Reconciliation and Renewal
Reconciliation and Renewal
Tackling tough issues facing the church in Ethiopia
by Tiffany Randall, Langham Scholars
‘I feel strange leaving a voice mail’, Seblewengel says to me as we are driving to the San Francisco airport, where she will begin her long journey back home to Addis Ababa. She had just left a message for one of her sisters who lives in the USA. I ask for clarification – why would that be strange? She explains that in Ethiopia, there is only one phone carrier; it is state-owned and they don’t provide voice mail services. Despite this, and many other inconveniences, Seblewengel is a pioneer of change and a testimony to what God can do when we are obedient to his call.
Dr Seblewengel Daniel is the first woman to earn a PhD in theology in her denomination, the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church (EKHC), which is the largest evangelical denomination with more than seven million members. Seble’s dissertation delves into unique challenges faced by the Ethiopian church body – namely the long and contentious relationship between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Evangelical churches. In the year 2000, Ethiopia had the second largest Orthodox Church population in the world, second only to Russia.1
Instead of viewing the Orthodox Church as a rival to contend with, Seble is finding ways to work together in order to address the many serious needs in their country. She is teaching her students to learn from others and to focus on key issues that confront the Ethiopian church.
One such vital topic is women’s rights and the need to address harmful traditional practices. Seble was a major contributor for a book titled A Theological Reflection on Female Genital Mutilation, describing the church’s responsibility to lead the way toward the abandonment of this practice that has been decried by the World Health Organization and United Nations. Additionally, Seble has visited churches in a variety of communities to conduct trainings based on the material. Church members sometimes think it doesn’t concern them because it is a ‘worldly matter’.
And yet, Seble still pioneers forward, offering up biblical solutions to Ethiopia’s biggest challenges. The book she co-authored is now being expanded, upon request from church leaders, to address other harmful practices (of which there are more than 140) such as marriage by abduction, early marriage, milk teeth extraction and uvula cutting. The book uses stories that narrate violence against women to help shed light on what God’s Word says about these issues. This is where a PhD in theology comes in handy – Seble is careful to not make the Bible say what she wants it to say, and she is helping to draw general principles from the scripture. It’s a delicate responsibility, in an area with delicate topics that go against the grain of long-held cultural beliefs.
Langham Scholars are what John Stott called ‘scholar-saints…men and women who combine in themselves academic excellence and personal godliness.’ Seble, a courageous woman filled with conviction and response to God’s call, is one example of how Scholars are at work shaping a nation and bringing the church to deeper understanding and application of God’s Word.
1Johnstone, Patrick, The Future of the Global Church, InterVarsity Press, 2011. p107