[SLIDESHOW=42395,42396]EDITOR’S NOTE: This story accompanies a Baptist Press story today focusing on a visit to Ethiopia by Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd.
ROGERS, Ark. (BP) — Arkansas corporate executive Haileyesus Abate cries, he says, for the people of his native Ethiopia, a majority Christian nation where numerous tribes still worship nature as deities and have never heard the Gospel.
Typical is the Mursi tribe in southwestern Ethiopia, whose men use clay and natural pigments to paint intricate, colorful patterns on their bodies to attract a bride, who likely will have had a hole punched just below her lip before puberty; the hole stretched by the insertion of progressively larger, round, flat, decorated wooden plates. The larger her plate, the larger dowry the groom’s family pays in negotiating a union, according to custom.
Mursi and other tribes are seeing Muslims working to build mosques in their villages and seeking to convert them to Islam, Haileyesus said. He hopes that Christians can also develop relationships in these villages and new believers can form the nucleus of new churches, a movement he calls church planting.
Pointing to the 50,000 congregations in the Southern Baptist network of churches, he told Baptist Press of his dream to one day see up to 50,000 ministry initiatives from these churches serving the needs of the tribes across his native country.
Living in the United States almost 30 years, he has established relationships with various grassroots communities, he said, and hopes to use these networks and connections to benefit his country of origin.
“I actually weep about that,” he told BP. “We are not from the same tribe, but just God put a burden on me to make a difference for them.”
When his pastor, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd visited Ethiopia at the invitation of governmental leaders, Haileyesus was privileged to visit his home country and travel to remote areas where many tribes live.
While in Ethiopia, Floyd met with Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries working there, and told them of Haileyesus’ desire to spread the Gospel even further by recruiting Southern Baptist churches to establish ministry points within unengaged, unreached tribal groups.
Upon his return to Arkansas, Floyd told his church how impressed he was to see Cooperative Program dollars at work.
“And I wanted to thank them [Cross Church] for the privilege of what they’ve given through the Cooperative Program, what we as a church do through giving to the Cooperative Program, that I saw it with my own eyes,” Floyd said. “We are taking the Gospel to an unreached country in this world … and we have people on the ground and they are seeing life change occur.”
Doug Sarver, Cross Church’s minister of global missions, is working with Haileyesus to recruit Southern Baptist churches to partner with Cross Church to take the Gospel to unengaged, unreached tribes in Ethiopia, and train tribal members as Baptist pastors and teachers.
As new churches develop naturally out of these relationships, it will “also benefit them in health, technology and economic development by connecting the two societies at a grassroots level,” he said.
“Ethiopia is a proud country where Christians, Muslims and other religions have been living in harmony for centuries and we applaud that,” Haileyesus said. “Our engagement will not interrupt this.”
Haileyesus began attending the Pinnacle Hills campus of Cross Church in 2008 when he moved to Arkansas from Pennsylvania as a global program leader for a major corporation. He had grown up a Protestant Christian in Ethiopia, and as a top academic student had been privileged to attend The Bible Academy of Ethiopia, a selective, private boarding school — now closed — that was led by American missionaries. Haileyesus also attended Addis Ababa University before continuing his education in America 26 years ago.
Haileyesus explained his burden to help unengaged, unreached people groups in Ethiopia, including more than 10 tribal groups.
He began thinking beyond his own capabilities, he told BP, and considered what God could do through him, especially as a connection point between Ethiopia and Cross Church.
“God blessed me a lot. I can say I’m blessed more than I can think of,” Haileyesus said. “I see that I can be a connection point…. God placed me in the middle, and this vision came because I know both sides.”
Seeing the Mursi left Haileyesus speechless with tears, he said.
“I have no words other than crying. Words cannot put any description of my feelings,” he told BP. “I am not in a good mood when thinking about them. I still feel it’s my failure not having a church there. So I just pray that we can do something as quickly as possible.”
“I need churches from here, especially Southern Baptist churches, to partner with me, take one village at a time, train those individuals … and then build a small church — it’s not very expensive — and just grow and reach out to all,” Haileyesus said. “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”