Melcamu Shanqo served as a Wolaitta evangelist in several areas of southern Ethiopia. He was raised in a Kale Heywet Church (KHC) family in the Wolaitta sub-province of Boloso. After completing eighth grade he desired to become a junior pharmacist, but at his father’s deathbed he was handed the well-worn family Bible and commissioned by his father to preach the gospel to those who had never heard it. After completing four years of Bible school at a nearby Serving In Mission (SIM) mission station, he began evangelizing in his local district. In 1971 the Wolaitta KHC assigned him and his wife, Galtami, together with their six children to Kafa province in southwest Ethiopia, a two-day bus trip away.
During Melcamu’s ministry in the Chenna district of Kafa province, he and his family experienced such initial hardships as unsuitable housing, lack of food, and adapting to a strange culture and language. But within his first year Melcamu launched a literacy school under a large shola tree which eventually became a primary school. By 1973 nine men from a traditional religion background were ready for baptism. After their baptism, they became the nucleus of over a dozen other prayer houses in the Chenna district where men, women, and children gathered to worship the God of creation and Jesus His Son who delivered them from the fear of death and the power of the evil one. In 1979 the Melcamu family returned to their home district of Boloso, Wolaitta because the Marxist political regime was stirring up opposition to his evangelistic ministry.
In 1986 Melcamu and Galtami, together with three of their younger children, were assigned to evangelize the Oromo people group on the outskirts of Jimma city. This was another cultural and languistic challenge for Melcamu. Nevertheless he successfully established a small congregation before they returned home to retire in Wolaitta in1998. His retirement was short-lived as the large urban Kale Heywet Church located in Areka, Boloso district, appointed Melcamu to serve as their minister of evangelism.
Melcamu Shanqo is one of the Wolaitta Kale Heywet Church’s unique evangelists. He was a keen observer of Kafa culture. During his nine years in Kafa he amassed many pages of anthropological findings. He was a capable mentor and teacher. Many of the students at the small primary school which Melcamu launched in the Dosha valley of Kafa province have completed Bible School training now and serve in church leadership roles. Some went on to earn degrees in theology. He also encouraged and assisted his own children by educating them as teachers and medical professionals. As a true servant of his Heavenly Father, Melcamu also faithfully fulfilled the commission of his own father, Ato Shanqo. He preached the gospel to those who had never heard it.
E. Paul Balisky
E. Paul Balisky, “Wolaitta Evangelists: A Study of Religious Innovation in Southern Ethiopia, 1937-1975,” Ph.D. thesis (University of Aberdeen, 1997).
Melcamu Shanqo, interview by author, 1987.
This article, received in 2006, was researched and written by E. Paul Balisky, former lecturer at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, Addis Ababa. He and his wife Lila serve as members of the DACB Advisory Council and now reside in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada.