Preacher Yoshanis Asrat’s frenzied homily pulsed over the tin shacks and mud homes of the Megenanga neighborhood in Addis Ababa. If you followed his voice and the blaring synthesized piano that accompanied it, you would arrive at his congregation, the Mascara Church—little more than a tent in a muddy backyard in Ethiopia’s capital.
But in a black suit with his hair slicked back, and standing over a glass lectern in front of a large gold-colored cross, Yoshanis might as well be in a polished megachurch in a wealthy American suburb.
“Take Jesus,” he shouted to his parishioners, scattered across the rows of rickety wooden benches. “Take him right now! Right now he will heal you!”
“Amen!” the congregants cried.
In 16 years, Yoshanis’s flock has grown from a handful of members meeting around a kitchen table to a congregation of several hundred. That could be a testament to the pastor’s electrifying orations. But such growth has not been uncommon for charismatic and evangelical churches in Addis Ababa, a city of 3 million people.
“We are growing into a modern country,” Yoshanis said. “We have modern people here, and they want a modern church.”
Ethiopia has 90 million people and is one of the world’s fastest growing major nations, with a 3.1 percent increase in population from 2010. Over the past 30 years, that national population growth rate has averaged 2.7 percent per year. The rapid expansion is introducing historic change to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, an ancient branch of Christianity.
As the world’s largest Oriental Orthodox church, its identity is tied to traditions and some unique teachings that are more than 1,600 years old. (For example, opposing the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451—which taught that Christ existed as one person with two natures, human and divine—they believe that Christ’s natures were united in one.)