Double celebration for Eritrean church

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea vice president, Rev. Habtom Tewolde, and General Secretary, Temesghen Berhane, visited Geneva to discuss Reformation celebrations. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea vice president, Rev. Habtom Tewolde, and General Secretary, Temesghen Berhane, visited Geneva to discuss Reformation celebrations. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay

Church ties 150th anniversary to Reformation festivities

GENEVA 3 June 2016 (LWI) - Lutherans in Eritrea are not only getting ready to mark 500 years since the Reformation but will this year celebrate 150 years of the Lutheran church in their country.

“Our anniversary is an historic event and we want to celebrate,” Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea General Secretary, Temesghen Berhane said. “Because we have a common history with others, we plan to celebrate with brothers and sisters from other parts of the world.

The church will tie its 150 anniversary to Reformation celebrations.

“It’s a time to stop and look back and see how far we have got, what we have accomplished in mission work and to look forward and do a more effective job of mission,” said Berhane, who visited the LWF Communion Office with vice president Rev. Habtom Tewolde

The double celebration will be marked with worship, symposium, seminars, shows and exhibitions marking its journey as a church.

It was fitting that the church anniversary was celebrated as the influence of the church on Eritrean society has been great. As well as bringing the gospel to many, the church introduced modern medicine and education, and developed infrastructure - building dams for irrigation and water reserves, and opening schools, kindergarten and health clinics. It runs the country’s only two schools for the deaf.

“The LWF does a lot in the life of the society. The recognition is there, the Eritrean people have benefitted and the church is proud to be part of the Lutheran family,” Berhane said.

Only one theologian educator

However, as it looks to the future, it must contend with a considerable challenge today. With only one Lutheran theological educator - and another who’s retired - and fewer than 50 pastors, the church struggles to meet a severe ministry shortfall. 

Berhane said the absence of theological trainers was the greatest challenge the church faced and it urgently needed to increase its capacity for theological training.

“We plan to work on the human resource issue and get more church ministers. We need to at least double the number of pastors. At the moment, we have only got 46, as well as evangelists, deacons and lay preachers.”

The lack of opportunity to go on to higher education was causing a “great gap” in the church’s work. “The shortage of skilled people is apparent in every aspect of our work.”

Without trained pastors, the church could not bring the Gospel to people. “Pastors need to carry out the mission and address the needs but with only two theologians in the church who can do it? It is causing a challenge in the church,” Berhane said.

All the main accomplishments of the church are related to mission work, he said, driving further the need for pastoral trainers. “The approach of the church is holistic ministry – to tell the good news of the gospel and also take good care of the needs of the people.”

“We feel we are not alone”

As a small church of not more than 20,000 people, the church takes comfort in being part of the global Lutheran family, Berhane said. “That feeling itself is important. We belong to a big family and feel we are not alone. There are churches that accompany us and which can extend their support in time of need, so we have this feeling of confidence.”

The church plays its role in the life of the communion by offering prayer for the Lutheran family, and sharing experiences of working in a challenging environment and living with few resources.

One thing that particularly impressed Berhane about the Eritrean church is the tireless support of the women.

“We have very dedicated women, spending much of their time in prayer, praying for the church, praying for others, taking care of the ministry in various ways. They contribute a lot in many aspects of the life of the church. The spiritual commitment they have is inspirational.”

In many places, the women hold prayer and fasting programs, spending full days in fasting and prayer. “That is helping us survive and stand steady together as women and men in our mission work.”

 

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