Meserete Kristos Church, Ethiopia

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Meserete Kristos Church
Ethiopia: World Factbook, 2009[1]



Contact Information

Group's Contact Information

Date Established


Presiding Officer

Group's presiding officer

MWC Affiliated?


Number of Congregations

484 (2009)[2]


172,299 (2009)[3]

The Meserete Kristos Church (MKC) is the primary Anabaptist-related group in Ethiopia. In 2009 MKC had 172,299 members in 484 congregations scattered across all 18 Administrative Regions of Ethiopia.[4] In addition to the 484 official Meserete Kristos Church congregations, there are also 834 congregation planting centers. [5] As of 2009, Meserete Kristos Church is the largest national Anabaptist conference in the world.[6]


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In 1945, before Meserete Kristos Church even existed, Mennonite missionaries entered Ethiopia in association with Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Relief Committee looking to bring relief to the country a few years after the Italian occupation of 1936-1941. [7] Since the missionaries weren't granted missionary status by the Ethiopian government, the early Mennonites in Ethiopia focused all of their energy and resources into relief work. They brought a shipment of relief goods and acquired access to an old cotton gin building which they then converted into a local hospital. [7] It wasn't until June 7th 1948 that Dorsa Mishler and Daniel Sensening, two mission representatives, obtained permission for permanent mission status from the government, a helpful addition and complement to their previous relief work.[8] By 1950, the transfer of the mission from Mennonite Relief Committee to Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions was complete.[7] Under their new status, mission work could expand into education and evangelism which they immediately took advantage of when, in that same year, they built the first of their many schools in Deder.[8]

One Saturday night on June 16, 1951 a group of ten Ethiopian nationals planned to be the first group of believers baptized by Mennonite missionaries in the country.[7] These ten men and women lived in the "closed" area of Nazareth where missionaries were banned from proselytizing. Therefore, the missionaries brought them to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, which was an "open" area where missionaries could operate. The missionaries believed they could take the Nazareans to the capital in order to skirt the restrictions. The ten Ethiopians were baptized and returned to Nazareth, however, the Nazareth governor found out about their trip and scolded the missionaries for their actions. There weren't any serious repercussions, but the missionaries were made to promise never to baptize people from any "closed" area ever again. The Meserete Kristos Church today marks this date as the day when the church officially began, as they celebrated their fifty year Jubilee in 2001.[7]


From January 17-19, 1959 the first meeting between national lay leaders and Mennonite missionaries took place at a general council meeting in Nazareth. This date signified the first in a series of steps to transfer church authority from the Mennonite missionaries to Ethiopian lay leaders. Throughout the meetings, lay leaders and missionaries discussed and developed a structure for the various congregations meeting on the missions.[9] The Ethiopian lay leaders eventually took over the missions entirely from Mennonite Central Committee and Eastern Mennonite Mission including the schools and hospitals in three stages.[10] The first stage, implemented in 1962, allowed Ethiopian nationals to minister their local congregations in conjunction with the missionaries. Missionaries couldn't interfere with the administration unless they were elected by the congregations. The second phase began in 1964 to substitute nationals into different posts in mission run projects. Another event that marked a major transition point in the history of MKC occurred in 1964 when the former mission-directed organization was dissolved and the first church constitution was approved. Finally, the third phase in 1965 declared that Ethiopians who had been serving as assistants be appointed to the executive committee, while the missionaries themselves become assistants. It was also during these meetings that the title Meserete Kristos Church was proposed. The term "Mennonite" was not included within the name of the church because it was decided that the term "Mennonite" had no significant local meaning and might connote a cult following since it was named after a man.[9]

Heavenly Sunshine

In 1962, a group of young high school students from the Orthodox Church came to Dr. Rohrer Eshelman looking for a teacher to teach them english.[7] The doctor agreed to teach them english so long as they used the Gospel of John as their textbook. The students agreed and pretty soon became more interested in the gospel than the english lessons. Even though they recognized the scripture as possessing ultimate authority, these students wanted to stay within the Orthodox church because at the time evangelicals were negatively associated with foreign missionaries. With this in mind, the students didn't join MKC but rather formed their own church which they called Semay Birhan or "Heavenly Sunshine". MKC still maintained ties with these students and helped them whenever they could. For instance, MKC sent some of their own members to assist with Semay Birhan worship services and eventually helped bail Semay Birhan members from jail when they were arrested by the government for "unorthodox" worshiping practices. Semay Birhan became a very charismatic group; members would join in mass prayer, cast out demons and speak in tongues. As the original members graduated from high school and pursued higher education, interest spread rapidly among university students and the group continued to grow. In 1966, the university group and Ethiopian members from the Finnish Mission Church began to meet together. These two groups resolved to be united in one group and eventually settled on Mulu Wengel (Full Gospel) as the name for their new church. In 1972 the communist government banned the Mulu Wengel church and outlawed meetings of any kind. Looking for a new group to call home, many members from the former Mulu Wengel church joined the Meserete Kristos church in 1974. As a result, the present-day Meserete Kristos church is more pentecostal than many of its sister Mennonite churches.[9]

Communist Influence

On the day of September 12, 1974, Haile Selassie I, emperor of Ethiopia since 1930, saw his power instantly disappear as the military managed to successfully take over the government.[7] This coup represented a significant transition from the previous monarchical system utilized for centuries toward a communist oriented government. In general, it looked as if the government would produce positive reforms as they enacted drastic land reform policies and deprived landlords of their oppressive power; however, the outcome for religious organizations looked bleaker. As the communist government gained more power and espoused atheist Marxist values, resistance against religious organizations increased. Study materials that contained anything other than Marxist doctrine were suspect and eligible for confiscation. Therefore, all church study materials MKC produced had to be hidden and smuggled from place to place. The communist government instituted a program in which everybody had to attend meetings numerous times a week presenting Marxist philosophy. These party indoctrination classes were in large part an effort to "re-educate" citizens and provide a deterrent from any other services deemed counter-revolutionary. Beginning in 1977, the government issued a law decreeing that no person under the age of thirty would be allowed to attend church.[7] Some young people defied and circumvented this law by dressing up in older style clothes to prevent themselves from being caught. It was also during this time that the government began to enact physical barriers against religious organizations around the country, including MKC. These acts of aggression against the church included arresting church leaders, forbidding church meetings and encouraging thugs to beat up MKC members.[7]

In January 1982, the Marxist government confiscated all of Meserete Kristos' offices, worship buildings, bank accounts and physical property. In addition to the confiscation of property, six of MKCs leaders were arrested and held in detention for 50 months.[7] They were kept in cramped conditions, knowing that at any moment they could be executed. These six MKC leaders included: Kelifa Ali, Kiros Bihon, Shamsudin Abdo, Negash Kebede, Abebe Gorfe and Tilahun Beyene. While these church leaders were in jail and with no buildings to congregate in, church members took it upon themselves to hold church services in private. A law was in place at the time stating that nobody could meet in groups larger than five people except on holidays. Recognizing the magnitude of this law, MKC members organized a network of "cells" in which members would meet at each others houses in groups of five. A majority of these cells did not include any form of leaders or trained pastors because there weren't enough leaders to go around, but rather were comprised of ordinary church-goers. There was always the constant risk of police raids, so members communicated by word of mouth and attendees entered and left the house individually.[11] This cell organization allowed the underground MKC to flourish as people intimately shared their personal faith in small groups of trusted friends. Attendance grew exponentially as people became disillusioned with the communist system and were searching for meaning in life other than Marxist doctrine. The Meserete Kristos Church officially ceased to exist; however, the democratization process in 1992 initiated by the newly founded government allowed the church to reemerge and obtain some of its lost property.[12] This ten year period of underground activity didn't serve the communist government's intended purpose of decreasing church attendance. Rather, it signified a drastic explosion in church membership as numbers rose from 5,000 to 34,000 members.[12]

Meserete Kristos College

In 1983, throughout the years Meserete Kristos Church was operating underground, Yeshitila Mengistu, Kedir Dolchume, Tadesse Negawo, Siyum Gebretsadik and Shemelis Rega began to give informal leadership training.[13] This informal training allowed various congregations to train elders and evangelists. In 1994, the Meserete Kristos Church Bible Institute (MKCBI) was founded in order to provide biblical training to pastors, evangelists and leaders within Ethiopia.[13] In 1997, MKCBI was reorganized as the Meserete Kristos College.[13] Today, Meserete Kristos College has been fundamental in addressing the constant need for church leadership as church membership continues to rapidly expand. According to the Meserete Kristos College website, they currently offer three programs: "A two-year Diploma in Bible and Christian Ministries in the Amharic Language, a two-year Advanced Diploma in Bible and Christian Ministries, and a four-year Baccalaureate Degree in Bible and Christian Ministries in the English Language."

Contemporary Trends

In the last few years, Meserete Kristos Church has made some fundamental decisions centered around social issues. On October 6-7, 2006, the Meserete Kristos Church General Assembly voted in favor of allowing polygamous converts to become members within the church and to allow women to hold leadership positions.[14]

The first vote, a decision to allow polygamous converts to join MKC, marks a definitive stance for the church, as it seeks to find a representative standpoint on a continent where polygamous marriage is common. The Assembly came to the decision after discussion about the effects polygamous marriage would have on the church. Defending their stance, Assembly members stated that denying polygamous converts outright would place the divorced wives and children at risk.[14] It has been shown that divorcing multiple wives and children causes them suffering and increased susceptibility. Once a polygamous convert enters the church they are no longer allowed to marry additional wives. Monogamy still constitutes the underlying principle within MKC and any member who practices polygamous practices will have their membership revoked. After this decision, MKC hopes they will be able to improve their witness among polygamous sections of the populace, especially in Muslim areas.[14]

The second vote taken by the Meserete Kristos Church General Assembly marked the first time women were allowed to hold congressional office.[14] Before this point, women were discouraged from participating in leadership positions. There weren't any specific policies stating that leadership positions be filled by males, but tradition and order played a strong role in keeping females from attaining higher office within the church. The Assembly came to this decision after recognizing that women played a fundamental role and occupied leadership roles when the church operated underground during the 1970s and 80s. Women can now hold offices such as evangelist, teacher, pastor, deacon and elder.[14]

Important Individuals

MWC Global Gift Sharing Report (2005)

General Comments on the Workshop

This workshop, held on 20 January 2000 in Addis Ababa, overlapped with the church’s national conference. A group of 19 participants discussed at length the role of the church in helping members identify, develop and share their gifts. There was also considerable discussion about how the church can respond to the expansion of Islam in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian church is particularly gifted with a strong core of well-trained church and professional people.[15]

Highlights of the Inventory Process

The workshop noted that the MKC has choirs, writers, editors, evangelists and mission workers whose gifts could be shared. The MK College would welcome exchanges of students and teachers with other institutions. The church’s “One Year for Christ” program is a model for evangelism that can be shared.[15]

Electronic Resources

  • Bedru, Hussein. "Contextualization of the Gospel Among the Oromo Tribe of the Eastern Wollega Region - The Meserete Kristos Church Experience" Mission Focus 10 (2002): 61-80.
Hussein, Bedru. Contextualization of the Gospel Among the Oromo Tribe of the Eastern Wollega Region - The Meserete Kristos Church Experience
  • Bedru, Hussein. "Polygamy-An Ethical Case Study" Mission Focus 10 (2002): 81-92.
Hussein, Bedru. Polygamy-An Ethical Case Study
  • Demena, Kelbessa Muleta. “What Caused the Rapid Growth of the Meserete Kristos Church?” Mission Focus 15 (2007) : 171-179.
Demena, Kelbessa. What Caused the Rapid Growth of the Meserete Kristos Church
  • Muktar, Bedru. "Non-formal Theological Education - The Meserete Kristos Church Experience' Mission Focus 5 (1997): 23-46.
Muktar, Bedru. Non-formal Theological Education - The Meserete Kristos Church Experience

Annotated Bibliography

  • Checole, Alemu. "Mennonite Churches in Eastern Africa." In A Global Mennonite History: Volume One, Africa, edited by John A. Lapp and C. Arnold Snyder, 191-253. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2003.
This chapter gives an overview of African religion in general and compares the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with a number of Ethiopian Mennonite churches. The Mennonite churches discussed in this book are from Ethiopia, Tanzania and Somalia. For each country, the author examines the history of the various churches within the country and how they have developed over the years.
  • Hege, Nathan B. Beyond Our Prayers. Scottdale: Herald Press, 1998.
This book details the founding and history of Meserete Kristos church, from the arrival of Mennonite missionaries in Ethiopia in 1948 up until the year when the book was written in 1998. Each chapter details a significant period in MKC history and covers such subjects as education, medicine, mission work and persecution, to name a few.
  • Launhardt, Johannes. Evangelicals in Addis Ababa (1919-1991). New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2004.
This book details the various evangelical institutions within Ethiopia. The section pertaining to Meserete Kristos Church spans pages 149-152. The Meserete Kristos church discusses the history of the church including the preceding period of Mennonite missionary activity.
  • Muktar, Bedru H. "Non-formal Theological Education: The Meserete Kristos Church Experience." Mission Focus 5 (1997): 23-46.
This article seeks to illustrate the incredible growth rates Meserete Kristos Church has experienced throughout the last few decades and how they have implemented a non-formal theological education program in order to accommodate this growth and expansion. Not only are their education programs constantly reevaluated, but administrative structures are also reorganized to meet the growing needs of the church.
  • Shenk, Wilbert. "New Wineskins for New Wine: Toward a Post-Christendom Ecclesiology." International Bulletin of Missionary Research 29, no.2 (2005).
This article argues that Christians should follow the gospels but should not follow a pre-prescribed form of church. Churches should be created with the understanding that local culture should shape the structure and form of the church.
  • Yoder, Holly Blosser. "Landmark Decisions in Ethiopia." Mennonite Weekly Review 84, no. 46 (November 2006): 1.
This article reports on the decisions Meserete Kristos Church made at their General Assembly concerning polygamous converts and women in leadership. They eventually decided to allow polygamous converts into the church and to allow women to occupy positions of leadership.

Archives and Libraries

External Links


  1. "Ethiopia," CIA World Factbook. (accessed 7 June 2009).
  2. "2009 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ World Membership: Africa Summary," Mennonite World Conference. (accessed 7 June 2010).
  3. "2009 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ World Membership: Africa Summary," Mennonite World Conference. (accessed 7 June 2010).
  4. "2009 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ World Membership: Africa Summary," Mennonite World Conference. (accessed 7 June 2010).
  5. Meserete Kristos College. "Why Meserete Kristos College." web (accessed July 8,2010)
  6. Sandra Joireman, Church, State and Citizen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 86.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 Nathan B. Hege, Beyond Our Prayers (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1998)
  8. 8.0 8.1 Alemu Checole, "Mennonite Churches in Eastern Africa," in A Global Mennonite History: Volume One, Africa. ed. John A. Lapp and C. Arnold Snyder (Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2003)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Hege, Nathan and Richard D. Thiessen. "Ethiopia." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. March 2010. Web. (accessed June 8, 2010)
  10. Johannes Launhardt, Evangelicals in Addis Ababa (1919-1991) (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2004), 151
  11. Wilbert Shenk, "New Wineskins for New Wine: Toward a Post-Christendom Ecclesiology," International Bulletin of Missionary Research.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Bedru H. Muktar, "Non-formal Theological Education: The Meserete Kristos Church Experience," Mission Focus.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Meserete Kristos College. "Meserete Kristos College: Beginnings." web (accessed July 8,2010)
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Holly Blosser Yoder, "Landmark Decisions in Ethiopia,"Mennonite Weekly Review 84, no. 46 (November 2006)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Pakisa Tshimika and Tim Lind, "Mennonite World Conference Global Gift Sharing Report" (Mennonite World Conference, 2005), 29-30.


This information was compiled by Jacob Swartzentruber, working through the Maple Scholars Program at Goshen College in Goshen, IN.