Media Outreach Opportunities in East Africa - the View from Ethiopia

Kebede Yibezu (Bishoftu, Debre Zeit (Mount Olive), Ethiopia)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Rev. Dr. Kebede Getachew Yigezu is the Leading Founder and First President of the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia and Coordinator of Educational Programs for its Maor Theological College and Seminary. He has been married to Genet Degefa Edea for 18 years. God has blessed them with two children, a 17 year old boy and a 12 year old daughter. "The Lord found me at a young age and helped me to serve in the church in various capacities for 30 years."

[ Dr. Kebede responded to the following questions about the potential for using technology for reaching out with the Gospel in East Africa – Ethiopia, of course, but perhaps also in Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Uganda. ]

1. How available to the general public are these technologies: radio, television, internet, cell phone – and any others that could be useful?

All of these technologies are available in Ethiopia and in in the neighboring countries. However, these days, the most available technologies in Ethiopia are cell phones. The internet accessed on cell phones brings radio and television broadcasts to the public.

2. How many people have cell phones? Do they use the Apple system or the Android system? Are they “smart phones”? If not yet, how quickly are smart phones arriving?

In Ethiopia, more than 40,000,000 (forty million) cellphones are used by the citizens and foreigners. Most local users of smart phones use the Android system while most visitors and some foreigners who live and work in Ethiopia use the Apple system. Both expensive and cheap smart phones of various brands such as Samsung, Nokia, Tecno, Smadle, Huawae and LG are available in almost all shops. It is up to what a person can afford to buy one of the smart phones.

3. Are good Christian materials, such as Luther’s Catechism, available in the languages of the region? Are they available in print? Are they available in digital form, so they can be distributed on phones or on the internet?

Good Christian materials such as Luther’s Catechism, are available in two major languages (Amharic and Oromifa), but not much in the languages of the many regions in Ethiopia. Efforts have been made and are still being made to meet this need. Yes, the existing printed and digital materials can be distributed on phones and on the internet.

4. What language(s) do you use in your church and school, and are you in a position to produce Christian materials in the languages of the region? Have you already done so?

Here in Ethiopia, we use the different languages of the regional states of Ethiopia. Here in Bishoftu which is in the Oromia regional state of Ethiopia, we use the English language for instruction in our theological seminary and in the government’s higher education institutions. In most primary and junior schools they use Amharic (a Semitic language like Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic) and Ormifa (the language of the region).

The Lutheran Heritage Foundation (LHF) in Ethiopia has been translating confessional Lutheran writings such as The Book of Concord, Church and Ministry by C.F.W. Walther, Dying to Live, The Hammer of God, and Theology of Martin by Paul Althaus into many languages of the neighboring countries and into the above-mentioned two major languages of Ethiopia, and they plan to translate into more languages.

The Lutheran Church of Ethiopia and Maor Theological Seminary has already translated the 95 Theses for the 21st Century (which was adopted by the CELC in Grimma, Germany) into Amharic and Oromifa. The three-language 95 Theses document can be viewed here.

The book Reformation 500 – The Enduring Relevance of the Lutheran Reformation, printed by Northwestern Publishing House, is being translated into Amharic and Oromifa so that other willing citizens can consider translating these documents in to their mother tongues. Here is a possible area for collaboration with our CELC member churches.

5. Are there any barriers, from the governments or from adherents of other religions, that would make distributing Christian material difficult or dangerous?

There are no serious barriers from the governments or from adherents of other religions because these days there is religious freedom, so long as the material is not contrary to the constitution of the nation and does not interfere in the affairs of the government.

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Colin Dewey (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2017-10-27 12:08:03pm
How effective do you perceive these media outreach methods – especially through cellular devices – to be in reaching the diverse generations in Ethiopia? It would seem that the next biggest challenge behind the dispersion of materials in different languages, would be making them easily accessible to the older generations who don’t possess the same technological skill as their younger counterparts. Also, what are some of the other unique media outreach challenges that exist in Ethiopia, and how are they being tackled?

Thank you for this unique perspective and insight into East African outreach, it is not often that I see on the ground news out of Ethiopia.
Abby Enstad (Martin Luther College) 2017-11-01 8:26:12pm
Rev. Yibezu,
Thank you for sharing your view from Ethiopia. I love hearing how the truth of God’s Word is being spread in places so far away from me. It is wonderful to know that I have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Technology certainly has been a blessing in our world. I am never sure what other countries have access to, so it was enlightening to hear that Ethiopia has the same technological resources that I use.

The most interesting part of this article for me was learning about the languages. I am curious as to how you manage with the different languages in your ministry. You said, “The Lutheran Church of Ethiopia and Maor Theological Seminary has already translated the 95 Theses for the 21st Century into Amharic and Oromifa.” To know that these translations have been made is very encouraging. My question for you is how you do the multiple languages in worship services.Is there one language that you use in a service, or do you use both Amharic and Oromifa? Do the differing languages cause you many problems as you evangelize?

Reading your article was wonderful. I have always been looking for an opportunity to do mission work, so hearing any news about the churches in Africa is welcoming to me. I pray that your work in the church continues to be prosperous.
God’s blessings and thank you for contributing to the Conference!
Kebede Getachew Yigezu (The Lutheran Church of Ethiopia & Maor Theological Seminary) 2017-11-06 2:03:49pm
Thanks Abby Enstad for the kind request and appreciation! The 95 Theses for the 21st Century was translated by my friend and myself because most Ethiopians speak Amharic and Oromifa and with the intention that the students in our theological seminary or any interested minister approaches us to translate it into other languages.

Worship in the language of the people is a must in places where the people could not speak Amharic and Oromifa, And we evangelize, especially, in rural areas by using ministers who speak the language of the people in tose specific areas. When this is not possible, we use translators from those villages.
Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2017-11-20 4:01:17pm
Note: see the link to the three-language "95 Theses for the 21st Century" in the presentation above.
Kasandra Wagner (Martin Luther College) 2017-11-01 9:24:30pm
Rev. Yibezu

Having never been to any part of Africa, it is difficult for me always to comprehend what it would be like living there. I know it is a huge continent and culture and resources vary greatly across it, but it was really helpful to get a better understanding of how technology can be used in this culture. The vast use of cellphones, the ongoing translations, and the freedom of religion are all opportunities for the spread of God’s Word that I personally do not often get to hear about. Thank you for your work there and for taking the time to share with this conference so that we can better understand the extent of mission work in the world.

While reading the last section which mentions freedom of religion, I was wondering if religion in Ethiopia is very diverse. Is freedom of religion a relatively new opportunity there? Is there a single religion that is most commonly practiced? Is Christianity often openly accepted or is it still beginning to become more known among the people of your nation?

We are continuing to keep your mission in our prayers, that God may bless and grow your work in Ethiopia.
Kebede Getachew Yigezu (The Lutheran Church of Ethiopia & Maor Theological Seminary) 2017-11-06 2:31:13pm
Thanks Kasandra Wagner for your appreciation and kind request! In general, religion in Ethiopia is classified into three: Christianity (Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, Catholic and Protestant), Islam and traditional religion. Traditionally it is said that Ethiopia has connection with Jewish people and Judaism since the time of King Solomon when an Ethiopian Queen visited him and bore a son who became king in Ethiopia. Later as in Acts 8, the Ethiopian Eunuch's connection with Philip brought Christianity in Ethiopia. That means, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (EOTC) has been in the land from the time of Acts 8. Next to EOTC, the Ethiopian Catholic Church (ECC) came to Ethiopia. Later near the end of 1800 AD, the Protestant missionaries from Sweden, America and Germany came to Ethiopia to reform the EOTC which ended with planting Protestant denominations as a result of the resistance from EOTC just the Roman Catholic Church did to Martin Luther.

The freedom of religion in Ethiopia is a relatively new opportunity compared to how religion has been treated by the communist government before the existing government now. And the freedom is for all religion and for each citizen to follow the preferred religion. Given this, more than half of the population in Ethiopia is Christian. And twenty million citizens (around one-fifth of the population of Ethiopia) belong to Protestant denominations, however, the confessional evangelical Lutherans are very few in number.
Kebede Getachew Yigezu (The Lutheran Church of Ethiopia & Maor Theological Seminary) 2017-11-06 1:49:29pm
Thanks Colin Dewey for the questions and comments! Yes, while most Ethiopians speak Amharic and Oromifa, preparing materials in different languages is a challenge. Since the older generation in Ethiopian is mostly hearing community, making the audios in various languages available on cellphones and other electronic technologies that work with solar energy best tackle the challenge.
Colin Dewey, Elise, & Travis (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2017-11-07 11:31:37pm
Thank you for the response, it is wonderful to hear that there are an equal number of unique solutions to meet the unique needs of the Ethiopian communities. As a member of the military who has visited numerous chaplain's offices abroad, I am well aware of how effective these multi-language biblical audio resources can be in both spreading and maintaining a connection with the word of God. Thank you again for the work you are doing, I hope these programs continue to develop and help to spread the gospel across Africa.
Elyse Kipfer (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2017-11-06 2:43:59pm
How interesting. I am amazed by some of the technology that is available in and around Ethiopia. Is there anything that people should be praying for that might not have been mentioned in the questions? Is there something that churches in other countries could help with or provide? For example, would it be beneficial to collect phones or another resource? Is there anything else that you want to share that was not asked? Do you have any prayer requests for your own family and mission work in the East Africa area? I hope that there will be more bible apps that will not only have the written text available to many of the people, but there will be an audio version for people who are not able to understand. I do not know anything about the language and culture there, but I know that God is good and he is wants everyone to come to know him personally. Thank you for sharing the Gospel in East Africa.
Rachel Schlawin (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2017-11-12 4:32:58pm
I have always been fascinated by the outreach done in countries around the world. Thank you for taking time to educate us on the state of technology in Ethiopia, and how it can be used in outreach efforts. I
Joe Hanson (WLC) 2017-11-13 11:13:22am
Seeing that most of the population has a cellphone, how can these technology companies expand their products to adhere to the multitude of languages; to ensure that there are no barriers for those attempting to possess Christian materials?