Mark G. Schroeder
It’s easy to forget that gospel ministry—and even living as a confessing disciple of Jesus Christ—can be risky. Recent political unrest in Ethiopia caused some frightening moments for missionaries and pastors of WELS and our sister church bodies in Africa.
Last fall, two events were scheduled to take place in Ethiopia. Representatives of our sister churches in Africa had scheduled a regional conference in the city of Bishoftu, about two hours from the capital of Addis Ababa. In connection with that conference, the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia planned a special worship service to dedicate the new building that would house its theological training school. I was invited to attend.
As soon as I arrived in Addis Ababa, I received a phone call from Sean Young, WELS director of missions operations. He asked where I was, because violent political riots had broken out in Bishoftu. The US State Department was urging all American citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible. He advised me not to leave the airport and to find a flight out of the country immediately.
Thankfully, a flight was available 14 hours later. While waiting for the flight, I learned that other WELS and African pastors already in Bishoftu had been surrounded in their vehicles several times by angry mobs. Thankfully, nothing more happened to them, and they were able to leave the country shortly after I did. The conference and dedication were canceled.
The advice to leave was not an overreaction or false alarm. The rioting spread quickly to other cities, including the capital. Nearly 70 people were killed in Addis Ababa; more than 200 were injured.
Even though none of us were harmed, the events of that day were a stark reminder that gospel ministry sometimes brings real dangers with it. That’s easy to forget in the comfort and security of the United States. In many parts of the world, peaceful streets can turn dangerous.
As I waited for my flight, those events led me to think of the unrest taking place in Hong Kong, where our synod’s Asia Lutheran Seminary trains pastors and church workers. Will the teachers and students be safe? I thought of India, where the government is openly hostile to Christianity and has forced WELS friendly counselors to leave the country. I thought of our fellow Christians in predominantly Muslim countries like Indonesia and Pakistan, where confessing Christ can literally result in imprisonment or even death.
When we think of the dangers and threats to God’s faithful people around the world, we are compelled to pray fervently. We pray for God’s protection. We pray that the Holy Spirit gives them—and all of us—boldness, courage, and faithfulness. And we pray that even if some doors are closed, God would continue to open new doors for his saving gospel. We pray with confidence, knowing that we can say with faithful Christian witnesses everywhere as the hymn so beautifully says, “No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand; till he returns or calls me home, here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand” (Christian Worship: Supplement 752:4).
Author: Mark Schroeder
Volume 107, Number 01
Issue: January 2020