Pastor Ezra Gebremedhin
A brief background note.
About a month or so ago, Seble Ephrem sent me an e-mail after she read an interview that I did with ELEM (Eritrean Life and Entertainment Magazine: http://www.elemonline.com) for their latest issue(July/Sept. 2009) . Seble liked what I had to say in the interview and informed me that I needed to contact Pastor Ezra Gebremedhin because according to Seble, Pastor Ezra had finalized writing a book on the history of the Evangelical Church of Eritrea (ECE). I contacted Pastor Ezra and he was willing to do an interview with me for my blog.
I would like to thank Seble for passing the information and for Pastor Ezra for his patience( from my endless and constant nagging) and graciousness. Since most of the questions that I had asked Pastor Ezra were already in his book, I'll present the truncated answers in parts.
This is part one.
Issayas :Can you tell my readers(briefly) about yourself?
Pastor Ezra Gebremedhin: I was born in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia on November 17, 1936 and received my B.A. from the University of Addis Abeba in 1957. I left for St. Paul, Minnesota the same year on a scholarship from the Lutheran World Federation. I received my M.A. in Educational Psychology from the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) and my B.D. from the Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. I took a year of internship at the Ethiopian Evangelical College in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia, between 1960 and 1961 (the year of the coup d'etat by the bothers Mengistu and Germame Neway). Upon my return to Ethiopia in 1963, I was made the Executive Secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) in which capacity I served up to 1966. Ordained in 1964, I served as pastor of the oldest Mekane Yesus congregation in Addis Abeba until 1970, when I left for Sweden for further studies. I was awarded a Doctor of Divinity at the University of Uppsala in 1977 and taught Theology between 1977 and 2000, the last fifteen years as Assistant Professor at the Theological Faculty of Uppsala University. From my Kenisha parents, who had moved to Ethiopia from the then Italian colony of Eritrea in the early 1920s, my siblings and I received a deep and lasting impression of the Evangelical faith which had nurtured them in the Eritrea of their youth. I have served as pastor among Diaspora Eritreans and Ethiopians of Evangelical Lutheran persuasion here in Sweden. My wife Gennet Awalom, also a person of Eritrean background, and I have three children and seven grandchildren. We are residents of Uppsala, Sweden.
Issayas: Can you tell us briefly, what was the story behind the establishment of the Evangelical Church of Eritrea?
Pastor Ezra: During the latter part of the 19th century there was a growing concern in missionary circles, especially in Great Britain, about ways of conducting mission and organizing indegnous Christians into churches. The motto, "A Self-governing and Self-propagating Church" had been adopted but, at the beginning, it didn't quite seem to catch. In time, it became the cornerstone of the Protestant missionary policy in Africa. The organization of the Church on the basis of a democratic constitution was meant to guarantee independence under African leadership.
In 1920 a newly appointed Mission Secretary, Nils Dahlberg, visited the SEM (Swedish Evangelical Mission) field in India and together with the Rev. P.O.Froberg, who was then the chairman of the mission conference, raised questions regarding the organization of the local church. Dalhberg presented a proposal for a church constitution to the India Field Conference and to the Board in Sweden. The constitution was solemnly approved at a conference in Chindwara on February 9, 1923. The name of the new church was to be "The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central Province". 31 delegates from different congregations and 7 missionaries were present at the meeting. A Synodical Council was set up, consisting of one missionary, three Indians and the President. The new church elected Rev. P.E. Froberg, who was also the chairman of the Field Conference, as President. Missionaries continued to hold the office of Church President up to 1945 when the office was transferred to an Indian, The Rev. Emanuel Raman.
Nils Dahlberg, Mission Director of the SEM, arrived in Eritrea just before Easter 1925, following a visit to Ethiopia in 1924. On Palm Sunday a gubae (meeting) was held in Asmara with some 1200 participants. The Mission Secretary was given a warm reception and he made a deep impression by his happy and dashing appearance and, even more, by his powerful preaching and the contributions he made during the conversations. Many Kenisha came to remember him and to compare his visit with that of Professor Kolmodin in 1909-1910. Dahlberg underlined the view that a growing congregation must strive to become self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating.
This philosophy had been propagated by Prof. Kolmodin 17 years earlier, but had not, due to many unfavorable conditions, been realized as yet. A committee was selected to prepare a proposal for a church constitution "in close keeping with the pattern of our sister fields in India and South Africa." Another important question was the upgrading of the education of indegenous co-workers. This proposal too was accepted at the mission conference in the autumn of 1925 and referred to the Board that gave its full approval. The hopes of Iwarson (the Field Director of SEM in Eritrea) were evidently not limited to the Church in Eritrea. Earlier on, in a letter to Dahlberg, Iwarson had expressed interest in seeing the formation of a wider organization that would include the Church in "Southern Ethiopia", possibly also the Presbyterians. He had also discussed the matter with Karl Nystrom of the Bible True Friends, who had shown interest in participating in such an organization.
The First Synodical meeting, which constituted the Evangelical Church of Eritrea (ECE), was held in Sept. 1926. 34 participants were present, 12 of these were pastors, 12 were laymen from the congregations and 10 were missionaries. The main item was the election of a president. This position went to Rev. Iwarson. Pastor Tewlde-Medhin Gebre-Medhin was elected Vice-President, while others were elected to different offices.
Next, part two.