Abagole was born in 1894 at Dubancho in the Hadiya region, southern Shoa Province in Ethiopia. His mother was called by the affectionate name of Adeye and his father, Nunemo, was a killer who wanted to satisfy his desire to be famous. Nunemo named his son Sofebo. Later on, Sofebo grew up to be a brave young man and his name was changed by his fellow cattle herdsmen to “Abagole” meaning “he who has the ability to gather people around him.”
In his early life he was a sorcerer, an idol worshipper, a known rebel, a slave trader, and a murderer. Due to his ability to manipulate the spirits, his relatives and neighbors brought him the firstborn of their domestic animals and “chuko,” a delicacy made from the flour of roasted barley mixed with butter and salt to form a tasty thick paste.
During the Italian invasion of Southern Ethiopia from 1937 to 1941, Abagole, with his compatriots from Hadiya, fought the colonizers. He also helped fleeing SIM missionaries by giving them shelter and food as they cautiously made their way to Addis Ababa. He heard the Gospel through them but did not respond initially. One day a marauding army burned and looted his house, taking his wife and children. He pursued the looters to Wolaitta, attempting to reclaim his lost possessions and his family. While negotiating with the bandits he spent the nights on the vacated SIM compound near Soddo, where he was befriended by the guard who enthusiastically testified about Christ. One night in November of 1936, God gave Abagole a vision and the next morning he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. He was soon reunited with his wife and children and returned home to Dubancho in the Hadiya region.
At this time in his life Abagole was illiterate. A friend gave him an Amharic alphabet chart which he took home. He soon mastered the complicated Amharic alphabet with the help of friends, learned how to read and began teaching. But as usual, local people, including his relatives, began to pressure him to continue his former spirit work. Instead, he told them about his conversion to Christ and the peace and joy he had experienced in his own life. He grew spiritually and became knowledgeable in religious matters and wise and skillful in government affairs.
He was filled with the Holy Spirit soon after his conversion and began to preach the Gospel in his home district of Dubancho. God helped him open up the Scriptures to others even though he lacked formal training. His evangelistic outreach began extending beyond his own district of Dubancho, to Ololicho and then to Amburse. He ministered not only in the Kembata and Hadiya regions but also in many other parts of Ethiopia. He preached all over Ethiopia, except in the region of Wollega. He continually encouraged those who became believers in Christ to learn the Amharic alphabet, to read and write, and to become teachers in their own villages.
Abagole traveled down to the western lowlands of Ethiopia, near the Omo River, and preached to the nomadic people. They were a people of traditional religion and their culture was very different from the highland Ethiopians. He observed that they used sharp basalt stones for shaving their hair. God gave Abagole special wisdom so that on his second visit he purchased razor blades which he gave them free of charge. This gift won their friendship and some were won for Christ.
Abagole was God’s instrument for establishing churches inside and outside Ethiopia. He was given the opportunity to preach in America and in Canada. When he was in Nigeria for nineteen days, many believed. Two incidents stand out in his mind as he was preaching in Wolaitta. While on a preaching tour, over a hundred people came to Christ and they formed themselves into one local church. The second incident occurred in 1983 when again ninety-four people came to Jesus Christ in a day.
Like other believers in southern Ethiopia from 1935 to 1991, Abagole faced persecution. First, he was ostracized by his own relatives in Kembatta and Hadiya. Then he was persecuted by the government officials because of his incessant preaching. During the Italian invasion, the invaders built gallows on which to hang him in Hosanna town because they feared he was enlisting people as members of what they thought was a political movement. Abagole’s response when he heard about his impending death was, “If it is the will of God, I too shall drink this cup.” But God preserved his life in a miraculous way.
In the 1940s and 50s, the administrative center for Kembatta and Hadiya was Assela, on the eastern edge of the Rift Valley. In January of 1945, there was a proclamation to all the citizens of southern Ethiopia that they must convert to Orthodox Christianity. When the leaders of the evangelical movement refused to obey this order, they were taken to the Assela prison. Four of the believers died in that prison. Most of the believers became strong in their faith during the persecution. Abagole traveled by foot or rode a mule day and night and slept outside during those days. For about five years, Abagole took food to the prisoners and tried his best to intervene for the prisoners by consulting various government officials. Abagole described those hectic days of constant travel saying, “My home was the back of the mule.”
He played a significant role as one of the founders of the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church (EKHC). He was a EKHC leader for twenty-eight years in the regions of Kembatta and Hadiya. He was one of the founders and first chairman of the Fellowship of Evangelical Believers’ Association (founded in 1963), in which organization he served as the first president for four years. He was also one of the decision makers when the name “Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church” was chosen in 1971.
As a EKHC leader, he sent many evangelists to preach in various geographic areas of Ethiopia such as Arsi, Keffa, Mareko, Wollo, Tigray, and Gurage. He also coordinated operations and raised funds to build churches in Bobicho, Mochia among the Gurage ethnic group and at Geja in Addis Ababa. He did the same in Hosanna town and in the Dubancho district.
Abagole also helped to establish primary schools both in Hadiya and beyond. At first, elementary schools began in local Kale Heywet churches and then developed into recognized public and government schools. One such school was the KHC/SIM Bobicho primary and secondary school (near Hosanna town) which was a prime mover in breaking the bondage of illiteracy. This school produced many who became professionals, who are now scholars, doctors, and ambassadors.
Abagole cared for the physical and spiritual needs of the people and played a significant role in encouraging the building of the hospital at Hosanna from 1985 to 1987. He collected over 12,000 U.S. dollars from Hadiya and Kembatta believers and government workers from as far away as Harrar, Nuralla, and Shone. Many SIM missionaries residing in Addis Ababa remember Abagole asking for donations for this worthy project. All these donations were a great help in constructing the impressive Hosanna hospital.
Abagole also helped widows, orphans, evangelists, and the sick with the gifts and offerings he collected from believers. He bought mules for evangelists so that they could avoid having to walk to distant areas. He also helped the drought-stricken victims in Wollo by donating grain and cash.
As a founding father of EKHC, Abagole left a proud and enduring legacy.
Mulugeta Angissew and Lemma Ferenje, “Biography of Abagole Nunamo” (February 1997).
Wendiye Ali, The Church Which Flourished through Persecution, Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church History, Vol. I, (Amharic), pp. 233-243.
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.