Ethiopia’s Meserete Kristos College at 25

Reflections on a silver anniversary

November 6, 2019 | Web First
Carl E. Hansen | Special to Canadian Mennonite
The first class at Meserete Kristos College in 1994. (Photo courtesy of MK College Public Relations)

The beginning of 2019 marked the silver anniversary of Meserete Kristos College.

In January 1994, there were only a handful of Meserete Kristos Church (MKC) leaders trained in Bible or theology. Now there are 1,864 men and women who have graduated from one of the college’s certificate, diploma or degree programs in Bible and Christian ministries. It is timely to ask, “What impact is the college having on the churches and the societies of Ethiopia?”

One may find its alumni scattered all over Ethiopia, giving pastoral or administrative leadership in congregations; preaching well-prepared, contextually relevant and challenging sermons; coordinating or staffing most of the 39 regional MKC offices; serving in the head office in the national capital, Addis Ababa, doing translation work, designing study and teaching materials or directing mission programs.

Others are teaching in newly formed regional Bible schools; leading in the Orthodox Renewal Movement; reaching the unreached in missionary work; translating materials into vernacular languages; teaching or preaching in radio and TV ministries; serving in prison ministries; leading in peacemaking interventions; and coordinating other para-church organizations. 

In January 1994, equipped with little more than a powerful desire to teach and a strong faith that, with God, “where there is vision, there will be provision,” MKC launched its first class of 13 evangelist-students in small rented rooms. “Provision” came bit by bit, thanks to the generous support of sympathetic partners among the international family of faith.  

Today, the college has a main campus of five hectares in Bishoftu (formerly Debre Zeit), 40 kilometres southeast of the capital. Developing this permanent campus is still in process. It operates out of the first half of its incomplete academic building; has completed two dormitories with a capacity for 384 men and 258 women; has a guesthouse; uses several temporary smaller buildings, including a temporary kitchen and dining hall/chapel.

The urgent need is for a permanent kitchen, as the temporary one has been deemed unfit by the Ministry of Public Health.

Meserete Kristos College offers both two-year diploma and four-year baccalaureate degree programs in Bible and Christian ministries taught in both English and Amharic languages. Currently, 257 boarding students are enrolled at its Bishoftu campus, and 137 day-students are in its two extension campuses in Addis Ababa and Adama.

The college also administers a distance education diploma program in Bible and Christian ministries taught in Amharic to 125 participants scattered throughout Ethiopia, especially in remote areas.

Thus, the college is currently responsible for the training of 519 church leaders in all of these programs. Perhaps this would qualify the college to be the largest Mennonite "undergrad seminary" in the world!

Apart from an occasional guest lecturer from the outside, all of the instructors are Ethiopian nationals. It is encouraging to see their high spiritual, intellectual and academic quality. Currently six of the full-time instructors and three part-time instructors at the Bishoftu campus are graduates of Anabaptist seminaries in North America: Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Eastern Mennonite Seminary and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. The first Ethiopian female teacher with a doctorate joined the faculty in January 2017.

Most of the students admitted to full-time boarding at the Bishoftu campus are full-time servants nominated and sent by their congregations from the 39 MKC regions. These students are required to bring a cost sharing fee of US$210 (6,000 birr) for a full 10-month school year. The remaining cost of tuition, room and board is covered by the college in the form of scholarships worth around US$2,500 apiece. Most of this scholarship assistance is raised from supporters abroad. Some students are self-sponsored or sponsored by other denominations.  

In addition, 31 other regional Bible institutes or Bible schools have been founded and operated by the regional offices or MKC congregations. 

In Ethiopia, the gospel is spreading, the churches are growing and the kingdom of God is expanding. In the past year, MKC churches baptized 27,008 new members, an average of 73 per day. In September 2019, it counted 367,761 baptized members in a faith community of more than 647,441 who worship in 1,126 congregations and 1,112 church planting centres. Fifty-nine new congregations were added last year alone.

Related stories:
Church growth stretches Ethiopian resources
'We really need each other a lot'
Education equips Ethiopian leader to serve
Ethiopian Meserete Kristos Church continues to grow

The first class at Meserete Kristos College in 1994. (Photo courtesy of MK College Public Relations)

Students and faculty enjoy coffee time at the first campus, 1997. (Photo courtesy of MK College Public Relations)

The Promised Land: Five hectares given as a permanent home for MK College as seen in the fall of 2000. Pictured from left to right: Mulugeta Zewdie, the college’s executive secretary, Mervin Charles and Susan Godshall of Eastern Mennonite Missions, and Linda and Bob Hovde, Mennonite Central Committee Ethiopia representatives. (Photo courtesy of MK College Public Relations)

The MK College campus as viewed from the west in 2019. (Photo by Henok Tamerat)

The MK College campus as viewed from the east in 2019. (Photo by Henok Tamerat)

Current Bishoftu campus as seen from the air. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps, with captions added by John Buckwalter)

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Folks, take a good look at what God is doing in Ethiopia with Meserete Kristos. This is precisely what the Holy Spirit longs to do with us, but thus far most of our leadership is too obstinate. While we in MC Canada increasingly emulate Justin Trudeau's spirituality, the Ethiopian Anabaptists look more and more like Jesus' first Apostles - fearlessly evangelizing their own nation with the uncompromising truth of scripture. Not surprisingly, Meserete Kristos has become the fastest growing Anabaptist hub in the world, struggling to find enough pastors to disciple the thousands of new converts coming into the kingdom. Meanwhile many of our congregations are dying a slow death.

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