Ethiopia ACT

A Mercy Ministry in Ethiopia’s Slums Bears Gospel Fruit During COVID-19

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Dec 1, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep the globe in early 2020, experts assumed the disease would decimate close-packed slums across the developing world—often so densely populated that social distancing measures are simply impossible. When the virus arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, MTW missionaries working in the capital city’s slums feared the worst.

Here, in partnership with non-profit Ethiopia ACT, MTW serves the most impoverished communities in Addis—pairing church planting with economic development and public health efforts, particularly working with families suffering from communicable diseases like HIV and Tuberculosis.

“Most of our folks are immunocompromised in some way, so we wanted to be on the cautious side,” said MTW missionary Jason Polk.

A pandemic strikes

When local cases began to rise in early March, Jason and Ethiopian partners decided to suspend their church plant’s in-person gatherings as a safety precaution. The next day, the government declared a state of emergency, mandating mask wearing, closing schools, and banning gatherings of more than four people.

By the grace of God, and to the surprise of many, Ethiopia’s early infection and mortality rates were comparatively low. And though the numbers of cases have increased significantly since June, the slum communities with which the team works have been largely spared.


“There has been spread, but not in the way they expected,” Jason said. “The best explanation I’ve heard so far is that people here have been exposed to enough coronaviruses that there’s cross-immunity. … And as things have progressed and more data has come out, it seems like folks with HIV are maybe not as high risk as other categories.”

The economy has not been so lucky.

No money for rent or food

While the Ethiopian government never ordered businesses to close, many of the poorest have still suffered. Slum-dwellers who work as housekeepers were furloughed, builders languished as projects were canceled, and vendors found their customer-bases plummeting. With churches closed, congregants couldn’t tithe, and many pastors and church staff went unpaid.

While lost jobs and slashed incomes have been a tough reality of the pandemic worldwide, the stakes are higher here. Like many emerging world countries, significant portions of Ethiopia’s population live a hand-to-mouth existence: the money they earn from a day’s work pays for the food they eat that night. Without income, they not only can’t make rent, they can’t eat.

Seeing this deep need emerging in their neighborhoods, MTW and Ethiopia ACT leapt into action.

What would be most helpful?

We do a lot of research, a lot of surveys, so we have a good system for determining who the neediest and most vulnerable people are,” explained MTW missionary and Ethiopia ACT founder Andy Warren. “Once we’ve determined that, we talk to people and ask them: ‘what’s most helpful for you?’ … Then we find suppliers and buy flour, oil, and lentils—the staples. …. and then we do a monthly distribution of food in the communities with the government providing assistance as we make the deliveries.”


Thus far, Ethiopia ACT has provided food or basic rent support for about 351 families, while the Church Planting Team has helped an additional 171—around 522 families in all. According to Jason, the team is already preparing to support the city’s neediest families as needed through 2021, and the community has taken notice.

A positive part of the community

The way we’ve worked with the government has raised our profile in some really positive ways in the community,” Andy said. “So many other NGOs just packed up and left when COVID hit. One objective that we set last year was to become an organization that the government and the people in the community would look to as an example for other organizations, as a really positive part of the community, and that’s happened with COVID …. It’s opened up opportunities for spiritual ministry and for sharing the gospel.”

For example, on a typical pre-pandemic Sunday, between 50 to 70 kids came to the church plant for Sunday school or children’s church. While a handful of those came with their parents, around three-quarters were just kids from the community, sent by their parents to give them something productive to do.

“Because we provided for church members who needed help, we also tracked down the families of all the kids we minister to on Sundays,” Jason explained. “We talked with them, tried to understand their needs, and assisted a good number of them as well. That produced a ton of fruit! Many of those families were like: ‘We just send our kids on Sundays so they’ll stay out of our hair, and now you’re asking how we’re doing and trying to care for us?’ That has been really meaningful.”

More Documents

Similarly, the church runs a community soccer league as a way to minister to youth and young men in their 20s. When the church asked the soccer players how their families were doing and how the church could help, and then proceeded to follow up with tangible aid, that too built important relational bridges—not just to the players, but to their whole families.

The team’s ministry of mercy has borne real gospel fruit, and Andy and Jason hope that, as a result, the current church will be strengthened and that new churches will be planted in Addis. As Ethiopia ACT continues to serve the most vulnerable in their community with the love of Christ, pray that the Spirit would work mightily in and through His Church.

Your gifts to MTW’s Compassion Fund help fund communities like these in times of crisis. Please consider a year-end gift to the Compassion Fund at

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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Pray for ongoing ministry in the Suki community during COVID-19. Many day workers cannot work, and the church is having to find creative ways to minister. 

Pray for those in the urban slums of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who are struggling economically due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Pray for the church-planting team in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, (comprised of five Ethiopian nationals and an MTW missionary) as they work together to wholistically share Christ and serve the local community. 

Pray for the team in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as national partners and MTW missionaries work hand in hand for a greater overall impact.

Pray for a new initiative in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to hand deliver soap and provide education on disease prevention to 600 families in poverty-stricken communities. 

Please pray for the new church plant in the urban slum community of Suki, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Pray for the group of believers, that their fellowship in the gospel will continue to grow.

Pray for the new church plant in Suki, a settlement where people struggle with deep poverty. A year after the church started meeting, dozens have become believers.

Pray for the impoverished community of Suki in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our teams are serving people in this community to meet physical and spiritual needs.

Pray for church-planting work to increase and bear much fruit in strategic cities around the world that are filling with diverse international populations.

Give thanks for the work God is doing in South Asia in the wake of COVID lockdown relief. Ask God to grow the new believers who came to faith in Christ as a result.


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