Located on the easternmost part of the African mainland, the Horn of Africa includes countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Djibouti.
The region’s waters have for more than a century provided a swift and strategic naval connection between eastern Africa, the Euro-Mediterranean region and the Middle East. In fact, it is estimated that 10 to 20% of global trade transits along the Horn of Africa’s shores. The myriad of foreign stakeholders has also deeply influenced the local political and religious landscape, making the region a complex one.
Religious tension and persecution
Apart from the geo-political factors, religious tensions in the Horn of Africa make it extremely difficult to share the Good News with those who have never heard the name of Jesus. According to Joshua Project, 29.5% of people groups in Ethiopia are unreached*. This number increases exponentially when looking at neighbouring countries Eritrea (52.9%), Djibouti (63.6%), and Somalia (90.9%). Within these unreached people groups, there are little to no Christians, discipleship groups or churches.
In some geographical pockets of the Horn of Africa where people have had the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel, believers often face severe pressure, intimidation, and persecution to deter them and others from following Jesus.
Somalia (#2), Eritrea (#4) and Ethiopia (#39) are three Horn of Africa countries that appear on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List (WWL) which highlights the top 50 countries where Christians experience the most persecution. The cost of following Jesus is high and persecution often takes on different forms including restrictions on religious freedom, imprisonment, societal exclusion, being denied access to education, employment and healthcare, or in many cases, death. It is truly one of the hardest places in the world to be a follower of Christ.
Yet, amidst these dark realities, the gospel is spreading across Africa. The 2022 Status of Global Christianity report reveals that Christianity is growing faster on the continent of Africa than in any other part of the world. Mergon Foundation’s relationship manager for sub-Saharan Africa, De Wet Spies, has seen this first-hand in his travels throughout the region, and more recently during a trip to the Horn of Africa.
‘In this part of the world it’s not as straightforward as planning to do a specific number of ministry activities by a specific date,’ he says. ‘One has to have a deep understanding of, and sensitivity to, the various political and religious nuances. Our partners often face a myriad of challenges and tend to operate discreetly in a region that is very complex and sensitive. We see our role as purposefully coming alongside these leaders and organisations to resource, support and encourage them to persevere in the vision that God has called them to,’ explains De Wet.
Taking a longer view on partnership
Within the sub-Saharan Africa region, Mergon desires to see a healthy and growing expression of the body of Christ that is both deep and wide. In other words, seeing every believer getting to know Jesus better, becoming more like Him and following His example (deep), and every believer taking responsibility to finish the Great Commission (wide). This is one of the reasons the Foundation specifically aims to partner with indigenous ministries who understand their local contexts, make disciples, and provide sound biblical training as they knit new believers into the family of faith.
‘Over the years we have truly seen the value of partnership and of building authentic and trusting relationships with indigenous ministry leaders. When we work together in unity, following the Lord’s leading, He prepares the way and opens doors we could have never imagined,’ says De Wet. ‘Our partners are doing incredible work among the unreached people groups in the Horn of Africa as they make disciples and minister among women, students, prisoners and the persecuted church,’ he notes.
Many of the Foundation’s partner ministries in the region focus on meeting the practical needs of people in unreached communities – be that through medical outreaches, drilling water wells, facilitating literacy programmes, or providing humanitarian aid. In many areas where there is hostility towards Christianity, ministries provide business training and capital for local leaders to start businesses.
The power of prayer
‘Prayer is also a crucial need in this region and the stories that emerge as a result of persistent prayer are so encouraging,’ says De Wet. ‘One of our partners shared a story of a Christian man who would walk 10-12km every day to share the gospel in an unreached community. One day he met a man named Amadi who had fallen into severe depression. Amadi’s family feared for his life and tried everything, including sending him to the village medicine man who practised tribal spiritualism. Nothing worked. The Christian man began to pray for Amadi to which a family member responded “If Amadi gets healed, then our family will all follow your Jesus.” This sparked even more fervent prayer over a couple of weeks and indeed, Amadi was healed. When his family and the community saw his transformation, twelve of them immediately decided to become followers of Jesus!’
‘God is at work in the Horn of Africa and we want to partner with Him in what He is doing. Please join us as we pray for the unreached people groups in the region as well as for the followers of Christ – that they will remain strong in their faith and continue to share the love of Jesus which leads to freedom and life in abundance,’ concludes De Wet.
*unreached: Joshua Project defines unreached people as a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without outside assistance.