Azeb was born on September 7, 1940 in Yerer Berr, Harer, to Ato (Mr.) Desta Baysasahu and Woizero (Mrs.) Bekelkay Tesemma. After finishing her education in the Ras Mekonnen School, she attended the Harer Teacher Training Institute (TTI) where she received a certificate and a diploma in elementary education. She began her college education at Haile Sellassie I University in Addis Ababa but could not continue because she missed her family very much and decided to return to Harer.
From 1958 to 1962, she worked in a school modeled after the Harer Teacher Training School. In the fall of 1962, she returned to Haile Sellassie I University again and got her first degree in the field of education in 1966. During her studies, she taught students at the Be’ede Mariam High School (a laboratory school for the Education Faculty) for three summers.
In 1968 she obtained her masters degree in curriculum and instruction and in 1975, her Ph.D. degree from Ohio University, U.S.A.
Beginning in June 1975 (soon after returning to Ethiopia) she worked for eighteen months in the Edget Behibret National Campaign program, a national movement in which high school and college students and teachers participated in educating Ethiopian peasants in all the provinces. She worked in the administration and in other positions in the headquarters office at Addis Ababa.
After 1976, she lectured and actively participated in the administrative and research work in the Faculty of Education at Addis Ababa University. She always worked with vigor and devotion and made huge contributions to her country in her area of expertise. For example, she taught classes in curriculum and instruction for first and second degree students for twenty-three years. At the same time she chaired the Curriculum and Instruction Department in the Faculty of Education and she was the dean of the Faculty of Education. She was also involved in the various educational and administrative committees of the university as member, chairperson, and advisor. She was chair of the committee for the curriculum evaluation project at the Ministry of Education, senate member of the university representing the Faculty of Education, and member of the Senate Executive Committee of Addis Ababa University. She was usually chosen to be either a committee member or a group leader whenever her department, the university or the Ministry of Education needed strong individuals for a serious endeavor.
As a delegate for Addis Ababa University, Azeb was sent to global seminars, conferences and visits to countries such as America, Russia, Canada, France, West Germany, Kenya, and other places. Four of her research findings are published in various journals and six in conference or symposium proceedings, and one in a magazine. She compiled about ten handouts and materials that have not been published but are useful for training and teaching purposes. Over and above these, she prepared a manual entitled “General Methods of Teaching” that is used as a textbook. She was promoted to the position of associate professor because of her accomplishments in research, writing, and education.
Her younger sisters, Tersit and Zenebech, who influenced her later to consider Christianity, were at the Harer TTI while she was a university student and they heard the gospel message there in 1965. Their youngest sister, Azalech, hated the Pente (the name given to evangelical Christians in Ethiopia, hated by Orthodox Christians) but after a long time, Tersit took Azalech to the Meserte Kristos Church in 1980. Azalech’s life was suddenly transformed and she was baptized before the end of 1980. She became the first Christian in the family and Tersit and Zenebech were baptized on January 20, 1992 after Azeb witnessed to them for many years.
Azeb, the eldest of the sisters, had good moral standards but was not a Christian for a long time. As an educated person, she had her doubts about what her sisters told her. But less than a year after the conversion of Tersit and Zenebech, Azeb followed their path and she was baptized in November 1992. Then she began to grow in her spiritual life very fast. It was Tersit’s persecution by an Orthodox Church one evening that drew Azeb to take this faith seriously.
Tersit’s niece, a devout Orthodox Christian, invited her to attend a weekday service in a certain Orthodox Church. At the end of the service the teacher asked a question that somehow prompted Tersit to voice an evangelical point of view. Consequently, the parishioners immediately knew that she was Pente. They not only condemned her verbally but also beat her one by one. She took it graciously and went home. That persecution made Azeb wake up and take her faith seriously and, as a result, she began to go to church with her sisters.
In her early years as a Christian, Azeb grew quickly in her faith because she read so much. She started writing songs under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. She wrote many articles for publication in journals and translated spiritual materials from English to Amharic because she wanted to serve the people of God and create literature with a Christian content in Amharic. Some of her articles, published in Berhan, an Amharic spiritual journal, include “Continuous Transformation Process in Christianity” (June 1993), “The Three Stages of Faith” (August 1993), “Theology: Praying in the Holy Spirit and Praying in the Spirit, Same or Different?” (January-February 1994). She translated an article by Dr. Alva J. McClain on the prophesies of the prophet Daniel from English to Amharic and it was published in two parts (March-April 1994 and May-June 1994).
She also put her professional skills to the service of the Kale Heywet Church by training their members in teaching methods. She gave one or two week training seminars to insurance companies and banks as well. At the end of every training course, she gave her public testimony to the saving power of Jesus Christ. She did this every year after her conversion, changing her teaching methods to conform more with what she understood to be Jesus’ teaching strategy.
She was invited to give a seminar on higher education prepared for UNESCO on July 1, 1999. She was admitted to hospital a few weeks after the seminar. Finally, nine years after giving her life to Christ, she died of breast cancer on August 28, 1999.
A few days before her death, one of the elders of her local church came to visit her and asked her how educated people like her viewed faith in God. She answered that earthly knowledge is futile for the spiritual world especially from an eternal perspective. Knowledge and wisdom-which come from God-are good to have because they help to live on earth but they are only temporary. She then told him it was better to have eternal life than all earthly knowledge which is temporary.
Short biography of Dr. Azeb Desta, read during her funeral on August 29, 1999.
Tersit Desta, Azeb’s sister, interviewed on June 29, 2005.
This article, received in 2005, was researched and written by Dr. Dirshaye Menberu, retired professor from Addis Ababa University and 2005-2006 Project Luke Fellow. She is a graduate of the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST), a DACB Participating Institution.