Tilahun Haile, endowed with love for his creator and his fellow man, was a gregarious, enthusiastic, and respected church leader who contributed much to the present stage of development in the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church and authored many spiritual books.
Tilahun Haile was born on October 1, 1936, in Bale Goba. His father, Basha Haile Birye, was a wealthy merchant and landowner of Amhara stock. When he was seven years old, his mother, Menen Miskir, became very ill and was bedridden for the rest of her life. He was the second of four children–one brother and two sisters–though two of his siblings died at a young age. His father died when Tilahun was ten years old. As a result, Tilahun was sent to live in his uncle’s house where he was cruelly treated by his aunt. His uncle was addicted to alcohol and brought poverty and abuse to the family. Tilahun, just a young lad, was subjected to hard work and treated as a hired man, not as family member. Two years passed, and finally, because his uncle’s wife was continually angry with him, he was moved to his other uncle’s home where his older sister was being cared for. Here he began living a better life with some income provided from his father’s inheritance.
He went to an Orthodox traditional school for about two years and joined the Arada Government School of Bale Goba in 1944. Then he moved to Azmach Deglehan School, also located in Bale, and completed his elementary education, graduating from grade eight in 1954. Before finishing school at Bale, the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) missionaries came to Bale Goba in June 1950 and began to lead Bible memorization programs for youngsters who were given prizes for winning the competitions in verse recitation. Tilahun’s friends invited him to participate and he memorized 200 Bible verses and was awarded his first Amharic Bible even before he became a born again Christian. In 1952, at the SIM chapel, an Ethiopian preacher by the name of Eshetu Beyene gave a Christ-centered message one Sunday and invited unbelievers to give their lives to the Lord. During this altar call Tilahun gave his life to Christ. Immediately after his conversion, he revealed his new found faith to his family, but they thought that his commitment would not last.
In order to continue high school, Tilahun went to Addis Ababa to the Kotebe High school (the former Haile Sellassie I Secondary School). After one semester, he went to a teacher training school where he was trained for a year in Amharic and psychology to become a high school teacher. This training was in God’s plan for his future life because it helped him to preach and teach in the church. After completing his teacher training, Tilahun was assigned to Dire Dawa as an Amharic teacher in 1955 and 1956. In 1956 and 1957 he was transferred to the Azmach Deglehan School, his former school in Bale Goba. There, thanks to the godly teaching of SIM missionaries, Gus and Lois Kayser, and KHC evangelists, he continued to mature in his faith and was baptized in June 1957 at Bale Goba KHC. He then became the first pastor and chairman of the board of elders of the first Kale Heywet Church established at Bale Goba.
In February 1958 he married Almaz Bekele who had become a born-again Christian the previous year. In their forty-five years of married life, they were blessed with five children, four sons (Fekadu, Tamirat, Seifeselasse and Amhayessus) and one daughter (Wolansa). Three of them (Fekadu, Tamirat and Wolansa) had families of their own, including four grandsons for Tilahun and Almaz.
Tilahun continued teaching in Bale until 1959. He then continued his education by means of a correspondence course with Bennett College in Sheffield, England, and prepared for the matriculation examination. He also continued his training with the in-service program of the Ministry of Education during the rainy seasons. While he was making every effort to be an effective teacher, he received a letter of transfer from Bale to Ghinnir (a rural village in Bale) from the district administrator of education in Bale. But Tilahun was very irritated at this unfair decision and refused to take the transfer because other fresh young teachers were supposed to be placed in Ghinnir. He went to Addis Ababa to appeal the decision at the ministry of education but did not succeed in getting it reversed.
As a result, in February 1960, Tilahun decided to leave his profession as a teacher and look for another job. The Lord opened a new door and he joined the former Imperial Board of Telecommunications Authority as a junior accountant. This opened another opportunity for him to be a member of the Meserete Heywet (the present Geja Kale Heywet) Church that was first located in the SIM headquarters compound. He began part-time service in this church as a Sunday School Bible teacher and a preacher for Sunday morning service programs. He also served in conferences in his church and in other denominations. He was an elder in his local church. He went out to preach in other parts of Ethiopia and traveled to Nairobi in December 1988. He also preached often on well known radio programs such as Yemisrach Dimts (Voice of the Good News), and Meleekt le Alem (Message for the World) radio stations.
After two years and four months on the job at the Telecommunications Authority, he won a scholarship to attend the former Haile Sellassie I University evening program. He studied business administration, majoring in accounting, and was one of the first to obtain his bachelor’s degree through the evening program in July 1970. He continued to attend various training programs such as auditing, finance, management, leadership, development, and Christian education by attending courses, workshops, and seminars at home and abroad.
He served the government as a regional manager, and chief accountant in the Telecommunications Office until May 1979 when he was transferred to the Ministry of State Farms Development Corporation, where he worked as a finance manager, chief auditor, and acting corporation manager. After more than ten years of service in that office, the Lord called him to full time ministry and he was released on early retirement on October 11, 1989. Since he believed it was the Lord’s will for him to minister in the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church (EKHC) national office in some capacity, he applied for a position. Eventually he was elected to serve as deputy general secretary at the EKHC General Assembly in February 1990.
The Lord used him together with General Secretary Dr. Mulatu Baffa, the General Assembly, the executive board and other KHC staff to bring about significant administrative changes in the fast growing national Kale Heywet Church. The EKHC was reorganized, more staff was hired, and ministries added. Two diploma level theological colleges were opened in Dilla, Hosanna and in Wolaita and Evangelical Theological College (ETC), Addis Ababa, was reorganized under the administration of KHC and other church bodies. Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology was opened in collaboration with Mekane Yesus, Kale Heywet, and the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia. Short-term and long-term training for KHC members at home and abroad was implemented. Ministries catering to both physical and spiritual needs were strengthened through partnership donors. The Kale Heywet Church head office building was erected and the constitution was revised to make it more operational for EKHC’s expanding ministry. Three books were published, documenting the seventy-five year history of the EKHC.
In his work in the EKHC head office, Tilahun had the opportunity to go abroad for visits with General Secretary Dr. Mulatu Baffa to solicit funds for EKHC, to attend seminars and workshops, and to preach the gospel. Together they visited Kenya, Singapore, Ghana, England, Germany, Holland, the U.S.A., Canada, and South Korea. After serving two full two terms (four years each), Tilahun and Dr. Mulatu Baffa were replaced by new officers.
Soon after leaving the Kale Heywet Church central office, Tilahun was invited to Finland, Sweden, Norway, and the U.S.A. to preach and teach the Scriptures to the Ethiopians of the diaspora, as well as to people of other nationalities living in those countries.
As Tilahun’s home was in the Bole Airport area, he also served as an elder from 1986 to 1999 in his local church, the Bole KHC, a daughter church to the Geja KHC. He made significant contributions to the publications department of the KHC as founder and board chairman of the Heywet Literature Department of the Geja Kale Heywet Church. He led this department for ten years.
With his remarkable leadership ability he had many opportunities to serve different church-related institutions in Ethiopia. He was on the board of the Evangelical Theological College, the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology and the International Bible Society. He was a member of Gideons International from 1971 on and served as an Ethiopian camp officer and in other capacities at different times in that organization.
His disciplined Christian life was a model to a younger generation of church leaders. He personally gave godly counsel to many younger men and women who aspired to leadership positions in the EKHC. He himself was not greedy to retain his official position within the EKHC. He generously shared his visionary gifts among the evangelicals of Ethiopia. Another EKHC leader said of Tilahun, “He was one of the vital initiators of the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia and of the Evangelical Student Union of Ethiopia. With others, he gave himself boldly in order to launch these para-church ministries.”
In addition to his rich ministry, he also wrote many spiritual articles, books, and manuals. Some of the outstanding books (for sale to the public) and manuals (used by churches for administration purposes) are Bible Doctrines (1989), A Fruitful Life (1991), The Relationship with God that Changes Life and One’s Situation (1993), Abundant Life (1994), History of the Kale Heywet Church from 1974 - 1994, and Short History of Evangelism in Ethiopia. He wrote spiritual manuals, as well as manuals on development, administration, accounting, and ministry auditing for Kale Heywet local churches. He authored many articles for Ethiopian Christian periodicals.
At the time of his sudden death due to a heart attack on February 27, 2003, he was the chairman of the board of elders at his mother church, Geja Kale Heywet. Just before his death he had been preparing for his next preaching assignment in a series he was asked to present at Geja KHC. The series topic was “Knowing the Will of God.”
Tilahun Haile was a Christian who knew the will of God and accomplished much in the Kingdom of God during his life.
Degefa Sedoro, “Biography of Ato Tilahun Haile,” a paper presented to Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, 23 August 2004.
Estifanos Yohannes, a compilation under the title “Biography, Ato Tilahun Haile,” June 2003.
This article, received in 2004, was researched and written by Dr. Dirshaye Menberu, retired professor from Addis Ababa University and graduate of the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST), a DACB Participating Institution. EGST liaison coordinators are Dr. Paul and Mrs. Lila Balisky, DACB Advisory Council members.