The Ambassador in Italy ( Phillips ) to the Secretary of State

No. 668

Sir: I have the honor to transmit the following information which has been furnished me in confidence by a representative of the British and Foreign Bible Association concerning the present situation surrounding Protestant missions in Ethiopia. My informant desires that his name should be omitted.

The problem confronting the missions has been the subject of discussion for a number of months between the American, British, and Swedish societies. On its part, the British and Foreign Bible Association has persuaded the Italian authorities here that it functions as a business organization rather than as a missionary society, inasmuch as its sole activity is the selling of Bibles, and has, therefore, been permitted to continue its activities. It has a distributing center in Addis Ababa and a new representative of the society, by the name of Ronchi, is just going out to continue the sale of the Bibles.

One of the smallest of the Protestant missions in Ethiopia is that representing the Waldensian Church, one of the American leaders being Robert Anthony, whose address is the American Waldensian Society, 156 Fifth Avenue, New York. Mr. Anthony has been persuaded that the Italians would be willing to allow the Waldensian Mission in Ethiopia to act as the agents for all foreign Protestant missionary work in that country, and he has returned to America to further this idea among the other American Protestant groups. However, according to my informant, the Waldensian mission is in fact subsidized by the Italians, notably by the payment of the salary of its principal representative in Addis Ababa, and that therefore it would not be wise for the other Protestant societies to associate themselves with the society in the manner suggested. My informant is of the opinion that the society in question is actually controlled and restricted by the Government. Furthermore, he thinks that the idea of a governmentally controlled Waldensian mission may be a Catholic idea designed to break up the Protestant coordination and weaken the effectiveness of Protestantism without incurring the displeasure of the world by officially destroying the work of Protestant missions in Ethiopia.

In these circumstances, a plan has been worked out by the English and Swedish churches, along the following lines,—the set-up in Rome of a group of four or five Protestant laymen representing the various Protestant interests and concerns in mission work in Ethiopia. This group would act as an “advisory committee” and as a go-between [Page 715] between foreign missions and their field of operations in Ethiopia. This advisory committee, of course, would only be able to function if authorized by the various foreign denominations. The idea behind the suggestion lies in the belief that the Italian Government would feel that they could keep in close touch with the activities of the Protestant churches through this local committee and might, therefore, be willing to permit it to function. In any event, according to my informant, it would be better than direct negotiations between the churches and the Italian Government, which must continue to be wholly unsatisfactory. The English group, which has already accepted the plan of an advisory committee, comprises the Bible Churchmen Missionary Society, the London Mission to the Jews, and the English branch of the Sudan Interior Mission. The Swedish Evangeliska Fosterlands Stiftelsen has also accepted it. On the other hand, the approval of the American missions has been withheld and they have not as yet offered any encouragement. They are understood to be waiting for some event which would of itself solve the problem, but which has not yet appeared on the horizon.

The so-called “advisory committee”, before being able to function, must apply to the Italian authorities for the necessary permit. This application, however, cannot be made until the committee has been asked to operate by Edinburgh House, which is the clearing house of all Protestant missionary work and of which Dr. John R. Mott is the actual president. In order to show the Italian authorities a united front, it is, according to my informant, highly desirable to include the American Protestant missionary groups in the plan. He thinks there may be an idea among the American groups that they would be in a better position than the others vis-à-vis the Italian authorities in Ethiopia because they are representative of a non-sanctionist country and he suggests the possibility that this idea has been fostered by the Catholics with the design of preventing a unanimity of opinion and action.

In brief, the English and the Swedish groups are ready to proceed now to the formation of the “advisory committee in Rome” and are anxiously awaiting word of the cooperation of the American groups.

With regard to the actual conditions of the remaining missionaries in Ethiopia, my informant said that all the Protestant missionaries some time ago had been called to Addis Ababa. Some of them had been expelled, some allowed to remain, while a few of those with permission to carry on their work had voluntarily left. He had found it impossible to obtain any accurate information regarding the conditions under which those remaining were permitted to function. His last information on the subject came from an Italian pastor who is a member of the Waldensian society, who had informed him that [Page 716] the missionaries were permitted to carry on their work “quietly” but nowhere except in Addis Ababa.

Further information had come to him through the London mission to Jews to the effect that Mr. Heintze, who had been in charge of the work in the Lake Tsana region and who had left Ethiopia “on the. advice of the Italian Consul”, has not only been trying in vain to return but has been endeavoring to send money to the Ethiopian convert left in charge of the mission. While this money has been forwarded through an Italian in Gondara, Mr. Heintze has not as yet received any word as to whether the money has been actually received by the mission.

The object of my informant’s call upon me seems to have been to enlist the Embassy’s assistance in obtaining favorable action on the proposed plan for an “advisory committee” by the American missionary groups. He expressed the hope that possibly I might be able to take some action along these lines. Without giving him any assurance in this respect, I expressed my appreciation of his visit and my interest in the whole problem.

Respectfully yours,

William Phillips