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Global Vision - Spring 2012

View more articles in the Spring 2012 issue.

Ethiopian theological conference hosted at Luther Seminary in March

by John Klawiter, M.Div. Senior

On March 16-17, the Gudina Tumsa Theological Forum (GTTF), a gathering of leaders from the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) and EECMY theologians serving in the states, took place at Luther Seminary. The March forum was the first U.S. gathering of its kind, bringing together leaders in the Mekane Yesus church and Ethiopian diaspora community for theological discussion and learning from each other. These leaders were joined by former missionaries in Ethiopia, pastors and Luther Seminary students, faculty and staff, for a total of 75 participants.

The lead organizer of this year's conference, Samuel Yonas Deressa, a M.Th. student at Luther Seminary, said of the event's goal, "There are so many Ethiopian leaders in the states whose voices we want to hear, and we are excited to share the legacy of Gudina Tumsa and the multi-dimensional engagement of EECMY in God's mission with a broader audience."

The GTTF was initially organized in 2008 in Ethiopia as a program of the Gudina Tumsa Foundation and is named for Luther Seminary alum, Gudina Tumsa '66. Tumsa eventually  became the general secretary of the EECMY and was later executed by the Ethiopian government in 1979 due to his committed service as a Christian leader.

"He was a martyr because of his faith," said Luther Seminary Ph.D student Mesfin Ayele.

"Gudina Tumsa voiced concerns against persecution and dehumanizing [activities that the military government was doing to the Ethiopians]," said Deressa.  "He spoke out mainly through his political opposition, which was from the Scriptures."

As an alum of Luther Seminary and leader in the Ethiopian church, Tumsa's legacy has inspired Ethiopian leaders to study at Luther. It is fitting then that this important theological conference, named in Tumsa's honor, was held at Luther.

But more important than the location is what the GTTF hoped to accomplish.

"Tumsa is recognized as the first Ethiopian pastor and theologian to publicly take up the issue of the prophetic role of the church in Ethiopian society," said Deressa. "Since the forums began in 2008, we've held several gatherings around the world where theologians come together to add their voice to the conversation about the church and mission."

For years, the prevailing wisdom had been that the Ethiopian church needed missionaries to come help them expand the Christian faith.

This conference, and others like it, presents an opportunity for Ethiopian scholars to deepen their theological impact within and outside Ethiopia, exploring indigenous theologies while contextualizing and challenging Western models of theology and praxis.

Deressa is optimistic that those in attendance learned a bit more from their ministry partners in Ethiopia through this event. 

"I've attended several forums [around the world] and what I observed was an openness of Americans to hear from other cultures and have further dialogue," said Deressa. "The time has come when we, the west and African nations, can come together and reflect on God's mission in the world."

Presenters and topics at the GTTF included:

  • Ms. Lensa Gudina, Managing Director of the Gudina Tumsa Foundation, Addis Ababa: "The Importance of Gudina Tumsa To His Family, Church and Society"
  • The Rev. Gerd Decke, Former Study Secretary in the Department of Studies of the Lutheran World Federation (1971-1977); Former Secretary for the Horn of Africa of the Berlin Mission and Deputy Director of Mission (1993-2006): "Gudina Tumsa and Dietrich Bonhoeffer"
  • The Rev. Dr. Gemechu Olana, pastor, Oromo Evangelical Church, Los Angeles and president of The United Oromo Evangelical Churches:  "An Empowering and Reconciling Presence: A Brief Historical Perspective Review with Some Prospective Remarks on Public Ministry of EECMY"
  • Dr. Ezekiel Gebissa, professor, Kettering University, Michigan: "Between Indigeneity and Globalism: Mission & Leadership in the EECMY in the 21st Century"
  • Samuel Yonas Deressa, former staff of the Gudina Tumsa Foundation and M.Th. student: "Hermenutics of Discernment and its Missional Implication: Ethiopian Praxis"

Additional facilitators included Dr. Belay Olam, principal of Mekane Yesus Seminary, Addis Ababa; Bishop James Arends, La Crosse Area Synod, ELCA; Ms. Karen Walhof and Rev. Leonard Flachman, Lutheran University Press; Rev. Dr. Debra Samuelson, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Minneapolis; Mr. Dinku Bato and Mr. Etana Debel, Ph.D. students, Luther Seminary.

The papers presented at the GTTF are available in the Journal of Gudina Tumsa Theological Forum, Volume 2: Emerging Theological Praxis, Lutheran University Press an imprint of Kirk House Publishers.

Also available are collections of Tumsa's writings, as well as papers from other theological forums and seminars organized by the Gudina Tumsa Foundation.

Photos of the event are available at www.flickr.com/lutherseminary