The continent of Africa has been in the spotlight in recent months for its escalating problems including the Niger food crisis, the Ugandan rebel army conflict and the Darfur Crisis in Sudan. Yet in a country neighboring these trouble-filled regions lie a hope for the Gospel of Christ to be brought to one of the most unreached regions in the world, where only one percent of the natives have ever heard of the name of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Charles E. Blair, founder and president of the Blair Foundation of Denver, Colo., recently completed the two-year project to secure sponsors to fund the planting of 1,000 evangelical churches in the previously unreached region of Benishangul-Gumuz, Ethiopia, an area bordering Sudan.
The project titled, Ethiopian Call was officially launched on Sept. 1, 2003, at which time there were only seven churches in the entire region. On Aug. 31, 2005, Dr. Blair and the Blair Foundation announced that the campaign to gather 1,000 sponsors had been successfully completed by the deadline.
In an interview on Oct. 18 with The Christian Post, Dr. Blair discussed the mission of the Ethiopian Call, highlighting the rapid growth of Christianity in the region and the cooperation among Christians worldwide in an effort to plant 1000 churches in this unreached region.
How did the Ethiopian Call begin?
I have been going to Ethiopia since 1990, which is after the fall of communism and when the people had the freedom to go to church and own pieces of property. I had been going to Ethiopia whenever someone asked me to come and help raise money for certain needs, such as for AIDS patients or for medical care. I was in communication with Christian organizations in Ethiopia when President Aysheshim became interested in how some of the churches had revolutionized an area. He was on business in the area where these local churches were and saw the great development in the region because of the churches.
He (President Aysheshim) began to contact the denominations of these churches while he was on business in Addis Ababa, the capital city, but the denominations would say, We are very sorry. We cant help you. We have no money. We have people but we have no money but there is a man of God you need to see. I think thats an interesting phrase to identify someone by.
Eventually he found this man who happened to be the person that our church in Denver had hired to coordinate our work. And through this person the president obtained my address and wrote to me asking if I would come to Ethiopia and help evangelize the people of the Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan.
I accepted the challenge and went to Ethiopia to meet President Aysheshim.
How have you promoted this project over the past two years? What methods or efforts were used to make people aware of this project and acquire sponsors?
I would invite 15 of my friends at a time to Denver for coffee or lunch and I would tell them what we wanted to do and I would not ask them for money but I would simply ask them for their counsel.
I did this for 3 ½ months and I had a total of 102 friends either my friends or friends of my friends. I told these people what the president had previously told me, which is that the people of this region are 2,000 years behind the rest of world and 1,000 years behind the people in Ethiopia. They dont go to school but instead they hunt and fish to survive. There are about 800,000 of them living next to the border of Sudan and most of them do not wear clothes. So after hearing this we knew that this project would be quite a challenge to us. Yet all 102 of these friends voted unanimously to try to accomplish this mission and we made an all out effort.
So my friends and I have been going on a campaign telling people about this project and asking them if they would like to sponsor a church in Ethiopia. Sometimes we would get five people to respond and sometimes there would be a house full.
Our goal was to have a thousand grants of $1,850 each by Aug 31, 2005, the date the president will finish his term. The president had served for 10 years in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia and he wanted to complete the project to find sponsors for 1,000 churches while he was still president.
One statement released by the Blair Foundation said that since April 2005, over 24,000 have converted and accepted Christ and 446 churches have been built or are in the process of being built in the region. To what can you attribute the peoples receptiveness to Christianity?
Only one percent of these people have ever heard of the name Jesus. They worship the sun or moon or maybe the witch doctor; they were just heathen in the sense we would use that term, and I say that in a complimentary way.
I just celebrated my 85th birthday and Ive been traveling the world over 50 years for missionary works and this is one of the few really, really unreached people groups in the world in the sense of knowing what Christianity is about. They call these people in this village, in this area, the forgotten people, not in a spiritual sense as we would use the phrase, but just forgotten in that it is hard to get there. They are next to the Sudan border and they are a people who withdraw. For example, when we walked into the village for the first time, being white; they ran for their lives because they were afraid of us. It is very difficult to win them until the ice is broken and they realize we dont have any guns or bows and arrows, but we are there on a mission of love.
So the 24,000 represented a number of converts in the churches that were built during that time, and boy it has soared now because we now have a lot more churches out there.
Can you explain more about who the Ethiopian missionaries are? Are they native or foreign missionaries, for example. How long have they been there? What goals are they working on? Etc.
Yes, all the missionaries are Ethiopian. We support no freelance missionaries, meaning that we dont support anybody that is not supervised by a denomination. We have four training sessions each year, two of which are lead by Ethiopian leaders. The last one was in April and we had 1,350 come for training.
As far as how long the missionaries will stay in the region, it depends on how long it takes to establish a church. Their commitment is to raise up a church and that could take 2 to 3 years.
I would like to add that although we are helping the president and the Ethiopian people of this region plant churches, we dont want them to think we will be there forever. I believe we do a good job when we lose our job. Also, there are no monuments dedicated to me, none of these churches are named after me or any of the other American members. We are like John the Baptist, we are to grow small and Jesus is to grow big.
Can you name some of the ministries that have contributed to the Ethiopian Call? What are some of the other countries involved in the effort?
Pat Robertson, the president of Regent University and the founder and chairman of Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) helped us financially by donating $100,000. DayStar, the second largest Christian TV channel, allowed me to make two or three appearances during the two year campaign to get people to respond.
The International Church of the Four Gospel with head bishop Dr. Jack Hayford and the Christian Evangelistic Assemblies out of Houston, Texas, the Assembly of God and many others contributed to the campaign in different ways. New Life Church, led by Dr. Ted Haggard in Colorado Springs, who is the co-chairman of the Ethiopian Call and current president of NAE, was very beneficial to us.
Countries that helped the effort include: Australia, England, El Salvador, Guatemala, Canada, the United States and the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia (ECFE).
What is your reflection/response to fulfilling this dream after 2 years?
This is one of the greatest experience of my life in the sense that when you do something for people that cant do anything for you back, it brings the greatest satisfaction that mortal man can experience. So nothing comes back to us. There isnt anything they can give to us, they dont have anything and even if they did they couldnt get it out of the country. So I think in that sense it has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.
Dr. Blair had pioneered and served for 50 years as senior pastor of Calvary Temple in Denver, Colorado before retiring from the position. From its small beginnings, Calvary Temple grew to be one of the ten largest Sunday Schools in America. Pastor Blair has ministered in over 100 countries throughout the world and serves on several international missions boards.