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What Would Onesimus Nesib (Abba Gamachis) Plead Ethiopians about Eritrea?

Abraham Woldehawariat is an Eritrean dear friend of mine. He migrated from Eritrea to Ethiopia in 2013 and left Ethiopia in 2017. We met online while he was searching for a church back in June 2014. Abraham loved the Lord and had a deep hunger to serve him. He released a Tigrigna single gospel song in 2016 which can still be found online.

Abraham has always been so passionate about his own people, the Eritrean people, and the persecuted Eritrean church. He always urged me to pray for the church in Eritrea. We used to pray about the Eritrean people and the church in our meetings. Abraham released his Tigrigna album in early 2017 and left Ethiopia to Netherland.

While some Eritrean brethren like Abraham leave Ethiopia for Europe for a better life, there are other young men and women who are flooding to Ethiopia in thousands from Eritrea. Following the July 2018 peace agreement, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments reopened crossing points on their shared border on September 11. According to the Shire District administration, up to 15 000 Eritreans have crossed into Ethiopia, some to visit relatives or to buy goods, many to stay.

The combination of unchanged conditions inside Eritrea and open borders has led to a stark increase in refugee numbers. According to UNHCR, the average daily arrival rate has increased more than fourfold. Other partners refer to 500 in the last few days. This brings the total number of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia to 175 000, a large proportion of whom are unaccompanied minors.

Migration and the Church’s Mission

Seeing my good friend Abraham worshipping God freely with me in Addis touched my heart. Even more now there are tens of thousands of Eritreans living freely in the cities across Ethiopia. While living in Ethiopia might be freedom for our Eritrean brothers and sisters, their presence means a lot for us, Ethiopians, and particularly Ethiopian churches.

(Abraham Woldehawariat – On his first Tigrigna gospel song video)

Ethiopian churches, especially those in big towns, are now being flooded with Eritrean members. The spiritual need is high in places such as Gofa Mebrat Hail condominium, where there are Eritrean migrants living in a big community. Recently, I have seen the great evangelistic need in that area. But this is just an example. There are many places especially in Addis where there are many Eritreans in the neighborhood. This should press our churches to rethink their missiological directions.
Missiologists consider migration as one of the greatest global factors that shaped missiological thinking of the 20th-21st century. In the West, the issue of immigrants has become a centerpiece for political debate. Nations are divided over the case of migrants, whether to continue to receive immigrants or not. However, the debates continue, immigrants, continue to increase from the South to North and in our case from Eritrea to Ethiopia.

Samuel Escobar put it right when he said, “Migration is an avenue for the evangelistic dimensions of mission.” Many others agreeing with Escobar’s statement concludes that migration urges mission and mission serves migration. The Church has the biblical mandate to serve migrants with a wholistic mission. Immigrants are mission fields for urban churches.

Onesimos Nesib’s Plead for Ethiopian Churches

Onesimos Nesib, formerly Hika, also known as Abba Gamachis was known for his historic contribution for translating the Bible into Afaan Oromoo along with Aster Ganno. While hailing this historic contribution, what most of us tend to forget is where Aba Gamachis translated the Bible into Afaan Oromoo.

Onesimos was born near Hurumu in Illu Ababora, present-day Oromia region of Ethiopia. Onesimos lost his father when he was four years old. According to an account he later wrote for the Board of the Swedish Evangelical Mission, he was kidnapped by Slavers in 1869 and passed through the hands of eight owners until Warner Muzinger freed him at Massawa and had him educated at the Imukullu Swedish Evangelical Mission in that port city. There he proved a good student, and eventually received baptism on Easter Sunday (31 March 1872). He was sent a seminary in Bromma, Sweden for five years to receive further education.

Upon his return to Massawa, Onesimos translated the Bible into Afaan Oromoo with the help of Aster Ganno. The Imukullu Swedish Evangelical Mission served as a station for the Bible translation. Whether you believe it or not, Eritrea’s Massawa where Imukullu SEM was located is the reason why the Oromoo people of Ethiopia are reading the Bible in their mother tongue.

Not only this the Swedish Evangelical Mission which later gave birth to the oldest and largest denomination in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), was stationed in Imukullu, Massawa, the port of Eritrea. Many million evangelical Lutherans in Ethiopia owe their faith to SEM’s Imukullu mission station.

Onesimos Nesib and aster Ganno were missionaries FROM Massawa, Eritrea, TO Ethiopia. Today, there are thousands of migrants, rather than missionaries from Eritrea to Ethiopia. They are coming for freedom, shelter and to fulfill their dreams. I’m afraid that we may get obsessed with their present-day hardships and forget that more than a century ago, they sent us a Bible, perhaps the first full translation of the Bible in Ethiopian language outside the Geez.

In light of today’s religious freedom in Ethiopia, which was obviously unthinkable during the time of Onesimos, and in light of present-day Eritrea’s persecution of Christianity and other minorities, and the migration of Eritreans to Ethiopia and neighborhood countries, I would love to imagine how would Onesimos Nesib, Abba Gamachis would respond?

I am led but to think that Abba Gamachis would plead all Ethiopians not to forget Massawa’s Imukullu and how God used Eritrea to deliver the Bible to us. I believe Omesimos and Aster would urge Ethiopian Christians

  • To love their Eritrean neighbors as themselves, and to never discriminate them for any political or racial reason. The Bible says. “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:19
  • To make them their families and accept them in their community with love.
  • To serve their needs since according to UNHCR majority of Eritrean refugees need psychosocial support.
  • To reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ since the ultimate need of man is true freedom and joy, which are available only in Christ.
  • As they helped in the translation of an Ethiopian Bible, we should help them plant their Church with their own context in Addis and other cities. Wherever there are Eritreans in mass we should, churches should be missional and start a Tigrigna service.
  • To advocate for the rights of Eritrean people and church. Eritrea is listed among the top 10 in Christian persecution according to Open Doors. The ruling regime suppresses the rights of its citizens. For fear of this many young Eritreans are migrating to Europe through Libya. They need our voice.

I believe Onesimos and Aster would plead Ethiopian Christians to really think about their Eritrean neighbors and not be taken with the political rhetoric of the past was or the present peace regarding the situation between the two countries rather focus on loving and serving their Eritrean brothers and sisters.

My friend Abraham now serves Ethiopian and Eritrean communities in Europe. He travels across Europe singing hope d encouragement for the immigrants there. He motivates me to do the same in Addis. This should motivate us all to love and serve our Eritrean friends.

Many Eritrean young men and women are wondered by the freedom they got in Ethiopia and unless the church reaches them as soon as possible, I am afraid they might be targets for excessive entertainment, addiction and finally, crime.

But before it gets too late, I see Onesimos and Aster from afar pleading us to help the generation of people whom we owe much.

Naol Befkadu

Naol Befkadu Kebede (BTh, student of MA in Ministry and Medical Doctorate student at AAU) is the founder and contributor of Lechristian Blog, an online ministry that aims to redeem cultures for the glory of God and to inspire and encourage believers for the completion Great Commission. Naol has authored an Amharic book titled "ተነሺ ፤ አብሪ" (2015) that motivates young believers for a meaningful and radical life.

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በዚህች አጭር መጣጥፍ እስራኤልን እስራኤል ስላደረገች እናት ለማየት እንሞክራለን። እስራኤላውያን ጠንካራ ሕዝቦች ናቸው። በየቀኑ በዜና ስለ እነሱ ሳንሰማ ማደር አንችልም። አባታቸው ያዕቆብ እግዚአብሔር በሚገርም መልኩ መርጦ የታላቅ ወንድሙ የዔሳው የበላይ ያደረው የእግዚአብሔር ሰው ነበር።

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እግዚአብሔርን የመፍራት በረከት

የምንኖርበትን ዓለም በትዝብት መነፅር ብንመለከት የሰው ልጅ ሕይወት ውጣ ውረድና ትግል የበዛበት በመሆኑ ፍቅርና ጥላቻን እንዲሁም በእምነትና በክህደት መካከል ያለው የነፍስ ፍትጊያ እንዴት እንደ ሆነ ለመረዳት አንቸገርም። ሰው በዚህ ምድር ላይ ሲኖር ራሱን ከሌላው የተሻለ አድርጎ ለሌሎች ለማሳየት ወይም ከሌላው ሰው በልጦ ለመታየት የማይምሰው ጉድጓድና የማይፈነቅለው ድንጋይ የለም። የተፈጥሮ ሕግን ተከትሎ ጊዜው ሲመሽና ሲነጋ የሰውም ሕይወት አንዴ ሲጨልም፣ አንዳንዴ ደግሞ ፍንትው ብሎ ፀሓይ እንደወጣችለት ቀን ሲበራ ይታያል።

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