No one planned for it. It caught us all by surprise. We had been hearing about it on the news, but for some reason, we didn’t think it was going to hit our nation.
When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Ethiopia on Friday, March 13, 2020, we were terrified because we knew how weak our healthcare systems and infrastructures were. We had a clear picture of what lockdowns would mean for the vast number of people who earned daily wages. Soon after the first case, our hospitals and emergency centers were filled with COVID-19 patients. There was so much fear and confusion in the air. No one was able to make sense of it all.
A medical doctor and member of our church who served at the front lines of the largest COVID-19 center in the country described her workplace as “a place where human fragility and death was experienced every single day.”
Response of Churches
On a positive note, leaders of various religious groups allied together and declared their versions of fasting and prayer—to ask God for forgiveness and deliverance.
We were terrified because we knew how weak our healthcare systems and infrastructures were.
On the other hand, wishful thinkers and self-acclaimed prophets in the evangelical circle who had prophesied that Ethiopia was immune to this virus were put to shame. It was ironic to see health and wealth gospel preachers shutting their healing services down because of an outbreak of disease. These preachers did a great disservice to their hearers as they busied themselves with watered-down sermons that denied reality and failed to provide a rock-solid biblical worldview about God’s sovereignty amid much suffering.
Overall, through wise government decisions, the unprecedented and unpredictable behavior of the virus, and an overarching common grace from the Lord, our nation survived with comparably little loss and suffering. Praise God it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
There wasn’t even much disagreement on the government’s response of mandatory masking, lockdowns, and gathering restrictions—probably because they didn’t last long and because we had bigger problems. In November 2020, a civil war erupted that has resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions of Ethiopians. While the world struggled through COVID-19, Ethiopia was (and still is) being wracked by war, displacement, famine, and suffering. For many Ethiopians, especially in the northern region, masking was not as great a concern as was the danger of severe armed conflict and the consequences that followed.
Growing Through Zoom
Our small church of about 60 members in the city of Addis Ababa continued to gather until the government declared a state of emergency and suspended all public gatherings. Sermons we heard and books we read on God’s sovereignty and goodness were now being put to test. Though we didn’t lose any of our members from church to COVID-19, most of us lost someone dear to us.
Sermons we heard and books we read on God’s sovereignty and goodness were now being put to test.
On top of all that, the war tore down the entire country and left in all of us wounds that may never heal. Hearing about death from every direction was the new sobering reality we had to live with. Even in those circumstances, we continued to meet through Zoom, where the pastor and the worship leader would broadcast from one room and the members attended virtually, scattered around the city—though their hearts were in one place.
In those weeks, we prayed fervently for our church, our nation, and our world. Zoom gatherings were rare in Ethiopia, and our online presence brought new believers and unbelievers into our community. When the doors reopened, our attendees significantly increased.
The Lord used this difficult season to grow our trust in him, to bring us together in this time of great need, and to teach us of the necessity of the church gathering. He was also merciful enough to show us the weaknesses and shortcomings in our church. There were times we had failed to care for our brothers who required our care and support. Members who never had high regard for the church gathering felt comfortable staying away even after restrictions were lifted. Some of us feared the virus more than we trusted our God. The Lord slowly convicted, purified, and sanctified us toward a deeper understanding of his grace.
In all this chaos, our God was calmly moving in silent, yet miraculous, ways. He led us through the sea and the mighty waves, though we couldn’t see his footprints (Ps. 77:19). He was there all along. Christ established his church and paid for her full price by his blood, and nothing shall shut her gates.
Our great God is sovereign over everything—disease, war, and death. He knows what he’s doing. We dare not question his ways or give him counsel on how to run his world. But we know enough to trust him. The Lord is indeed good and faithful, and his mercy endures forever.