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SBC’s Floyd builds grassroots ties in Ethiopia

[SLIDESHOW=42361,42363]EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been adapted from Baptist Press on April 11 that included a report on a visit to Ethiopia by Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd. See related Baptist Press story today about Ethiopian native Haileyesus Abate’s vision for spiritual and humanitarian Southern Baptist ministry in his native country.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (BP) — When Ethiopian Airlines transports newly purchased Boeing 777s home from the U.S., the planes are customarily loaded with humanitarian supplies for the independent country that still struggles with poverty despite significant economic advances.

The country’s economy was among concerns highlighted when Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd met with key leaders of the country, including Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome and Speaker of the House Abadulla Gemeda.

“They talked about … in their country, about poverty that’s existent. They talked about maybe coming to our own country. We’ve invited them to come,” Floyd said, noting a major corporation and a World Trade Center in Arkansas.

Floyd also discussed the importance of religious freedom, biblical marriage between a man and a woman, and the dignity of human life for all, which should result in standing against religious persecution globally.

“I was able to talk to them about holding tight to the line of the biblical Christian worldview,” Floyd told BP. “Also, we talked about matters relating to the religious persecution that goes on in the world. I was able to talk to them about religious freedom throughout the world, the evil that’s existed in our day relating to all of that, and to really just encourage them to stand strong for the cause of religious liberty.”

In promoting a grassroots relationship, Floyd also mentioned such initiatives as adoption, and met separately with evangelical pastors.

Ethiopia is striving to become more sustainable, Gemeda told Floyd, and expressed a deep desire to protect human rights there. Developing friendship with the “friendly United States” could help ensure Ethiopia’s growth and advancement, he said.

Teshome agreed with Gemeda in expanding the new relationship, stating that Ethiopia is seeking to improve in the areas of expertise, technology and economics. Expanding Southern Baptist ministry in Ethiopia would hopefully help the country in all areas mentioned, Floyd said.

The majority Christian nation is Africa’s oldest independent country and its second most populous. Its leaders have achieved a 33 percent reduction in poverty since 2000, the World Bank notes, with its economic growth averaging 10.9 percent annually since 2000. But as recently as 2010, nearly a third of Ethiopians still suffered poverty. In addition, the country is home to more than 820,000 refugees and asylum seekers from countries including Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Floyd, pastor of the multi-campus Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, visited Ethiopia Jan. 17-20 with a five-member delegation from his church. Included was global missions minister Doug Sarver, who saw opportunity for humanitarian aid in Ethiopian Airlines’ current acquisition of Boeing 777s.

“Think what kind of impact [Southern Baptist churches] could have if we rallied around and said there are 800,000 refugees, Muslims, inside of Ethiopia,” Sarver said. “The president, the speaker of the house, the minister of foreign affairs, minister of defense have all said we want your help. The airline says we’ll pack out a Boeing 777 with humanitarian supplies from Seattle and ship it over here to Addis Ababa free. Now we just have to use it as a platform for ministry to help people.”

Floyd accepted an invitation to visit Ethiopia at the urging of Cross Church layman Haileyesus Abate, an Ethiopian native who has lived in the U.S. nearly 30 years.

“We are so blessed to know that God opened up these incredible doors to minister to the leaders of Ethiopia,” Floyd said. “Our trip was beyond description due these significant open doors.”