In October 1984, a curious paradox was about to begin in dust-swept Ethiopia. It was only weeks before the start of one of the greatest outpourings of world Christian concern ever to be lavished on a nation.

But such a possibility was far from the minds of provincial Communist leaders. A month earlier, the nation had celebrated the tenth anniversary of the revolution that brought Ethiopia’s Communist regime to power. With the intent of suppressing all antirevolutionary forces, provincial leaders set out to decimate the evangelical church. In a single week, 700 churches were closed in one province alone.

It was not the first time churches had been closed in Ethiopia. During the last five years, hundreds of Protestant churches in isolated provinces have been closed, and then, often, gradually allowed to reopen.

But October 1984 saw the beginning of more severe restrictions. Paradoxically, it also saw the beginning of the Ethiopian church’s greatest outreach to needy neighbors in drought-stricken regions.

Famine Relief

Both of the country’s largest Protestant denominations operate development agencies through which millions of dollars of famine relief have been channeled during the past year. The one million-member Word of Life church grew out of the ministry of SIM, International, which began working in Ethiopia in 1927. The nearly 700,000-member Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus is the second-largest Protestant denomination. That church traces its roots to Scandanavian Lutheran missions that came to Ethiopia in the mid-1800s.

Along with foreign volunteers, it is members of these denominations and other churches who administer and distribute food and other famine-related aid. Even in areas where church ...

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