TISSISAT, Ethiopia—“What do you expect from me?” a monk roared into a microphone onstage. Young men shuffled toward him, kneeling in rows. One scratched his arms frantically, his head rolling backwards and forwards to the sound of drumming. Women wrapped in white shawls wailed and gnashed their teeth. “What do you want?” the monk asked again, his voice rising over the screams and chants of the audience. “Heal me!” they replied, the beat of drums growing louder.
These pilgrims were participating in a mass exorcism in September at Wenkeshet, a remote monastery in northern Ethiopia, near the village of Tissisat and the tumbling waters of the Blue Nile Falls. They had come from across the country and as far away as Europe, the U.S., and the Middle East, seeking relief from a wide range of maladies—HIV, mental illness, professional failure, heartbreak. The monk presiding over them was Yohannes Tesfamariam, a 61-year-old Ethiopian Orthodox Christian whose followers believe he is endowed with miraculous healing powers.
“This father is very special,” a young pilgrim named Michael Asrat told me at Wenkeshet, likening him to John the Baptist. “You’ll never find anything like him all over Ethiopia.”
In fact, Yohannes is part of a growing trend in Ethiopian Christianity, one which is most visible within its Protestant churches but is slowly beginning to impact its ancient Orthodox community, too. It’s characterized by charismatic preachers redolent of American televangelists, an entrepreneurial approach to mass media, and an internationalist outlook. These features reflect the influence of Pentecostalism, an extraordinarily fast-growing Protestant revival movement that emphasizes a personal experience of God. On the rise across swaths of Africa and the developing world, Pentecostalism is transforming some of the very oldest Christian societies, including Ethiopian Orthodoxy. Other Christian denominations around the world are likewise reviving the practice of exorcism.