The religious persecution and assassinations of the bygone communist regimes of the world are few of the cruellest forms of injustice and human rights violation to be remembered. One of the numerous victims of such an act of a dictatorial regime, at the beginning of the 4th quarter of our century, was the General Secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus--the Reverend Gudina Tumsa. As one Church historian put it "... he was one of the Church pillars Africa ever produced in the 20th century." The life of this charismatic church leader has captured the interests of several writers—some have written books and papers on him while others have dedicated their books to him. And yet four volumes of books on his life and ministry are underway for publication. Why did Gudina Tumsa's life and ministry become an issue of interest to writers and to those who laboured hard to establish a foundation in his name to carry on his vision? Even though it is not within the scope of this information bulletin to give an in-depth account of his life, some mentions of the factors that led to his becoming of an international figure will be made.
Through tremendous efforts and perseverance, Gudina worked hard up the educational scales and attained the status of a reputed evangelical Church leader upon his return from the United States of America, after the completion of his studies in the mid 1960s. His experiences over the early years of his studies, his services in the early years of his ministry in the rural areas of Ethiopia and later as the General Secretary of the EECMY, enabled him to conjure the famous thesis entitled " The Interrelation between the Proclamation of the Gospel and Human Development." This remarkable thesis echoed and reverberated in Lutheran Churches all over the world, serving as an agreement of transition and integration. Through this thesis and several other documents, he created awareness among the global Lutheran communities and in the World Council of Churches. This document challenged the traditional theological and missionary trends that the Western Churches held for decades in their approach to the case of their mission fields in Africa. Consequently, this very fact inspired Lutheran Churches in Africa as to how a Church should minister to the various needs of people in the continent if the Church should remain a true representative of God's kingdom.
His exemplary life as well as his writings have challenged several thinkers and Church leaders in the global Lutheran communities. Dr. Eide, the author of "Revolution and Religion in Ethiopia", aptly summarized his stature as follows:
“Throughout the whole period 1974-1978, Gudina Tumsa stood out as the driving spiritual and intellectual force behind the changes attempted by the EECMY to meet the challenges of the revolution. Harbouring a burning compassion for the poor and the down-trodden, he took on an almost prophetic role in interpreting the signs of the time, and formulating guidelines for his church to follow.”
Under his leadership the young Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus was able to grow and develop despite hostile situations. The number of members in the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus had reached a million at the reburial ceremony of this reputed leader in June 1992.
His presence in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement and his visit of South Africa in the early 1970s inspired him to urge his Church into taking up the issue of social justice. Living in a country where cultural and religious dogmatisms dominated could not prevent Gudina from thinking and acting ecumenically--he established and became the first chairman of the Council of Cooperation of Churches in Ethiopia.
He stood firm on his faith in Christ and set an exemplary life of dedication in the face of persecution of Christians in the country. He fell martyrdom rather than compromising with the view of the tempter, even though giving in might have eased the outward situation of the Church and her members.
Gudina Tumsa's ideals, principles & vision were aptly picked up by his family members, co-workers and friends, both in Ethiopia and abroad, who established a foundation in his name: GUDINA TUMSA FOUNDATION (GTF) was founded in 1992 in Addis Ababa. Among its objectives are:
· To care for the physical, mental, moral, spiritual well-being of deprived
· To promote community-based development and self-help projects.
· To promote the development of traditional medicines, arts and crafts.
· To initiate & implement a holistic approach to rural development.
· To encourage ecumenism and dialogue with various religions
· To facilitate exchange of ideas with a view to promote mutual
understanding and tolerance.
In Reverend Gudina Tumsa's own words:
"...an integral human development, where the spiritual and physical needs are seen together is the only right approach to the development question in our society."
GTF is committed to carry on this vision and works to help those who are "suffering physically as well as those longing for justice and freedom; their desires to be healed by medical means as well as by the forgiveness of God." At the core of GTF's vision is addressing the spiritual and physical needs of people in need using a holistic approach..
Even though the vision GTF committed itself to is a noble one, the challenge of translating the vision into action was, and still remains, an enormous one. Since GTF is established to carry on the vision of the Rev. Gudina Tumsa, it set as its first priority conducting research on his life and writings, thus the Documentation and Preservation Project was formulated and launched. The research revealed that Gudina Tumsa was a strong advocator of education; therefore, all projects Gtf conducts integrated education as their basis. An education centre to offer trainings to children as well as adults was established for Karayu pastoralists, which later developed into a rural integrated program. The Karayu were chosen on the basis that Gudina Tumsa always favoured the marginalized sector of the society; being pastoralists and leading a lifestyle which involved seasonal movement, which differed in many ways from the dominant sedentary lifestyle in Ethiopia, puts the Karayu among the underprivileged groups of people in Ethiopia. In the following pages GTF's endeavours in the past eight years to translate the vision into action, through designing and launching projects, will be discussed.