P'ent'ay -ECFE
Classification Protestant
Orientation Evangelical
Polity Congregationalist
Region Ethiopia, United States, Norway, Kenya, Eritrea, Canada, Germany, United Kingdom
Members ~15,000,000
Official website Official ECFE website (english)

P'ent'ay (from Amharic: ጴንጤ?, also transliterated as Pentay or Pente) is an Amharic and Tigrinya language term for a Christian of a Protestant denomination, widely used in Ethiopia and among Ethiopians and Eritreans living abroad. The term was created in the late 1960s and was used as a term of disparagement towards those churches who believed in the "Pentecostal experience". Today, it is used to describe Christians who are not members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo, Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo, Roman Catholic or Ethiopian Catholic churches. The term P'ent'ay is a shortening of the word "Pentecostal", however, it is widely used when referring to all Protestant Christians whether they are actual Pentecostals or not.[1] The equivalent rendition in many other languages is Evangelicals. The four major Evangelical denominations in Ethiopia are: the Kale Heywet (Word of Life); Mekane Yesus (Place of Jesus), Lutheran; Mulu Wongel (Full Gospel) and Meserete Kristos (meaning "Christ foundation") or Mennonite. Some P'ent'ay communities - especially Mekane Yesus - have been influenced by the Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which represents mainstream, traditional Ethiopian Christianity. But for the most part they are very Pentecostal in their worship and theology.

The P'ent'ay label may be an indication of the apparent prominence of the Pentecostal denomination at some point in the history of Evangelicalism in Ethiopia, even though many other branches such as Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Mennonites also have a similarly wide presence.[2]


Evangelicals in Ethiopia believe that one should be saved by believing in Jesus as Lord and Saviour for the forgiveness of sins. They believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the one essence of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19-20, also Psalms 2:7, Mark 9:7, Luke 22:29, Luke 3:22). Like all other Christian churches that accept the Gospels, P'ent'ays also believe in being "born again" (dagem meweled), as it is written numerous times in the Gospel of John, and demonstrated by one's baptism in the Holy Spirit as well as water baptism, speaking in tongues is one of the signs, but not the only sign, of "receiving Christ", which should include a new lifestyle and social behavior.

Although almost all Evangelical branches in Ethiopia have one or two theological differences or different approaches in the interpretation of the Bible, all of the four major branches follow the beliefs common to born-again Christians of the world. The four major denominations also exchange pastors (megabi) and allow the preachers to serve in different churches when invited. All of the four main churches and others also share and listen to various gospel singers, mezmur (gospel music) producers and choirs.


Modern Ethiopian Evangelicals have origins from the Azusa Street Revival in the United States led by Charles Fox Parham and the African American William J. Seymour. But the whole Pentecostal movement is passed down and based on Charismatic Evangelical interpretations concerning the Day of the Pentecost. Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and many other Protestant interpretations of these same events differ radically from the interpretations of this group. In light of their own interpretations, the Ethiopian Pentecostal church claims origins from Philip the Evangelist. (The mainstream Orthodox Church has claimed its earliest origins from the Ethiopian royal official said to have been baptised by Philip in Acts 9 .) However every branch of the Evangelical community, including Mekane Yesus & Qale Hiywet, has its own unique beginning both in Ethiopia (19th-20th centuries) and their counterparts in Europe (10th-17th centuries.)

For the most part, Evangelical Ethiopian Christians state that their form of Christianity is both the reformation of the current Orthodox Tewahido church as well as the restoration of it to the original Ethiopian Christianity. They believe Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity was paganized after the 960s, during the reign of queen Gudit, who destroyed & burned most of the church's possessions and scriptures.[3] Thus they claim those events have led to the gradual paganization of the Orthodox church which they claim is now merely dominated by rituals, hearsay and fables.[4] Evangelical Christians use the alleged "secularized teaching" of the current Orthodox Tewahido church, the alleged inability of most Orthodox followers to live according to the instructions of the Bible and the extra unbiblical booklets used by rural priests, as a proof to their belief that Orthodox Tewahido teaching is mainly paganized. Therefore, most Ethiopian P'ent'ay Christians use the history of the Ethiopia Orthodox Christianity prior to the 960s as their own history.

As it organized in the 4th century, within the Ethiopian Aksumite Kingdom, the Christian church grew larger and more influential to the political power distribution. Thus according to Ethiopian historical texts, its association with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church strengthened. During this period, most Ethiopians followed the Septuagint bible including all of the 'Deuterocanonical books' for a total of 81. Meanwhile, the Councils of Bishops in the Roman Empire following Constantine followed the Old Testament canon that had been established by the Sanhedrin at Yavne in c. 80, paring the total down to only 66 books. These customs kept all devout Christians together and in sync for several decades. But later, a contradiction in interpretation led to a less-known clash between those Christians who accepted the canon of other Churches, rejecting the Deuterocanon of the Septuagint. According to historical literature from the Addis Ababa Mulu Wongel Church, Ethiopian devout Christians who didn’t approve of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church got exposed to the Evangelical movements occurring in Europe in the 16th and 17th century. With growing dispute on the additional texts of the Orthodox Church, the alleged changing of the original meanings of the Bible did little to decrease the attendance of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. However it was only during early 20th century that American and European missionaries spread Protestantism with Mennonite and Pentecostal Churches through the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM). When SIM continued its movement after a brief ban during Ethiopia's war with Italy, it is written that the missionaries were taken aback by the fruits of their initial mission. Protestant Christians still face persecution in rural regions, however there is a growing tolerance between the Ethiopian Orthodox, Muslims and the growing population of P'en'tay Christians in the urban areas of the country. According to Adherents.com, the Pentecostal population is growing quickly with even faster rates in the third world countries. Yet, with the dominance of the Ethiopian Orthodox church and the growing Muslim population, the population of P'en'tay Christians estimated around 16.15 million (19 percent of total population), according to the information released by the US department of state.[5]


According to the 2005 statistics from the World Christian Database, Ethiopian Pentecostal/Charismatic members cover a bit over 16 percent of the country as P'ent'ays of Ethiopia. The individual groups are the Word of Life Church (Qale Hiywet) church, Mekane Yesus, Churches of Christ, Misgana Church of Ethiopia, Assembly of God, Hiwot Berhan Church, Emnet Kristos, Meserete Kristos, Light of Life Church, Mulu Wongel (Full Gospel Believers Church) and other churches constituting slightly over 12 million P'ent'ays in Ethiopia.[6] However, according to World Christian Encyclopedia, the Evangelical community is down to only 13.6% of Ethiopian population.[7][8] According to the 1994 government census, Protestant Christians comprise 10% of the population (about 7-8 million today).[9] According to membership and adherent records provided by the various churches and denominations, Ethiopian Protestants claim as high as 18.59% of the country's population which is inline with the recent data from the US department of state.[5][10]


Non affiliates

Recent misidentification of certain groups as P'ent'ays has caused confusion. One controversy involves Oneness Pentecostalism, which is opposed by all the Protestant churches. Since Oneness Pentecostals deny the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity, they are rejected by the P'ent'ay Christians of Ethiopia. Similarly, the Jehovah's Witnesses (who affirm Arianism) are also rejected by P'ent'ay Christians.


Protestant Christians face persecution both by the Orthodox Church and by Muslims in rural areas of Ethiopia. According to Voice of the Martyrs there have been brutal killings of P'ent'ay Christians in rural areas that tend to be overlooked by the Ethiopian rural officials and stay undisclosed to international organizations. Some Orthodox families expel children out of their house if the children convert to Protestantism. Since the majority population is Orthodox, Voice of Martyrs claims no criminal investigations are carried against Orthodox mobs who burn Evangelical churches, destroy houses and even murder P'ent'ay Christians. One such case was the death of a Protestant (from Merawi Full Gospel Church), after allegedly being struck by an ax by an Orthodox priest. The pastor wasn't able to receive medical treatment due to the priest's order to the authorities.

Voice of Martyrs also states that Evangelical Christians have been murdered by Islamic militants because they wouldn't renounce their faith in Christ. Islamic militants have stopped at least one bus (near Jijiga, a rural area) and demanded Christians recite the Islamic creed, killing those who refuse. The mostly rural churches like Qale Hiywet have historically faced persecution with aggressors often doing so with impunity. During the previous 1970s & 1980s government, persecution was equally severe in the urban cities as well, with the likes of Mulu Wongel church (Full Gospel) and Mesereke Kristos Church facing widespread persecution and mass imprisonments & killings. Lacking western ties, the Mulu Wongel church was outlawed by the Derg Ethiopian government in 1972.[11] [wrong date? - Derg starten i 1974] One member of the Mulu Wongel church once prophesied in 1979 about the future of the church saying -

"There will soon come a long time of extreme hardship where you will be legally persecuted by your own government. It will be a time of seemingly endless misery and a test of your faith in me. Some believers will break down and lose faith but some will stay strong in faith. At the end, my people will see light as government changes and a new order arrives. you will then be blessed with the fruits of your prayers and faithfulness."

Since the prophecy, more persecution followed Ethiopian Protestants for more than a decade. However, after a change of government, many things improved including religious equality, & the right to worship, build churches & evangelize but minor & rural issues still exist. Despite these issues, compared to the past, the 1990s have brought the most freedom of religion in Ethiopia. Most of these Evangelical churches, especially Mulu Wongel, Assembly of God & Qale Hiywet, faced a lot of persecution & detentions, at times mass killings of their members by previous governments. In addition the 1980s government abolished religious education, closed many church buildings and arrested many religious leaders, while some disappeared.[12] Ironically, the state sponsored persecution of Protestants by the 1980s government created what some scholars call an "invisible church" and an underground evangelism where the membership of these churches drastically increased despite this era of persecution.[13] Thus they say the attempt by the military 1974-1991 regime to "eliminate evangelical Christianity" united evangelicals and made them strong.[14]

Since the early 1990s, killings and persecution have mostly stopped, particularly in the cities and areas near the cities, and there is a growing level of tolerance between Evangelical Christians and other religion followers. Even though it is not comparable to the state sponsored persecution of the past, P'ent'ay Christians in Ethiopia still face persecution from private citizens in Muslim dominated rural areas.[15] Despite Ethiopia's well-known religious tolerance, culture related acceptance issues and the growth of some Evangelical churches have also led to some violence, especially as non-Orthodox Christians & Muslims seek to gain equal economic & social status as the traditionally privileged Orthodox Christians.

New challenges Christians face in Ethiopia include the Islamic fundamentalism movement mostly coming from radical Islamists[16] or followers of an extreme form of Wahhabist Islam teachings coming from Saudi Arabia via Muslim funded projects & NGOs.

Unity and the ECFE

Making up almost all of Ethiopian Christians who are not members of the Orthodox, Catholic, Oneness Pentecostal, or Jehovah Witnesses, the umbrella ECFE has become a uniting mechanism for the P'ent'ay community.

ECFE, or Evangelical Church Fellowship of Ethiopia, mostly covers all of the Evangelical Christian churches who are born-again Christians and believe in the ideology of the Trinity.[17] There are 22 denominations under this religious umbrella and based on 2004 statistics their total membership numbers have reached 11.5 million and had an increase of 4 million annually.[18] All churches, regardless of denomination, are domestically known as Abiate kristianat means churches in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Most of them also own ministries, colleges and bible societies like Ethiopian Graduate school of Theology, Golden Oil Ministries, Evangelical Theological college, Ethiopian Bible society and Meserete Kristos college.[19] These churches often work together by exchanging preachers and organizing conferences.


Since many of the P'ent'ay Christians are part of a larger, worldwide Evangelical community, the churches have been more involved in a lot of development work. The Mekane Yesus churches have been in extensive humanitarian and development related activities in particular, for many decades. Some of these churches address agricultural productivity issues, food security, AIDS orphans and prevention of HIV /AIDS. During the millennium preparations, Kale hiywot churches around Ethiopia also led the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign and increased their programs to support more Orphans.[20] Also some churches that don't have as much relationship with foreign organizations have been involved in development programs, though in a much smaller scale due to their financial inabilities. For instance, Misgana church and Mulu wongel churches have recently been in development activities to improve educational & health coverage; create potable water and help vulnerable street children.[21] However, since churches like the Mulu Wongel church (started by Ethiopian student movement in the mid-20th century), remain disconnected from foreign missionaries, their ability to provide equivalent development aid have been reduced.


Music (or Mezmur in Amharic, the Ethiopian national language) plays a big role in preaching and the daily life of Ethiopian P'ent'ay Christians. With the belief that music should be for God, and him alone, Ethiopian mezmur does not have ethnic or cultural boundaries, nor restriction on what style or instruments to use. Even though CD, cassette and DVD sales have contributed to one of the rare Ethiopian industries on the rise, many singers and choirs have also given out their music for free to serve some financially disadvantaged people.

History of P'ent'ay music

Even though some of the older generation of singers didn't have the financial means to make cassettes, they have influenced Ethiopian music in various ways while singing in local churches. One of the earlier singers is Addisu Worku, who used to sing through Misrach voice Radio. An early church to develop other singers was Mulu Wongel church, since the church itself was mainly started by Ethiopians, as opposed to the foreign relations other Evangelical churches had with European and American missionaries. So when other churches sang and learned songs in foreign languages, Mulu Wongel church, which began in Addis Ababa, introduced Amharic gospel songs in late 1960s. However, since Mulu Wongel church itself didn't have foreign support, its members faced persecution more often. Yet this was a blessing in disguise for Evangelical Christians, since Mulu Wongel members attending other churches influenced them not only in faith but in music also. Even though Mulu Wongel church was closed by the government, its two choir groups, the Mulu Wongel choir and Tsion choir continued to develop and sing uniquely Ethiopian songs across the county. Subsequently, in the early 1970s the Meserete Kristos church choir was established. Some from Tsion Choir from Mulu Wongel joined the newly established choir and Meserete Kristos continued developing songs in Ethiopian languages. During these early years, other groups like Bethel singers also produced Ethiopian gospel songs.

Early comers

Some of the early comers were Mulu Wongel and Meserete Kristos choirs, which now have up to Choir E and F, with each having 8, 9 albums. Some of these churches in other branch cities have stopped using single letters for choir names, and applied names instead. Other early comers Mekane Yesus church choir, Mulu Wengel church choir, Meserete Kristos church (MKC) choir arrived around the 1970s. Solo vocalists developed fast in these and other churches. Addisu worku, Dereje Kebede, Tesfaye Gabisso, Eyerusalem Teshome, Tamerate Haile, Tadesse Eshete, Gizachew Worku, Dr. Atalay Alem and Shewaye Damte fill in some of this list that started early.


Some of the late 20th century singers include Kalkidan Tilahun (Lily) of Qale Hiywet church, Regge music singers AHAVA GOSPEL SINGERS, Dagmawi Tilahun (Dagi) of Mulu Wongel church and Elias Abebe of Assembly of God church. Others are Awtaru Kebede, Sophia Shibabaw, Mesfin Gutu, Mihiret Itefa, Dr. Lealem Tilahun (Lali), Gezahegn Musa, Azeb Hailu and many more.[22] There are also singers who are pastors, some of them are Dawit Molalign, Kasshaun Lemma and Yohannes Girma. Oromo language singers like Kabaa Fidoo, Abbabaa Tamesgeen, Iyoob Yaadataa, Baacaa Bayyanaa, Magarsaa Baqqalaa, Dastaa Insarmuu, Bilisee Karrasaa and others have also served Evangelical Churches in southwestern Ethiopia. Introducing new styles are young performers like Dawit "Danny" Wolde who studied at Berklee College of Music.[23] Classical and instrumental gospel songs have also flourished with Fikru Aligaz and Bethel Music Ministry. Duos like Aster & Endalkachewu or Geta Yawkal & Berektawit bring more variety. Also, formerly secular or non-Christian singers like Hirut Bekele, Solomon Disasa and Muluken have produced gospel songs after they convert and become born-again Christians. There are many music composers in P'ent'ay church like Christian Girma (currently living in Denver, Colorado), Ebenezer Girma, Enku Girma, Nathnael Befikadu, Biruk Bedru, Daniel Ewnetu, Bereket Tesfaye, Samson Tamrat, Yabets Tesema, Ameha Mekonen, Endalkachew Hawaz, Estifanos Mengistu, and there are countless church music players. And most of famous music players in Ethiopia like Elias Melka also played in Evangelical churches and subsequently converted to world music. Digital music composition is utilized and there are more than twenty Christian Music studios in Ethiopia, including CMM, TDS, COMNS, Sami, Nati, Langanoo, Begena, Kinnei, Albastor, Shalom, Exodus, and Bethelihem.

See also


  1. "Pente: name used by Orthodox Christian to label Ethiopian Protestant Christians" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  2. "Current Influences and connections of western and Ethiopian churches" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-03-22.
    1. Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time, A History of Ethiopia (New York: Palgrave, 2000) p. 48
  3. "evangelicals say Orthodox focused on "outward piety"". Csmonitor.com. 2000-06-08. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  4. 1 2 "International Religious Freedom Report for 2014". State.gov. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  5. "A comprehensive statistical information on world religions, Christian denominations and people groups". Worldchristiandatabase.org. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  6. World Christian Encyclopedia Archived 29 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001, Oxford University Press. Vol 1: p 266
  8. Berhanu Abegaz, Ethiopia: A Model Nation of Minorities (accessed 22 March 2006)
  9. "Ethiopian protestants claim as high as 18.59% of population" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  10. Mulu Wongel Church outlawed in 1972
  11. "religious leaders jailed and some disappeared during 1980s government". Mlive.com. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  12. "Evangelical and protestant population explosion during 1980s communist government". Mlive.com. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  13. "1980s government attempt to "eliminate evangelical Christianity" helped evangelical growth". Mlive.com. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  14. "Freedom of religion improved 1995, but private citizen abuse remains". Csmonitor.com. 2000-06-08. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  15. "Four People Die After Ethiopian Muslims Attack Police Station". Bloomberg. 30 April 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  16. "ECFE and non-ecfe church listings". State.gov. 2005-06-09. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  17. Evangelical church felloship in 2004
  18. ECFE churches and services Archived 12 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. Kale Hiywot churches support anti-HIV campaigns Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. Mulu Wongel churches, development work
  21. "WikiMezmur". www.WikiMezmur.org. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  22. Mezmur 91,Psalm 91 Productions

Further reading

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