In Ethiopia I had the great honor of meeting a group of believers who lived in a very remote part of the country. There was no road to their village, only a random path marked by the odd African shade tree. When the pastor was directing me there, he tried to talk to me in his broken English. He explained that it takes him four hours to walk to the village. This village used to be fully Muslim. He shared with me that this church “was in the shadows”. I was not quite sure what he met until we arrived at a large tree with several homemade chairs and mats on the ground. Then I knew the church in the shadows met in the shade of a tree.
There were a few houses around, and occasionally a goat herder would come by and stop under the shade to see what we were doing. They quickly discovered that we were Christians who were worshipping Jesus. The believers shared their testimonies of how they came to Christ. First was a woman. She came to Christ when the evangelist prayed she would be healed of a sickness. She spent all of her money on treatment, and was still not well. She was hopeless and broken. The evangelist prayed for her and instantly she was healed. She told her father about Jesus and how he had healed her and he decided to try Jesus out also. He had been told by the religious leader that he had an evil presence on his life, so he should destroy his house and build a new one. He obeyed. His life got worse and now he was homeless and utterly poor. Over the years the religious leaders demanded sacrifices and he had lost nearly all of his goats and cattle to the sacrifices. Three houses later and living in utter poverty, he was desperate for real help. He prayed to Jesus and his eyes were opened to the deception of Satan. Without sacrifice and without going to the religious leaders he saw how his life and his attitude improved. He knew Jesus was true. He and his daughter now fearlessly began to share with the other Muslims in the village. Now, in less than a year, three whole families have come to Christ.
In the West, when we honestly think of a church, we think of huge buildings, elaborate facilities and scholarly speeches. Sometimes we feel as if there is more. There is indeed more. Consider what these believers in rural Ethiopia experience: They gather together and worship Jesus with all their heart. They are constantly interacting with those who hate them yet reach out to others in love. They gather together for fellowship and prayer. They help each other as they have need. They learn the scriptures and apply them to their lives. They are filled with joy. They face difficulties and hardship, yet they see how God is helping them and how their lives are improving. They experience God doing miracles in their lives almost daily.
In fact, their church looks very similar to the early church which met in Jerusalem in the Bible. In Acts it says, “42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).
This church will likely never have a fancy building. They are purely an organic church! Yet, in many respects I believe they are much more the representation of the church that Jesus intended. If angels visit our churches during our worship services, I am pretty sure there is a great multitude which visits this church in the shadows.