Mennonite missionaries first arrived in Ethiopia in 1945 following World War II, working as relief workers with the Mennonite Relief Committee of the Mennonite Board of Missions (MC). These missionaries considered it a part of their work to establish churches. Complete freedom for this was given in Muslim areas such as Hararge Province, but restrictions were placed on such activity at Nazareth, a strong Orthodox area. The first believers were baptized in 1951; they were from Nazareth but were taken to Addis Ababa for the ceremony because of the government restrictions. The service programs set up by the mission opened doors and helped establish confidence with the people and the government. Jobs in teaching and medicine brought young people into contact with the missionaries. Doctors prayed before treating patients and national evangelists were hired to minister to patients.
The church officially began in 1959 when 11 Ethiopian lay leaders met with missionaries to set up a structure to coordinate the work of the five congregations which had formed on the mission stations. An annual Christian Life Conference helped make the church known to other evangelical groups. Under the direction of Daniel S. Sensenig and Chester L. Wenger a General Church Council was organized in 1959 with lay "counselors" chosen to each represent 20 members in the fellowship groups. By 1964 Ethiopians had replaced missionaries in the executive offices and missionaries then served as assistants. The council met semiannually to plan for nurture and evangelism and review institutional work. The name Meserete Kristos Bete Kristian (Christ Foundation Church) was chosen because the term "Mennonite" had no local meaning. The church took over the administration of the schools and hospitals begun by the mission in order to minister to the whole person. It organized a medical board, board of education, and evangelism board. These institutions helped the church become established. A number of leaders in the 1980s came to the church from contacts made during medical and secondary training. On Sundays eager Christians went into the surrounding areas to witness to the gospel.
Congregations were established at Wonji, Shoa, and Meta Hara among people from other areas who moved to these places to work on sugar plantations along the Awash River. A church was built in the Bole area of Addis Ababa for the fellowship that met at the School for the Blind. By 1973 Meserete Kristos Church (MKC) had 8 congregations with 800 members, 11 elementary schools, 2 junior high schools, 1 boarding high school, 2 hospitals, 2 clinics, 2 guest houses, a bookstore with several branches and a literature program which produced a newsletter, Zena.
From 1966 to 1974 MKC joined with the Baptist General Conference Mission to form Globe Publishing House which published Sunday school materials and leadership training courses for evangelical churches.
In 1972 the government outlawed the Mulu Wengel (Full Gospel) church. This Pentecostal church was started by a group of high school students learning English and a Mennonite doctor, influenced by the teachings of the Finnish Pentecostal Mission. Many members of this church joined Meserete Kristos Church congregations and had a significant influence on the denomination. After what had been a period of slow growth, a spiritual awakening began in 1973. As a result, the Meserete Kristos church is far more charismatic and Pentecostal than most of its sister Mennonite churches. Churches practice faith healing, exorcism of demons, and speaking in tongues.
During this time choirs and the writing of music began to proliferate in evangelical churches. A new type of music—neither western nor Orthodox—was developed and spread throughout the country by cassette tapes.
With the coming of the communist military rule (known as the Derg) in 1974 workers who felt oppressed under the monarchy began to demonstrate and demand more rights and better pay. The church, unable to meet the worker demands, transferred the hospitals to the government. The Menno Bookstore was nationalized in 1977; the Bible Academy in 1982. In 1982 the government closed all 14 congregations of the Meserete Kristos Church and detained five of its leaders for four years. The church no longer officially met during this time, choosing instead to meet in small cell groups. Mennonite Central Committee continued to carry on agricultural development work, reforestation, resettlement of refugees, and distribution of food in times of famine.
Even though the church was in hiding during the Derg years, membership grew dramatically. In 1982 the church had 5,000 members. By the time the Derg government had fallen in 1991, the church had grown to 53 congregations and 34,000 members. In 1994, 50,000 Meserete Kristos members gathered in a stadium to publicly congregate for the first time in 20 years. In 1994 the Meserete Kristos Bible Institute (now Meserete Kristos College) was established to produce new church leaders. Originally established in Addis Ababa, the college moved to Debre Zeyit in January 2007 and had 140 students at the main campus in fall 2009.
Meserete Kristos Church Statistics
|Year||Regions||Congregations||Church Planting |
|Baptized Members||Not Yet Baptized |
|Not Yet Baptized |
|Total Faith |
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|Richard D. Thiessen|
|Date Published||October 2012|
Cite This Article
Hege, Nathan and Richard D. Thiessen. "Meserete Kristos Church." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. October 2012. Web. 28 Feb 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Meserete_Kristos_Church&oldid=115199.
Hege, Nathan and Richard D. Thiessen. (October 2012). Meserete Kristos Church. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 February 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Meserete_Kristos_Church&oldid=115199.
Herald Press website.
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