The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has returned to Ethiopia saying it will continue its struggle peacefully after years of armed fighting from outside. The long-time leaders and icons of the movement have been welcomed by many on September 15, 2018 after many years of exile. Sadly, my father didn’t live long enough to see this day.
In this article, I share how my dad, who was an OLF supporter, became a Christian and how his life was changed.
OLF and My Dad
“Oromoo Jechunni Nu Maqaa Kenyaa Sirnaa Abaa Gada Ya Biftuu Kenyaa.” This is the song my father sang to my ear the day I was born. I was taught to sing this and other songs that lift up the Oromo identity since I was a kid.
My father, Befkadu Kebede Merera, was born in Jardega Jarte, Horo Guduru Wollega Zone, Oromia Region, in 1949 E.C. The highlands of Jardega are cold throughout the year. I remember visiting my grandpa, Kebede Merera Wari, who lived there until his death last year. The beauty of my father’s hometown is that the people retained their old ways of life. No mechanized farming, no electricity, no piped water, no nearby health center until now. The people enjoy living the simple life of a native farmer.
However, my dad along with his peers in the 1960s couldn’t swallow this as a mere fact. Again, like many of his friends, he believed that the Jardega Jarte town in particular and the Oromia state in general had been oppressed by the then imperial regime. Hence, he joined the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) while he was a student at Shambu preparatory school in the 1960s E.C. He told me many times that he struggled for a “free” Oromia against the imperial regime and later against the Dergue.
My Father’s Dilemma
The antidote for the burning nationalism in my father’s heart came from the communist ideology of the Dergue. My father reluctantly joined the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) after he graduated from Bahir Dar Poly Technic College (now BDU) in 1975 E.C. By that time, the student movement was dosed with communist ideology, and my father was one of the victims. The same year he was transferred to Harrar Brewery Factory, Harrarghe, which was one of the strongest bases of OLF. This time, however, my father was not able to help his old mates.
He began to advocate the communist and evolutionary idea of state and humanity. Although he did not completely forget his Oromo identity, he gave more time of thought for humanity than just one nation. He told me that at one time he even got into a dilemma of whether to support the OLF movement or to stand for all humanity. One thing he couldn’t deny was that both needed honesty. My dad valued honesty more than anything.
By this time, he had read so many socialist publications. He attended country level conferences.
Communism: Fuel for Nationalism
As time went on, the new marriage between my father and communism didn’t last. Although the socialist and evolutionary ideas were plausible, they were not more plausible than the reality. The reality as he once stated was “the communists were wise that they teach universal humanistic ideology as opposed to the imperial regime, who deludes the people with ‘Ethiopianism.’ However, the communists are also liars. In the name of universal humanism, they practice universal destruction. None was favored. But none was valued.”
This again became a fuel for the resurgence of Oromo nationalism in my father’s heart. My dad resigned from his position as a Dergue propagandist and secretly popularized the OLF’s beliefs.
My Dad and EPRDF
My father supported the revolutionary movement of the EPRDF until they broke up with the OLF. Since then, never was there a time my father spoke good things about EPRDF. He spent much of the EPRDF era as a chemist in the National alcohol and Liquor Factory.
My Father met my Mom, Tadelech Gezahegn Roro, when he was at Harrar. She was originally from Metu, Illubabor. Three of his children, including me, were born in the EPRDF era. He taught us Oromiffa nationalistic songs since our birth. Zerihun Wodajo and Abitew Kebede were his favorites.
To my amazement, he was against not only EPRDF but Ethiopia. I remember one time, he didn’t want to hear the term “Ethiopia.” He frankly said, “I am Oromian, not Ethiopian.” He felt his Oromo nationality had been oppressed by “Ethiopian” nationality and blamed EPRDF for this.
A half century’s old frustration led him to completely denounce the idea of Ethiopian nationality. He always enjoyed conversation with his fellow friends who shared his frustration. He said one time, “My religion is Oromianism,” a term he frequently used to describe his Oromo identity.
Religion and My Dad
My father grew up as a Waqeffata, a follower of an indigenous religion of the Oromo people. He always attended the yearly Irrechaa celebration at Lake Hora, Bishoftu. I went with him multiple times.
In 1998 E.C, my older brother and I were converted to Evangelical Christianity. This was big news in the family, and astoundingly my father received the news gladly. I think this is because he thought the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was used as an instrument to popularize “Abyssinian rule.” He rebuked the “one church-one language” ideology of the EOTC. Hence, he was happy to hear his children’s conversion to Evangelical Christianity.
Although he believed in God, he never talked about Jesus. I preached the gospel to my dad the same year. He did not want to argue. He did not want to listen either. He made jokes out of it. I remember, one time he complained about the doctrinal division among the Evangelical churches, and that was the only time I heard him speak seriously.
I invited my dad to church for an event where I was going to perform on stage. He attended! Perhaps that was the first time when he attended an evangelical church service. He was happy to see his son on the stage. Well, he never had an intention to come again.
My Dad Found the Jesus He Wanted
On the Ethiopian Millennium year 2000 E.C, however, he found out that there was an Oromiffa service in a nearby church, and he went without telling the family. I couldn’t believe that one Sunday afternoon he took me to that church.
He was amazed to have found an Oromiffa church service in Addis Ababa. He began to regularly attend the service on Sunday afternoons. One thing I was sure was that my dad had found the Jesus he was looking for. An Oromiffa speaking Jesus. The Oromo Jesus.
For some time, I didn’t know how but he was able to reconcile his new-found Christian beliefs with his extreme Oromo nationalism. One thing I knew again was that he didn’t get it from the church but from his own search not to lose both.
He didn’t want to listen to gospel songs about “Ethiopia,” but at the same time he attended his church services regularly and loved his Lord in his own way.
Jesus Found My Dad
In 2001 E.C, my dad was diagnosed with an advanced oesophageal cancer. We couldn’t do anything about it. Neither medication nor surgery was found to be curative. Hence, we relied upon prayer.
It was this time my dad started to attend church services outside the Sunday afternoon Oromiffa service. He began going to churches such as FBI Mekenisa chapel, Ketena Hulet Full Gospel Believers’ Church, and Kolfe Kalehiwot Church. Yes, he did it for healing. He wanted to be healed. He was only 52, and a father of three by that time. We prayed and took him to churches to see God’s intervention.
At one time, he went to FBI church Mekenisa chapel, and he saw the flags of all regional states of Ethiopia decorated on the stage. The same day the preacher (Pastor Dawit Mollalign?) exhorted the congregation on the biblical mandate to pray for the country and government officials.
That day, my father told me that he repented from more than a half-century-old hatred and revenge. He told me that he now understood, “Jesus is a God of all. He speaks all languages. He loves every nation. If He loves every nation, so do I.” For once and for all, my dad repented from extreme nationalism.
I couldn’t believe hearing him say, “I love Oromia, but I love Jesus more!” Jesus captured the heart of my father. He started studying his Bible. He loved reading the Bible especially in the last days of his life. He couldn’t attend the regular Oromiffa service because his health was deteriorating. He listened to gospel songs sang in both Oromifa and other languages. He loved the songs of Kabaa Fidoo and Bethelehem Tezera, Ababaa Tamasgen and Azeb Hailu. He learned that all that people fight for is what is left on earth. In the last days of his life, my dad learned to love both his culture and others’ cultures, so that God will be glorified.
The day he died, he was holding the black Amharic Bible into his chest, unimaginable a few years back. I insisted, “Let me pray for you!” He replied with the weak voice, “Pray for me but not for the healing.” He knew he was going that day. My dad died on Meskerem 21, 2002 E.C at 53 years of age.
Jesus Is More than Any Nationality
Evangelical Christianity has contextualized many of its terms in the native language and culture of the Oromo people. I personally believe it is necessary to worship God in one’s own language and culture. However, we should not be blinded by our culture and miss the message of Christianity. Today there are many Oromo Christians who are settled with the Oromo Jesus. The have been intoxicated with an extreme notion of nationalism that they cannot see Jesus working any further than their language and culture. I say this boldly, because I know it.
My father lived bound to his regional identity. Although I admire his boldness to stand for his people, he was enslaved by the thought of extreme nationalism. Thankfully, he repented. Extreme nationalism is a danger to humanity. Above all, it is danger to the mind of hopeful Christians.
Christians worship the God of the Old Testament who mixed languages at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and the God of the New Testament who gave different tongues to the apostles to speak many languages at Pentecost (Acts 2). God is defined in Christianity to be the creator of all nations (Psalm 86:9).
Therefore, I believe, Oromiffa-speaking Christians should not limit God to their language and culture. The love for God should transcend the love for Oromia. This works for other regions too. (I will come back next time on other languages.)
I want to remind all Christian Oromos that Jesus is more than any nationality. While celebrating national identity is good, celebrating Jesus is better. When we celebrate Jesus, we start to see every nation equally and lovingly.
This is a time of forgiveness in our country. Let me also remind you this is the end time. Jesus will come soon. Soon many of us will testify that this world isn’t indeed our home. I love Oromo identity, but I love Jesus more. One ends on earth, the other lasts forever.