In 1972 the first Spiritans came to Ethiopia in response to their call as a congregation of missionaries. This decision followed an expulsion of Irish Spiritans from Nigeria during the civil war in the late 1960s. At the same time a team of Dutch and American Spiritans working in Tanzania were also interested in expanding their missionary work to another country. They chose Ethiopia as a place where many separate tribes had not yet been evangelized; had not yet heard of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The southern part of Ethiopia bordering on Kenya is far from the capital city of Addis Ababa. The Irish Spiritan team chose an area in the southwest inhabited by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians; Arba Minch is the major city there. Taking an ecumenical approach, they worked with the local Coptic clergy and people. Part of their work included upgrading the local clergy, along with a joint Catholic Orthodox first evangelization program in South Omo, chiefly among the Hamar people. Registered for a work permit for community development, that work continues to the present day.
Independently, the Dutch-American team went 600 kilometers south of the capital, to work among the nomadic Borana, who herd cattle and goats in this dry area. The missionaries found that those people had almost no knowledge of Christianity. What they did know was that the Orthodox Church had accompanied the emperor’s armies when they came to subjugate that part of the country. The Spiritans had to first gain the confidence and respect of the people before presenting them with the news of Jesus Christ. Over time that has paid off and the Borana are slowly accepting Christianity through the Roman Catholic Church.
In Borana country the Spiritans opted for a work permit for education to help these people who have lived on the fringes of Ethiopian society for hundreds of years. They now operate three grade schools, as well as two hostels where students live but study in the local government schools.
In both geographical areas the Spiritans have brought positive changes to the lives of the local populations.