Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Country information: Ethiopia

Published: Friday, Jan. 29, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 85,237,000; Members, 848; Branches, 4; Africa Southeast Area; Kenya Nairobi Mission; percent LDS, .001, or 1 in 100,515.

In east central Africa, Ethiopia has a population that speaks Amharic, English, Orominga and Tigrigna and who are primarily Ethiopian Orthodox, Islam, and animist (a belief of conscious life within objects).

From the 1950s-1970s, small groups of foreign Latter-day Saints met in Addis Ababa and Asmara. These Church members and their families worked in Ethiopia in embassies, the U.S. military, and other humanitarian organizations. They held Church meetings in their homes and reported to the Swiss Mission or the International Mission.

In 1974, the Ethiopian government was overthrown and a military committee known as the Dergue assumed leadership. The Dergue, which had overtly anti-church policies, lasted until 1991. During this time, famine struck parts of Ethiopia. In January 1985, the Church held a fast and donated a portion of the money for Ethiopian famine relief. Elder M. Russell Ballard, then a Seventy, and Glenn L. Pace, then managing director of the Welfare Services Department, visited Ethiopia to oversee the Church's donation.

In 1991, Elder Richard P. Lindsay, first president of the Africa Area, began to correspond with Ethiopians who had in various ways heard about the Church. In the summer of 1991, Robert and Gloria DeWitt, Latter-day Saints from America, moved to Addis Ababa, where they worked in the U.S. Embassy. They began to hold church meetings in their home. Also in 1991, Jonas Yirgu Belay, an Ethiopian native, was baptized in Germany. Belay wrote to the DeWitts and told them he was returning to Ethiopia. Shortly after his arrival, he met with the DeWitts for Church services and brought members of his family and friends to the meetings. By spring 1992, 12 people were attending meetings at the DeWitt home.

In August 1992, Elder Lindsay and his counselor in the Area Presidency, Elder J Ballard Washburn, traveled to Ethiopia to locate members and look into possibilities to establish the Church. They met with the DeWitt family and called Robert DeWitt as presiding elder. Shortly thereafter, Ethiopia became part of the Kenya Nairobi Mission.

A. Eugene and L. Ruth Hilton, the first LDS missionaries to serve in Ethiopia, arrived in Addis Ababa in January 1993. The Church was officially recognized in Ethiopia on 16 September 1993. The first branch in Ethiopia was organized on 5 January 1994 with Denisa Girma as president. Girma had been baptized while attending Ricks College in Idaho in 1973. Girma's counselors were Haile Mariam Yadessa and Hine Hasenu.

When the Addis Ababa Branch was organized, the branch moved from the DeWitts' home into the International Community School in southwest Addis Ababa. The first meetinghouse in Ethiopia, built in Addis Ababa, was dedicated on 30 November 2003.

The Book of Mormon was translated into Amharic by Tigist Negash and published in 2000.

In 2001, the Ethiopian government did not renew missionary visas and all non-Ethiopian Christian missionaries had to leave once their visas expired. By August of 2001, no full-time missionaries were serving in Ethiopia. However, local member missionaries continued to bring people into the Church. In September of that year, mission president Raymond Botterell reported that 12 people had been baptized by local "district missionaries."

The Church shipped 6,000 tons of food to famine-stricken areas of Ethiopia in 2003. At the end of the year, there were three branches in Ethiopia: Megenagna and Bekulobet branches in Addis Ababa, and the Debre Zeit Branch.

Membership was 564 in 2003.

Sources: Kenya Nairobi Mission, Annual histories, Church Archives; Kenya Nairobi Mission history, 1998, Church Archives; "First meetinghouse in east African nation," Church News, 20 December 2003; Gloria Robertson DeWitt, Experiences in Ethiopia, Church Archives; BYU NewsNet Website, 12 Oct 2000; Ethiopia Ministry of Internal Affairs, Certificate of Registration, 1993, Church Archives; Kirk T. Waldron Oral History, 1998-2001, Church Archives; "Ethiopian aid," Church News, 15 March 2003; "Severe drought continues to plague Ethiopia," Church News, 14 June 2003; Allen Eugene Hilton interview, 1994, Church Archives.