November 29, 2006

Notes for Evangelism in the Diaspora

Note: Here is an article posted on the Ethiopian Students Association (ESAi) forum by a certain writer about evangelization.
Cheer Weere Yaseman, Amen.
While Diaspora is a word that includes all of us, I want to focus on the youth only. Evangelism is a broad topic, and for the youth, we have almost no participation.
The top problems we have are
1. Church is being called boring
2. Ethiopian-born and American-born Ethiopians are keeping separate
3. Young people aren’t staying with the church after high school
4. Young people are being criticized for seeking God elsewhere
5. The promise of youth being the future of the church sounds like an empty threat Notes for Evangelism in the Diaspora
Church being boring…
You are bored if you don’t understand OR if you understand too much (if you are not challenged). If you don’t understand what is going on you lack the motivation or patience to learn. Without an explanation of why the church observes these traditions or what the traditions are for, there is no justification for why a child needs to do the same thing. These kids need proof of faith before they invest interest in learning about it. For those who are focused enough to learn things early, church becomes boring when they are forced to continue learning Fidel and mezmur instead of “graduating” to the doctrine of the church and church history.

Ethiopian but separate
If it hasn’t been clear to parents/elders, there is a definite separation between Ethiopians born back home and those born here. My personal testament to this trend is that I am not close with the choir members even though I am a deacon of the church. In my personal experience I have not seen a collection of youth as an organized group in church aside from a senbet temhirt bet…and the language of instruction is in Amharic. The gap is the language and those with the ability to speak Amharic are receiving all the benefit.

Leaving the church…
They say the greatest test of love is to let someone go and see if they return. When a young person stops coming to church, we know that it is not God that they do not love…it is the way the church has welcomed them that they do not love. If the church was valuable in the heart of the youth, then it would be their will to return to the church. Another question about the motivation for coming to church is, “Are they coming to church because they love the EOTC faith or because they love Ethiopia?” Ultimately, how do you create value in the heart of the youth?

a. give them ownership of the church
i. youth-organized bible study or choir (with their own leadership)
ii. youth responsibilities and duties at the church

b. make sure church didn’t get boring before they left
i. develop Sunday classes beyond Fidel and Bible stories
ii. provide programs that advance the youth by achievement/mastery of topics
iii. restrict the youth from any “free time” (unsupervised) during church service

c. secure the foundational teachings of the faith with each child
i. train the youth to be ready when people ask “what do you believe in?”
ii. teach the youth the common arguments against the EOTC
iii. show the youth how to search for answers on their own for the future

Searching for God outside of the EOTC
There is a very clear threat from the parents or elders for kids visiting other churches to gain insight about God. Without fearing the topic, I must candidly speak about the caution against Orthodox youth attending Pentecostal churches for Bible teaching. Until the EOTC can provide Bible study at the same level and quality of instruction as is being offered at certain “Pente” churches, an Ethiopian Orthodox youth should not be harassed for seeking the word of God in the language of their preference. The youth that are exploring for their relationship with God are the ones who are most ready to stay with the EOTC as long as somebody is ready and willing to plant the seed. If the youth are harassed for seeking God elsewhere, then the parents and elders are giving these youths a swift kick to the backside and supporting the youth’s decision to leave the church. The EOTCs of the Diaspora must urgently consider whether it can be accepted for the youth to learn certain incorrect teachings from other churches while learning mostly commonly agreed upon lessons about God or if the church will only allow its youth to be accepted within the membership if they learn only what can be gained through the EOTC. If the youth are not able to maintain focus or patience to learn about God in our current setting, then the burden is on the EOTCs of the Diaspora to bridge the gap. Judgment of the youth is a pitiful misplacement of fault.
Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
The spirit of God in not understood, it is felt.

The famous “Adera”
There are certain reasons why people keep a promise or agree to do a favor. The main one is because of belief. If the youth are to take the challenge of upholding and sustaining the EOTCs in the Diaspora, then they must believe that the church is of value to them, fully entrusted to them, and focused on strengthening them as Christians. We cannot quantify what it is to be Ethiopian in the Diaspora, but we do know the faith as taught to the disciples. It is this faith that must be passed on to the youth. The church cannot be run in the same way it is being managed today because the youth want clear-cut rules on who is in charge of each aspect of running the church. All previous points bring us to this point. The youth will only honor the “adera” if they feel the church is accepting of them, the church has been entrusted to them (feel ownership), and the faith of the church has been properly taught to them. Without these things “adera” sounds like an obligation instead of a privilege. If obliged to take on the roles of the parents, then the entire “adera” feels like a threat. However, if the youth are chosing to leave the church out of high school, then the situation is at its worst…an empty threat. You want the youth to volunteer to sustain the churches. “Adera” would not even be necessary if we could accomplish this.

When will the youth be ready to lead the church?
They will lead when confident enough to Evangelize.

How to improve the teaching of the youth
Establish curriculum that certifies understanding of core topics
Ex. Church History, Songs and Worship, Church Service, Church Doctrine, Religious Holidays, How to run the church, Etc.

Arrange for certification and tests to verify mastery of subjects

Remember that there is no “Degree/Diploma” necessary to be a teacher, we all must share what we have learned from God out of the goodness of our hearts. We cannot be perfect teachers, so we rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal the perfect truths to each person’s soul.
We are not far from being able to teach these topics. Much has already been translated to English or other languages. Our only task is to organize these references into a solid curriculum that all can use and learn from.

Additional Thoughts/Recommendations
Ethiopian youth (born in Ethiopia or America) can work together in verifying translations

Give Board Announcements to the youth as well. If the church will be theirs in the future, there is no reason why they shouldn’t hear reports of money raised, invitations from other churches to attend religious celebrations, reminders to pay monthly membership, etc.

Enforce real punishment on youth that are disrespecting Sunday School rules including penalty to parents who do not support the rules. The Sunday School is not a day care. Students should be suspended from school if necessary.

Budget should be increased to improve provisions to youth activities in the church.

Youth support on official decisions of the church should start to take place. There is no substitute for leadership training by actual experience in decision making.

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