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BosNewsLife (04/13/06) – Four terrified Christian women, including one suffering from AIDS, remained inside a besieged evangelical church in an Ethiopian city Thursday, April 13, which has been attacked by militants fearing its growing influence in the region, investigators said.

Askalu, 25, Gedey, 24, Eden Beyene, 20, and Meseret Wasiun, 30, are hold up in the Full Gospel Church of Axum, regarded as a “holy city” by the official Ethiopian Orthodox Church because it claims the Biblical Ark of the Covenant is kept there, said the Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), a Christian advocacy group with investigators in Ethiopia .

The four were reportedly thrown out of their homes after Orthodox leaders ordered families to expel non-members. “One of these women is suffering badly from AIDS but was still thrown out of her bed by her parents and chased from her home,” VOMC said.

Orthodox church officials allegedly also encouraged attacks against the church where a popular nightclub singer, Meseret Negusse, became a ‘born again’ Christian, accepting Jesus Christ as her personal Savior and Lord, VOMC said. Unlike more lively evangelical churches who emphasize “a personal relationship with God”, within Orthodox churches priests are often seen as crucial ‘mediators’ when praying to God.

NEW CONVERTS

Following the singer’s “conversion” to evangelical Christianity, she often brought new converts

with her during Sunday worship services, the Full Gospel Church said in a published statement.

“Meseret made us extremely busy in the Kingdom work by bringing new converts who need deliverance and follow up.”

It has led to tensions with the evangelical community in Axum , a source said on condition of anonymity. “In one of my trips to Axum , I was ministering in the evening service and stones were flowing on the roof like rain. I had to wait for hours to get out of the church and even then, stones were falling everywhere as we went out,” he said in remarks distributed to BosNewsLife by VOMC.

In other incidents on March 12 and 17, the church building was attacked, VOMC said. “The mob severely damaged the building with stones and burned it,” the group added. Attacks against these evangelicals are no isolated incidents in the impoverished African nation. Several Evangelical meetings are reportedly regularly broken up by mobs who beat, and occasionally kill, those gathering for worship services while homes of Evangelicals are known to have been destroyed.

EVANGELIST KILLED

Since last year at least one evangelist, 34-year old Estifanos Abate, of the Assemblies of God church in the town of Jijiga was shot and killed for refusing to deny his faith in Christ, human rights watchers said. VOMC said earlier that young people who convert from Islam to Christianity have been expelled from their homes and forced to live on the streets or work as house servants.

There has also been concern among Christians their situation will get worse if a new war breaks out between Ethiopia and its neighbor Eritrea , as embattled governments in both countries try to move attention away from internal political opposition. The 1998-2000 border conflict between the two Horn of Africa countries killed an estimated 70,000 people from both sides.

Evangelicals account for as much as twenty percent of Ethiopia ’s nearly 75-million people, according to VOMC estimates. The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) suggests that figure may be lower as membership of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church accounts for up to 40 percent of the population, nearly half of the Ethiopians are Muslims.