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2021 WORLD WATCH LIST #36

ETHIOPIA

Country rank

36

Persecution score

64.55

Last year’s rank

39

Region

Africa

Persecution Type

Christian Denominational protectionism (Strong), Islamic oppression (Strong), Dictatorial paranoia (Medium), Ethno-religious hostility (Medium)

Persecution Level

Very High

Population

112,759,000

Christians

67,491,000 (59.9%) Data source: Johnson T M and Zurlo G A, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed February 2020).

Main Religion

Christianity

Government

Federal Parliamentary Republic

Leader

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

In cooperation with local partners and churches, Open Doors supports the persecuted church in Ethiopia through:
• Biblical, leadership, discipleship, and cross-cultural evangelism training
• Livelihood support
• Emergency aid relief
• Preparing believers for persecution

ABOUT ETHIOPIA

 What does persecution look like in Ethiopia?

In Ethiopia, persecution is often dependent on what kind of Christian you are or where you live. Because of the government’s special relationship with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, other denominations—especially evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants—are persecuted by the state and by the Orthodox Church. Christians who switch denominations and leave the Orthodox Church are subject to family and community pressure and can face significant mistreatment. Additionally, churches can be restricted from holding religious gatherings. 

The other major factor for persecution in Ethiopia is Islamic extremism. Particularly in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country, converts to Christianity from Islam can be harassed and oppressed by their families and surrounding communities. In some of these regions, Christians are denied access to community resources, ostracized and discriminated against. Additionally, some Christians are subject to violence when Islamic extremists attack churches and homes. 

Women are also subjected to specific persecution in Ethiopia. Christian women have been forced to marry non-Christians and then recant their faith. And if a woman converts to Christianity in a non-Christian area, it is most likely she will be divorced by her husband. She may also lose custody of her children. 

How women experience persecution

Persecution of Christian women in Ethiopia often occurs in the form of abduction and forced marriage to a non-Christian. Forced marriage of children as young as 11 remains relatively common, and sources reveal that it continues to occur in rural parts of the country. Especially in rural areas, female Christian teens (and converts, in particular) are forced into family arranged marriages; in the case of abduction, their abductors force them to marry a follower of a different religion. Following her “marriage,” the Christian wife is expected to take on the religion of her new husband.

Rape (without the accompanying forcible marriage) is also an effective means of punishing a Christian woman or girl. The crime results in the community isolating her. Because she has converted, she will no longer be able to marry or be educated; and her family will suffer from the shame.

When a Muslim wife converts to Christianity, divorce is the most likely outcome. Even if her spouse does not seek a divorce, his family will pressure him to do so to protect the family name and grandchildren from “corruption.” In areas where Christianity is a minority religion, a divorce is most likely to take place outside courtrooms; the elders presiding over a tribal court see Christian faith as a dangerous deviation to prevent the spread of Christianity in the tribe.

Elders will likely grant custody of any children to the husband.

Christian women also face difficulties in procuring their inheritance after their decision to convert—reportedly a practice that affects mainly women. 

How men experience persecution

Christian men in Ethiopia are more likely to suffer physical attack and displacement than Christian women and girls. Culturally, families expect boys to help in hard times, so attacking men and boys is considered a strategic move. Reportedly, new converts may be forced out of their homes and villages and displaced to another area because of their faith.

Boys and men are at times forcefully recruited into rebel militant groups, and they are also targeted for torture and assault. Abduction, threats and tactical impoverishment of men are greatly affecting Christian families, along with the associated separation or living in camps.

What has changed this year?

Ethiopia rose three spots on the 2021 World Watch List over the 2020 report—largely because of an increase in violence against followers of Jesus. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Christians were targeted and discriminated against for their faith when government aid was distributed. Many were denied help.

Who is most vulnerable to persecution?

Geographically, persecution in Ethiopia depends upon which kind of persecution is most dominant. For example, the hotspots of persecution for followers of Jesus who leave Eastern Orthodoxy for a different denomination are in the regions of Amhara, Tigray and some parts of Oromia. Christians—particularly converts from Islam—suffering in Muslim-majority areas live in some parts of eastern and western Oromia, Afar and the Somali regions.

How can I help Christians in Ethiopia?

What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Ethiopia?

Through local partners and churches, Open Doors has been active in Ethiopia since the late 1980s. Our work focuses on equipping Christians for the work of ministry—whether it is leading a local persecuted congregation, sharing the gospel with unbelievers, or helping new believers grow in the knowledge of Christ. We are also helping Christians deal with the emotional and physical results of persecution. We do this through offering livelihood support and training for church leaders and Christians, and by helping followers of Jesus prepare for persecution. 

Your gift today will show our persecuted brothers and sisters in Ethiopia, and other countries in the World Watch List they are loved and remembered by you.

Pray

-Pray for the Christian denominations in Ethiopia, particularly for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Pray they would see the unity that’s possible in Jesus, and that they would embrace Christians of every kind under the banner of Christ’s Kingdom.

-Pray for Christians living in areas where Islamic extremists are active. Pray for protection and that they would not be discriminated against or oppressed.

 

A PRAYER FOR ETHIOPIA

Heavenly Father, we ask You to protect and preserve Your people in Ethiopia. We pray for unity among Your people, and ask that Jesus’ command for unity would be embraced by all Christians. We humbly ask that You would sustain those believers who are discriminated against and oppressed, and that You would encourage and give them hope when they are tempted to despair. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.