In 1992, a year after the downfall of the communist military regime, known as the Derg, Aster and Lensa, the daughters of Gudina Tumsa, the abducted and assassinated Ethiopian church leader, returned home after years of exile. Though the political atmosphere was still dark and gloomy they resolved to follow in the footsteps of their father by carrying on his legacy. Their return to Ethiopia 25 years ago resulted in the inception of the Gudina Tumsa Foundation (GTF). In June of 1992, thirteen years after Gudina Tumsa ‘s assassination, his remains were exhumed from the Old Palace in Addis Ababa. His church, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, organized a reburial ceremony in the presence of representatives of partner churches and organizations from around the world. His widow, Tsehay Tolassa, who had been languishing in prison for a decade and their four children, along with many other friends and colleagues, gathered in to mourn the tragic loss of this great man. It was a time of heartache and sorrow—thirteen years of wandering and uncertainty, whether Gudina was alive in a secret confinement or dead, culminated at the burial ground. His colleagues and family spent days reminiscing about his life, teachings and ministry. Long hours were spent recalling the man whose faith compelled him to oppose injustice and brutality committed against the defenseless people of his country—the man who chose to stand up for justice and human rights in spite of the many personal threats and death he faced.
His Thoughts, Visions and Aspirations
Gudina Tumsa’s worldviews were heavily impacted by his studies in the USA which gave him human right activists such as Pastor Dietrich Bohnhoeffer of Germany who wasin the early 1960’s, which coincided with the civil rights movement led by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. This exposure expanded his awareness of cultural, social and political issues and enriched his thinking about the role of the church in society.
The Trip that Led to Fighting Injustice
In 1970 Gudina Tumsa travelled to Apartheid South Africa with a delegation from Europe and North America. Being the only black delegate, he was ushered by white immigration officers to the “Blacks Only” section which he resisted vehemently. He sat at the “Whites Only” section along with the rest of the delegation. As one of his travel mates later testified, seeing his towering stature (he was two meters tall) and his unflinching determination none of the apartheid police dared to ask him to move. Upon his return from South Africa he was received as a hero and he was featured on the country’s leading newspapers—the Ethiopian Herald and Addis Zemen. He toured around the world exposing the evils of Apartheid and speaking out against all forms of injustice. As he was known to possess great skills of oratory his words captivated the minds of many and stirred the hearts of the youth to yearn for justice.
Worthy of Existence
Gudina Tumsa felt that the church should serve as a paradigm for society, an advocate for the oppressed. The church, he stated, showed commitment to self-reliance, land reform, overcoming enmity between different ethnic groups and concern for the outcasts. He wrote: “The church had been practicing democracy for some time, participation by the people from the bottom up, aspiring for justice, respect for human rights and the rule of law…” He supported his argument by taking practical actions such as adjusting the salaries to meet the needs of the low income employees of the central office of his church, and by encouraging the church to continue her contributions to the development of Ethiopia through the sectors of health, education and other services thereby preparing people for change. In his 1974 speech in Nairobi he argued that a true biblical church had a political role to play: “Apolitical [non-political] life is not worthy of existence, involvement is a denial of the goodness of creation and of the reality of incarnation…. The history of the people of God in the Old Testament starts with the liberation of a group of slaves from oppression. Nothing is more political than this Biblical narrative.” Gudina Tumsa’s witness to the gospel in the political context of his time meant to be ready to pay the highest cost of discipleship. There were a number of reasons for his detention and assassination, among other things, his Christian identity that placed him against the Marxist-atheistic ideology perpetuated by the military government; his leadership as a churchman with high-level contacts in the West; his refusal to serve the dictatorial regime on a propaganda tour of Europe and his founding of an ecumenical church council independent from state control. All this made him guilty of high treason and espionage. Although he knew about the immense personal danger in his own country, he nevertheless rejected leaving for exile and chose to remain with his people, his country and his church. His martyrdom adds the depth of personal witness to his prophetic messages of faith that continue to move hearts and minds.
Voice of the Voiceless
Upon his return to Ethiopia Gudina Tumsa became heavily engaged in matters of the spiritual, social, economic and political life of his people. Under the imperial government of Emperor Haile Selassie, who had ruled Ethiopia for half a century, the Ethiopian people were subjected to harsh expropriation of resources for the benefit of landlords and central authorities. Gudina Tumsa challenged the Imperial government on matters involving human rights, justice, feudalism and land reform. In 1971 he sent a letter urging Haile Selassie’s parliament to take action to rectify the injustices committed in the areas of land rights. Rev. Gudina Tumsa’s advocacy continued even after the Marxists Leninist Derg regime came into power. His activism in this political context eventually led to his death. His Christian identity and position as a church leader with high-level contacts in the West made him a target, his refusal to serve Mengistu Hailemariam’s government by going on a propaganda tour in Europe and his founding of an ecumenical church council independent from state control made him a threat. Although he knew about the immense danger, he faces he rejected leaving his country behind and this decision led to his eventual death and martyrdom.
Call To ActionGO to GTF US
Using Wholistic approach GTF stives to empower disadvantaged communities to see themselves as whole and capable human beings.
GTF’s vision is to see communities, who are empowered to perceive themselves as capable human beings, equipped to actively engage in all aspects of spiritual and physical human life.
"...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." It is based on this statement that GTF has crafted its entire approach to development within Ethiopian society.
In Reverend Gudina Tumsa's own words:
- women empowerment
- water development
- medical missions
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