From The One Year Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, 2003, pages 372-373.
In 1928 the Sudan Interior Mission sent the first missionaries to the Wallamo tribe of Ethiopia. They faced a difficult task, for the Wallamos were Satan worshipers. On the first day of the year the tribe performed a ceremony resembling the Old Testament Passover, but that was, in reality, a sacrifice to the devil. A bull was sacrificed, its blood was smeared on the doorposts of each house, and a drop of blood was placed on each family member. The ceremony ended with the head of the household on his knees praying to Satan. Then everyone ate the raw meat.
Wealthy Wallamos were slave owners. If a slave owner decided his slaves had had enough children, he would have all further babies born to them buried alive.
By 1930 the Ethiopian government was attempting to stop the infanticide and slavery among the Wallamos. In 1935 Emperor Haile Selassie was in the process of trying to modernize his nation when Italian troops under Mussolini invaded. Italian troops had attacked once before in 1896 but that time Ethiopia had overpowered them. That humiliating defeat marked the first time in history that an African nation had defeated a European invader. Now Mussolini was determined to avenge that defeat.
This time the Ethiopians were no match for the well-equipped Italian army. They fought courageously, but in May 1936 the capital of Addis Ababa fell.
The Italian army advanced into the tribal areas, demanding that the missionaries leave. On April 16, 1937, the day before the missionaries to the Wallamo left, they shared the Lord’s Supper with the believers. When the missionaries had first arrived, there were no believers in the tribe. Now, nine years later, there were forty-eight.
The next day Italian army trucks took the twenty-six missionaries and their children to Addis Ababa for evacuation. As the trucks pulled away, the missionaries wondered if they would ever be able to return, and what they would find if they did.
With the missionaries gone, the Italians tried to stamp out the fledgling church. Many church leaders were given one hundred lashes, and one was given four hundred. After the lashings they could not lie on their backs for months, and three died.
Toro, a leader in the Wallamo church, was able to stay in hiding for six months before he finally captured. He was given forty lashes. Then an Italian officer wearing hobnailed boots jumped up and down on his chest, nearly crushing his rib cage. Later as he lay immobile in his prison cell, he saw a vision of Jesus, who said to him, “Do not be afraid. You are my child.”
After a slow recovery, Toro was released from prison, only to be arrested again when he resumed preaching. This time he and other church leaders were taken to the marketplace, stripped naked, and each given more than one hundred lashes. Back in jail; Toro’s Italian captors taunted him saying, “Where is your God who can deliver you from us? You’ll never get out of here alive.” Hardly able to speak, Toro whispered that God could deliver him “if he chooses— and if not, he has promised to take me to heaven to be with him there.”
Later, Toro and his fellow believers were praying when a fierce thunderstorm descended upon the prison. The gale-force winds literally blew the roof off. Torrents of water separated the mud walls from the foundation. Most of the non-Christian prisoners escaped. The frightened jailers were convinced the storm had come in answer to the prisoners’ prayers. “Ask your God to withhold his anger,” they begged Toro, “and we will release you.” They kept their word and released him.
Finally on July 4, 1943, the missionaries were able to return to the Wallamo. During the six years that they were gone, the forty-eight believers had multiplied to eighteen thousand.
“When the prisoners were finally released, they fearlessly testified about why they were willing to suffer for Christ. They explained the Gospel– that God’s Son had come to earth to pay for all our sins by his death on the cross, and conquered death, sin, and Satan by rising from the dead. He now invited anyone from any nation to believe in Him, promising he would forgive their sins, walk with them through life, and take them to heaven when they died… The only portion of Scriptures the Wallamo Christians had was the Gospel of Mark, along with a pamphlet that contained a few other verses. They made up their own hymns, sent out Christians to bring the Gospel to other tribes, and established a hundred congregations.”
—What’s the Big Deal About Other Religions?, John Ankerberg and Dillon Burroughs.
A church in rural Ethiopia
Matthew 13:31-32 — (Jesus) told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
Matthew 5:10 — (Jesus said), “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:43-45a — (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Sovereign God, we worship you and acknowledge that you know all of those who suffer in your name. We remember those who are imprisoned for their faith and ask that they would join with the Apostle Paul to see that even though they remain captive, their chains have furthered the gospel, not frustrated it. May they inspire and embolden their fellow believers to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. Amen.