ETHIOPIA: Facing persecution in a Christian country

Converts to Christ in Ethiopia can face hostility from both family and community. Release International is helping to look after those who have paid a high price for coming to faith while at the same time supporting gospel outreach. On a recent trip to the country we met a number of these brave believers.


R126 Ethiopia Facing Persecution In A Christian Country
Release International’s partner helps those who have experienced persecution as a result of embracing the gospel.


The day ‘Abeda’* came to faith in Jesus Christ was the joyous culmination of a difficult time in her life. The Ethiopian mother had been suffering from a life-threatening illness when she had a dream of Jesus.

As a result of her night-time experience she decided to put her trust in Christ and shortly after realised she had been miraculously healed! But the joy of coming to know Christ as her Saviour and Lord was quickly followed by her experiencing the cost of becoming a Christian from a Muslim background.

Abeda’s husband kicked her and their six-year-old daughter out of the family home – and began treating his own daughter as if she had been fathered by another man. This brought Abeda into conflict with the whole local community. Shamed, ostracised and hated by her own family she and her daughter had to move away from the area.

Abeda’s experience is not unusual. Despite the fact that Christianity is the largest religion in the country, there are parts of Ethiopia where Christians face the threat of violent persecution. In particular, those who convert to faith in Christ from a Muslim background face opposition – sometimes violent – from their own families and the local community.



‘Mihret’* is a young Ethiopian woman who came to faith in Christ and, in November 2022, was baptised. Last year her sister, ‘Genet’*, accepted Christ as Lord and was also baptised. At that point their brother realised his two sisters had become Christians and made preparations to kill both of them. The two young believers were forced to leave the community where they were living and move to a larger city as strangers and exiles. Both have missed out on schooling as a result of the whole experience.

R126 Ethiopia Baptising A New Ethiopian Believer In Christ Border
Baptising a new Ethiopian believer.

More than 60 per cent of Ethiopia’s 120 million population would be identified as Christian, with the majority of these being from an Ethiopian Orthodox background. Evangelicals constitute about 18 per cent of the population, while Muslims are reckoned to account for about 31 per cent. Although Ethiopia enjoys full freedom of religion, in Muslim-majority parts of the country, particularly in the southwest and in the east, the threat of persecution remains for followers of Christ. In some areas Christian-owned properties, including church buildings, have been destroyed. Believers have been beaten and some have even been killed.

At the same time, since the start of the millennium Christians from neighbouring Eritrea, fleeing that country’s oppressive, one-party regime, have ended up in refugee camps in northern Ethiopia. Release International partners have, over a number of years, supported those who have fled, providing practical as well as spiritual care and running training programmes to equip people to re-build their lives.

Now Release International is also partnering with another ministry seeking to reach out with the gospel to indigenous peoples in Ethiopia.

‘The cornerstone of this work is equipping the evangelists’

One of the leaders of this ministry said: ‘Muslims don’t want to see Christianity in Ethiopia and are working for economic and political supremacy. We are under pressure.’

Our partner, also supported by one of Release International’s sister organisations in Europe, provides evangelistic training for frontline workers in different parts of Ethiopia, as well as supporting and sheltering persecuted Christians.

A number of churches have been planted in recent years and, our partners say, have seen thousands coming to faith in Christ. ‘The cornerstone of this work is equipping the evangelists who come from different Christian denominations and different Islamic backgrounds. Many of them are former imams, Islamic teachers and former persecutors. These believers are being added despite extremists persecuting them. They pass through difficult challenges. They have had houses and fields burned. Families pay a high price for their faith,’ our partner said.

The work is reaching people of all ages and backgrounds. ‘We are working with younger people and older people. We saw one elder who is more than 100 years old come to Christ!’



At the same time, the challenge of mission is considerable. He said some people were ‘working for a Christian- free Ethiopia. They sponsor young Christian girls to go to the Middle East – and many come back with a [new religious] identity. It is tragic. Many Ethiopian evangelical churches are not mission-minded. They don’t plan for mission. This is our challenge. They are very narrow-minded. They don’t see how wide mission is.’ A cross-cultural mission centre has been established, where the main purpose is to train and equip people who have a passion to reach their friends and neighbours with the gospel.

Other work has included providing motorcycles for church planters; supporting the education of children whose parents have come to faith; helping create micro-businesses for the spouses of church planters; providing Bibles for those who come to faith; and publishing tracts and discipleship materials. Those who experience persecution as a result of their change of religion are provided with practical support and rehabilitation.

*Names changed to protect identities.


You can read more stories from our latest Voice magazine here

Click the button below to sign up and receive your FREE copy of VOICE Magazine by post 4 times a year