Peter Vander Meulen recently met with representatives of the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church in Ethiopia to explore ways in which the Christian Reformed Church in North America might support the church in Africa, especially in the areas of interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding.
The CRCNA has a long history of working with other churches in helping to build peace and establish dialogue, said Vander Meulen, coordinator of the Office of Social Justice (OSJ).
“We have been engaged for several years in this work in multiple places at multiple times, including in Africa.
“Currently OSJ, World Missions, and World Renew are supporting a promising Muslim-Christian peace process in Nigeria,” he said.
In fact, Vander Meulen was on his way back from the first peace process consultation in Nigeria when he stopped in Ethiopia to meet with officials from the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church (EKHC). His visit was spurred by an ecumenical agreement made by Synod 2016 with the EKHC.
“My visit to the EKHC was also engendered by a visit one of the Ethiopian church officials made to Grand Rapids [Mich.] last year,” said Vander Meulen.
During that visit, they spoke about interreligious dialogue and how it relates to peace and justice in their two countries, across Africa, and around the world.
“Near the end of our meeting, the invitation was extended for me to visit the EKHC in Ethiopia in order to delve a little deeper into the possibilities of collaboration in the areas of interreligious dialogue, peace building, and social justice,” said Vander Meulen.
Today, he said, the EKHC has some 7 million members, 6,000 congregations, many missions projects, a range of schools, outreach ministries in HIV and AIDS assistance, various development projects, an orphanage, and a literature publication center.
“They are a large and active denomination, and it would be wonderful if the CRCNA could partner with them and help them with such things as training to help them along in the peace process with other Ethiopian churches and groups,” said Vander Meulen.
Over the past year or so, there has been increasing political unrest in key cities and certain parts of Ethiopia. In addition, serious drought has hit areas of the country. All of this has led to a state of emergency.
“The country seems tense,” said Vander Meulen. “There is dissatisfaction with lack of good governance and ethnic power struggles, as well as difficulties over ownership of land.”
During his meeting in Ethiopia, church officials there asked Vander Meulen to recommend to the CRCNA that it consider supporting an initial training session to help the EKHC as it works to address concerns facing its church and the broader religious community.
“This would be a unique opportunity to use our experience to support capacity building in the area of practical peace and justice with a very significant evangelical church situated in the heart of northeastern Africa — an area at great risk for conflict and already generating large refugee movements to Europe,” said Vander Meulen.
CRC Executive Director Steven Timmermans agreed, stating he is hopeful that the two churches can work more closely together.
"When our ecumenical relationships allow our gifts and expertise to be shared, we demonstrate the unity of the church and give testimony to God's reconciling work in Christ,” said Timmermans.