There are over 60 references to Ethiopia in the Bible, and Christianity there goes back to the days of Philip in Acts 8. But the modern story of the Ethiopian church also sounds like readings from the book of Acts, especially among the Wallamos. In 1927 the Sudan Interior Mission sent missionaries to evangelize this wild tribe, worshipers of Satan. During its annual “Passover” the Wallamos sacrificed a bull to Satan, sprinkling its blood on the doorposts of their houses and serving its raw flesh to every member of their families. The atmosphere smelled of demons.

After several years a small church was established, but missionary labor was interrupted when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935. When Italian troops reached tribal areas, they demanded SIM to leave. The missionaries met a final time with Wallamos believers. When they had arrived not a single Wallamo had known of Christ. Now after 9 years, 48 native believers gathered around them. The little church worshiped, wept, and shared the Lord’s Supper. Then the 26 SIM missionaries boarded army trucks for evacuation. On April 17, 1937, their first day without missionary support, the little Wallamo church found itself having to stand on its own feet. “We knew God was faithful,” wrote missionary Raymond Davis, “that he was able to preserve what he had begun among the Wallamos. But still we wondered—if we ever come back, what will we find?”

The invasion of Ethiopia marked the beginnings of World War II, and it wasn’t until July 4, 1943 that the missionaries returned. What they found almost defies belief. The Italian soldiers had tried to stamp out the small church. Church leaders were given 100 lashes, and one was given 400. They were unable to lie on their backs for months. Several had died. One of them, Wandaro, beaten in public, preached to the crowds between lashes. Another, Toro, stripped in the marketplace and flogged with a hippo-hide whip, bravely shouted out the gospel. Conversions multiplied, and tribal villages began sending missionaries to other villages.

Instead of 48 believers, the returning missionaries now found—18,000.

The Lord’s angel said to Philip, “Go south along the desert road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So Philip left. An important Ethiopian official happened to be going along that road in his chariot. … Philip ran up close and heard the man reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. … So Philip began at this place in the Scriptures and explained the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:26,27a,30,35)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Apr. 17.

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