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Bandit-turned-pastor reaches Ethiopian neighbors for Christ

SHOLA GABEYA, Ethiopia (BP)–Negussie Tameru sits upon simple furniture made from cow skin stretched across a wooden frame. Newspapers in a language he can’t read decorate the walls of his small mud house. Like most others in the small town of Shola Gebeya, Ethiopia, Negussie never knows how he’ll feed his family of seven tomorrow, much less next month.
But Negussie smiles from ear to ear when asked to talk about the hope he’s found in Christ. The lack of material wealth doesn’t bother the bandit turned pastor — he’s got Jesus.
“I have a lot of needs, but I have peace in Christ,” Negussie said.
Negussie’s life isn’t much different than most of his neighbors in Shola Gebeya and across Ethiopia. Nearly 80 percent of Ethiopians are farmers, most live completely by subsistence farming. The United Nations estimates that nearly two-thirds are illiterate.
But the most telling statistic of all is that local believers estimate that, outside of the evangelized southern region, less than 1 percent of Ethiopians are evangelical Christians. Most have no access to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Negussie is an exception.
He began his journey of faith shortly after his career as a bandit was cut short.
At 18, Negussie was carrying a gun and using it to get what he wanted from anyone who crossed his path. Eventually he killed someone and spent six years in prison. But even that couldn’t deter him from being a bandit. Once he was set free, he went back to his old life.
Then the local police took his gun away.
Left hopeless, without a means to support himself, Negussie took a job at the local Baptist mission as a guard. But no one trusted him. Locals told the missionaries that, if they hired him, they’d regret it.
Still searching for an identity in his post-bandit life, Negussie reluctantly paid 5 birr — more than two day’s wages — for a Bible. It was the first book he’d ever attempted reading. He opened his new Bible to Revelation 21:7-8: “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Negussie quickly put the Bible away. Not only had he been a murderer, but he had been heavily involved in sorcery and idolatry as well.
“I got real scared and decided this was a bad book, so I hid it,” Negussie said.
A few days later his boss at the mission, an Ethiopian believer, asked him if he wanted to hear about something really good. Negussie was ready for anything. That’s when his boss told him about the forgiveness he could find in Christ.
“I cried and cried and cried that day,” Negussie said. “I couldn’t believe God would forgive me — not of all the things I’d done.”
Negussie was so deeply touched by the gospel that he went to all of his children — even those who lived in the lowlands with his first wife — and made sure they understood they could find forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
“They all became believers,” Negussie said. “Now I teach my children the Bible and we pray together every night “
Now a pastor of a small church in Shola Gebeya, Negussie hopes to take the gospel to neighboring rural areas, which are dominated by a cultural Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity intermixed with indigenous religions.
“What really scares me is that on the Judgment Day we’ll all be standing around the throne and my neighbors will point at me and ask, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?'”

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  • Tobin Perry