I had the privilege of attending special graduation ceremonies last spring in Ethiopia along with Dr. Wayne Wilks, Jr., MJBI President, and Casey Cook, videographer from Gateway Church. From Addis Ababa, the ancient city-state capital, we prepared for 3 wonderful MJBI graduation celebrations in the schools and villages of Gondar, Hosanna, and Woliso.
The MJBI Ethiopia is led by Derese Yohannes, who serves from the national office in Addis. Leaders are equipped that will establish Messianic Jewish congregations and ministries in the Ethiopian communities of the Beta Abraham, Beta Israel, and the Gafat Jewish communities. Along with equipping Messianic Jewish leaders, Derese serves as an emissary to encourage the Church in Ethiopia in its responsibility to take the Good News to the Jew first according to Romans 1:16.
There is a strong Hebraic influence within Ethiopian culture dating back to Solomon’s time. From primitive villages to cities, it is not uncommon to find Stars of David engraved on buildings like Orthodox churches or attached to grass huts. The national language, Amharic, is a Semitic language with Hebrew root words. There is also a Jewish community in Ethiopia who have kept Jewish traditions for centuries, and others who have embraced the Orthodox Church and mixed traditions.
One of those Jewish communities is in the city of Gondar which previously served as the capital of the Ethiopian Empire. The city holds the remains of several royal castles, for which Gondar has been called the “Camelot of Africa.” Here in this historic northern city, we celebrated the graduation of 84 students that successfully completed the MJBI course of study for Talmid Alef (beginning student). Since few from this community have had the opportunity for higher education, this ceremony was an important event and was well attended by family, friends, and local church pastors and leaders.
From Gondar, we made our way south to Hosanna—a city in southern Ethiopia that serves as a center for Protestant Christianity and provincial administration of Kambata. Here among the Gafat Jewish Community, 200 students also completed the Talmid Alef courses and were honored and celebrated, led by their local school leaders. As in Gondar, the graduation was well attended and the graduates joyfully received diplomas, recognition, and honor for completing the 2-year-course of study.
Next we traveled to Woliso, a town in central Ethiopia, which also functions as an administrative center for its region. In addition to the second largest flower-farm in Ethiopia, Woliso is also home to a significant hydro-electric power plant as well as the Multipurpose Community Telecentre and a 150 bed hospital. Here 99 graduates received diplomas.
Following each graduation ceremony celebration, halls were rented and meals shared as students, family members, and friends celebrated with exuberant joy and experienced the blessing of moving forward in the purposes of God together. All over Ethiopia a sense of increase and expectancy is coming to life as Messianic Jews and the body of Messiah are coming together in unity.
Currently discussions are in process that are moving toward the Messianic Jewish congregations and communities being given official recognition as a part of the larger Evangelical Community of Churches within Ethiopia. These graduates anticipate a hopeful future as they embrace their calling to share Messiah. Their faces are radiant with a supernatural Light from above as they move forward to “freely give as they have received.”
Pastor Jon is currently serving on the Global Ministries’ staff at Gateway Church. He is married to Laurinda, who serves as Ministry Coordinator in Parenting Life. They recently celebrated 35 years of marriage and have 5 children. During his leisure time, Jon enjoys training for marathons and triathlons.