Why did my husband and I do a month long mission in Ethiopia and Kenya? And why do we feel the urgency to maintain momentum for mission whether we are in the U.S. or across the world?
Mission is a full time job both locally and abroad. Missionaries who think they are going overseas to do a great work for Jesus intrigue me. After all, we are merely participating in the work God is already doing. Of course, all our friends at home will tell us what a great and wonderful thing we are doing. Then WHAM! We come face-to-face overseas with all our inadequacies and weaknesses. We realize how much we are actually going to have to depend on God to see something accomplished. We also realize that being stretched physically, emotionally, and spiritually as well as facing a new culture, language, and living situation is both challenging and difficult. Being a missionary is not about being superhuman and accomplishing a long list each day. It’s about trust, obedience, and hearing the Master’s voice.
Wherever we are living right now, we are in the midst of a battle. As Christians we need to understand the nature of that battle so that we can be victorious over our enemy. When we cross into another culture where Satan has built strongholds for centuries and where cultural cues vary, the battle looks different. However, our victory over the powers of darkness is in Christ alone. Mission is sometimes a huge challenge. And yet, seeds will be planted, and ultimately, Jesus is faithful to complete His work. Our prayers of intercession do not simply begin and end with a mission trip. We are to “pray without ceasing…..for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
While touring Ethiopia our team visited a recently planted church for an unreached people group. Barely standing with its eucalyptus branch frame covered in corrugated metal, a small group of people from the Oroma tribe had congregated before a young zealous Christian pastor. The Oromos are the largest ethno-linguistic group in Ethiopia (34.5% of the population). Most rural Oromo, 80% of Oromo population, retain Animist beliefs. However, it has been said that some Oromo wear Christianity and Islam like clothing over their traditional beliefs. They may claim a religion to enjoy the privileges of that religion, however, they do not practice the religion in actuality. Animism is the belief that all things have a spirit or soul, including animals, plants, rivers, mountains, stars, the moon, and the sun. Each being is considered a spirit that can offer help or harm to humans. As such, spirits must either be worshiped or appeased. Animists offer sacrifices, prayers, dances, or other forms of devotions to these spirits in hopes of blessing upon areas of life (crops, health, fertility, etc.) or for protection from harm.
Animism has been practiced since ancient times and is often mentioned in the Bible. The Israelites, for example, were commanded to not follow the practices of the nations around them who followed other gods. The Egyptians who enslaved Israel prior to their wilderness journey followed many deities as animists. In Daniel, the people worshiped “the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (Daniel 5:4). The New Testament also includes accounts of people who worshiped idols and other inanimate objects. In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 the apostle Paul teaches,
“Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
Animism has been practiced for generations by the Oromo, therefore what impact could our small team have in demolishing such a rooted stronghold. Very little I am sure without the intervention of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Traveling two hours through the rolling hills and countryside of Ethiopia in two four wheel drive pickup trucks, we made roads where there were no roads, crossed rivers, and climbed embankments to reach this recently planted church.
Carting a newly carved church pulpit, the pickup truck jostled and shook as we ventured forth. There was an excitement as we arrived; people from across the world, from California had come to visit and to share the gospel with them. We were humbled by their celebratory welcome to each of us as if our presence was worthy of such expression.
The young pastor greeted us, and proudly welcomed us to his small newly constructed church. It was necessary to translate throughout the meeting in three languages; English, Amharic(the primary language of Ethiopia) and Oromo. During his opening message the young pastor shared how he had laid out 10 stones on the ground and had prayed daily that those 10 stones would eventually turn into 10 people and that a church body would spring forth and multiply.
Now as he stood before his newly carved pulpit and looked out upon his small flock of 30-35 people, he gave thanks and glory to God for His grace in honoring those prayers. Joyously, the people began to worship God through song and praise. Marvelous to behold, we all sang in our different languages exalting the name of Jesus and the blessings He had bestowed upon this church and on each of us in turn.
Following the praise, my husband presented a message, a teaching about Jacob and the removal of the idols (Genesis 35). Rooted in Animism, his message deeply struck the hearts of the Oromo people as they were encouraged to lay aside their idols and accept Christ as their Savior. It was a heartfelt message that greatly moved the hearts of the people.
Following his teaching, I delivered a message on the power and the glory of God, and our identity in Him. “As He is so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). Here God is commanding us and basically saying, the authority to free ourselves rests in us. Why would He say that? Why is that true? Because the Spirit of God is in us and we have been given all authority through Him to serve and bless the people of this world. This passage defines who we are in Christ and the equity of that power. He has equipped each of us with unlimited power, wisdom, and gifting to fulfill His mission.
As I completed the teaching, my husband joined me at the altar, as we invited the people to come forward for prayer. Almost every individual came forth and we laid hands on them and prayed. Several accepted Christ, recommitted their lives to Christ, or prayed for more revelation of God and His power in their lives. Some came requesting prayers for healing. One young woman was set free from demonic forces through deliverance as two other pastors joined along side us to tear down forces of darkness. The young woman had had a huge swelling on one side of her stomach that miraculously left as we interceded in prayer for her. Amazingly I saw and felt her stomach shrink as the word of God penetrated her body, healing and redeeming this young woman for His kingdom glory.
Following the service we visited the pastor’s one room home a short distance from the church. As the young couple sat on their bed on the floor, heads bowed, we all prayed the blessings and power of God upon their ministry and their lives. It was incredibly moving.
A relationship with Christ will never be founded in a system like Animism or in any other system across the seas. Nor will it be found in the U.S. within our own “religious systems”. Systems bind and hinder the flow of the Gospel. Of the 4.83 billion people in the world, 2.97 billion have never been reached by the gospel of Christ. Within that count are 8105 different people groups, 5539 being unreached people groups. An unreached people group refers to an ethnic group without an indigenous, self-propagating Christian church movement.In effect 63.4% have never experienced the joy and peace of knowing Christ our Lord. Within these people groups are many religions, some are well-known religions while others are tribal religions dating back centuries. Man-made religions all have the same identifiable imprint; they consist of what people must “DO”. They are made up of contrived elaborate systems, duties to be carried out, and ceremonies to be observed.
Systems only offer swimming lessons to lost, desperate people drowning in a sea of pain. Jesus dived into that sea in spite of the system. Unhindered, without fear, He walked forth speaking boldly the truth of God’s word. He didn’t condemn people.He didn’t raise up an army of protesters. He didn’t send out hate letters to the Pharisees or post rude, despicable comments on Facebook. He simply spoke truth and His Father’s truth prevailed.However, truth is often heavy and therefore, few people tend to carry it. Jesus carried truth through His Father and it blazed forth across nations. Blaise Pascal stated that “once your soul has been enlarged by a truth, it can never return to its original size.” How very true that statement is. Daniel, while in captivity, set himself apart in God’s truth and distinguished himself from the Babylonian system. In continuous prayer he rallied a war in the spirit that eventually led to a huge break in a monumental religious system. Following God’s rescue of Daniel in the lion’s den, king Darius wrote to all the lands and the peoples in the many kingdoms under his rule saying:
“May peace be given to you all abundantly! I make a law that everywhere among my kingdoms men fear and worship the Lord God of Daniel; for he is the living God, above all other gods, who only can save men.” And Daniel stood beside king Darius until the end of his reign, and afterward while Cyrus the Persian was king over all the lands.
What an earth shattering break in a system! Religion is something you carry, but Christianity carries you. Reinhard Bonnke, a noted evangelist, stated that today there are many laws about this and that.The “that” being religion. But Christianity is totally different from “that”. It is not a system of religious observances. It consists of “what God does for and through us.” Jesus frees people while systems have a tendency to bind and hinder people. God says, “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried you since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”
Religious systems are not run by God but by false gods. False gods need to be carried, but the God of the Bible carries His people, loves His people and sustains them for eternity.
Please join me in prayer:
Father in heaven, please bless the Oromo people and demolish the stronghold of Animism and any other stronghold present in their lives. Father we ask your blessing on the young pastor and his wife as they guide and direct, by your Spirit, this fledging church plant that you, yourself, have ordained. May this body of believers grow, flourish and multiply by your power and strength. Father we pray healing and health against disease, lack of food and polluted water sources. May you intervene and meet all their needs according to your riches in glory. We thank you Father for the Oromo people and pray the blessings of your kingdom upon them.
Father, we also call upon your awesome power to tear down religious systems of ritual, duty, and oppression. Demolish the systems that hinder and bind, and loose your people into full relationship with You. May we be bound only to You for all eternity.
In Jesus name we pray….