The Country Blessed of God"
"Although scarcely known by Westerners, the Ethiopian church offers one of the most heroic success stories in Christianity," writes Philip Jenkins in The Next Christendom (Oxford, 2002). Jenkins was thinking, perhaps, of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians' tenacious survival in the face of Islamic conquest during the Middle Ages. But Ethiopians endured persecution from Europeans too. In 1936, Mussolini's army captured the capital, Addis Ababa, and the following year expelled all Protestant missionaries from the country, including those from the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM). SIM missionaries feared for the fledgling ministry they had started in southern Ethiopia. They had hoped to create an indigenous church that propagated and supported itself. But the work was less than ten years old andstill small and seemingly reliant on the missionaries.
With only 150 members, the church faced an uncertain future and suffered harsh persecution by the Italians, who saw it as potentially subversive. Despite these circumstances, however, the church thrived and developed its own local character under the occupation. Popular songs reveal the intense emotion of this period. One Christian imprisoned by the Italians sang, "Why should we not suffer a little while here and now … We will reign with him through all eternity." Another songwriter proclaimed, "The medicine is Jesus." In Walamo, one of the two cultural/geographic areas SIM had focused on before being expelled, a woman whose husband and three sons had been killed composed a hymn expressing the hope forged under persecution:
Understand, men! Understand, men!
Our house is that which is in heaven.
Our father is that which is in heaven.
Our children are those who are in heaven.
Throughout the occupation ...