When American preachers feel the call from God to become pastors, they typically go to a seminary to learn how to lead a church. In Ethiopia there reportedly are no seminaries for Christian preachers so they organize churches without formal training.
In 2009 Lula resident Levi Skipper, founder and chairman of Cobb-based First Day Ministry, and Dallas resident Michael Edwards, director of missions, created the ministry to organize mission trips, offer evangelism and write Christian books.
The next year they decided to focus completely on pastor training in Ethiopia after going on a mission trip there with Houston-based ministry Innovative, Edwards said.
In the first group there were 280 pastors from southern Ethiopia who traveled to the town of Hagere-Marium. The pastors received training materials and curriculum produced by Atlanta-based Bible Training Center For Pastors.
“It takes almost two years to graduate,” Edwards said.
After the end of the course there is a graduation ceremony in which the pastor gets to wear a cap and gown and receive a certificate signifying formal designation as a pastor from the Ethiopian government.
While First Day officials and representatives are there they spend 10 days teaching the pastors, hosting clinics and leading nighttime revivals, Edwards said.
The clinics can attract more than 1,000 patients. Before a doctor sees any of the patients the missionaries take the chance to encourage them to become Christians. Then, the doctors see the patients they can help, Edwards said.
“Anything that is treatable with a vaccine we try to treat,” he said.
Simple diseases such as a sinus infection or earache can be deadly in Ethiopia because there is not always easy access to a doctor in the cities First Day serves, Edwards said.
At the nighttime revivals, the group will preach to all the people who come from the villages. Attendance at the revivals can range from 100 to about 2,000 residents, he said.
Edwards said he plans to go to central Ethiopia with a team of about 20 in October to start the next class of 150 pastors. He recruits members of churches — normally with less than 1,000 members to go, — with the majority coming from the Southeast.
“I have a heart for Christians to get out of the four walls of their church and do something,” he said.
It costs about $3,000 per person for the trip.
Edwards and his family live off of sponsorships from churches and individuals, as he is the only full-time staff member of the organization.
For more information or to donate visit firstdayministry.com, call Edwards at (404) 663-0220 or email him at Michael@firstdayministry.com.