Evangelist Tekle Wolde Giorgis was such a well-known servant of God and God’s people that he was known by the name “Donkey of the Congregations.”
Tekle was born in Fero, Saja (Yem). His father was Wolde Giorgis Sembo and his mother Weleta Michael Birru. As a boy, he enrolled in the Ras Mesfin School in Saja and was a student when the missionaries came into that area. Tekle went to the SIM Saja mission center to hear the gospel. There he accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. Soon, however, his friends and family began to persecute him for his new faith. His family put him into prison but after eight days, he escaped from prison and ran away to the mission center to seek help. The missionaries secretly sent him to Woliso and in 1953 he entered the Hosanna Bible School in Kambatta. After his training, he began to serve the Lord using Wolisoas his base. He often traveled with the SIM missionaries doing evangelistic outreach.
He returned to Saja in 1957 because of his concern for his people. There he built a small school hut to teach children how to read the Amharic alphabet. But the neighbors, suspicious of what he was teaching their children, burned down the hut. Then he took his students to the mission center and continued his teaching. There he became the head teacher for the next thirteen years, working with the director, Miss Lois Bixby. He spent all his spare time counseling people who came to him for advice and help. Often he went to bed at night without eating a main meal. Tekle’s salary was the equivalent of US$7.00 a month in those years.
Around that time, he met Senbet, and they were married in 1959 at the Saja mission center. It was the first Christian marriage conducted in that area. They had nine children: Zacharias, Aster, Adanetch, Samuel, Hirut, Sara, Salamawit, Dawit, and Tsega. As of this writing (2004), six of the nine children are living in Canada and the United States.
Though rejected because of their faith, slowly Tekle’s family influenced people through their teaching and they began to accept Christ. Some came to visit their family to learn more about the gospel. Eventually churches were established which began to grow and multiply. Tekle continued to teach at Saja until 1964.
Later, the family moved to Jimma where Tekle ministered in the SIM Youth Center and also attended the Grace Bible Institute, beginning in l964. His studies were somewhat intermittent and he only graduated from the three-year program in 197l. Then for several years, beginning in 1972, the family worked with the KHC in Woliso. Finally, the family moved to Addis Ababa in 1980 where Tekle was already serving as the first General Secretary of the KHC. He served in that position from 1975 to 1985 then was transferred to the Spiritual Department of the KHC. In 1980, he took a management course. He also served as administrator at the Geja KHC in Addis Ababa for a period of time.
This family was well known for their hospitality, hosting many people who came from the countryside, frequently giving them shelter and food in their home. Even when there were too many guests, the family did not complain.
Tekle was especially known for his gift in reconciling those who disagreed. In his ministry he visited almost all of the KHC churches quite often. His wife Senbet carried an extremely heavy responsibility in caring for the hundreds who came to their home, many times late at night, looking for supper and counsel.
Tekle lived an exemplary family life. He trained his children to live together in unity and to show compassion and care for one another. This was demonstrated on one occasion when his son Samuel was asked by the kebeley (local district) under the Communist regime, to be a political promoter with his musical skills. When Samuel refused, he was taken away by the kebeley, much to the fear of the family. He came home a few days later very sick, having been mistreated. In the meantime his older brother had won a scholarship to go abroad. But the older brother wanted Samuel to go in his place because he was afraid that the kebeley would kill his brother if they arrested him again. Samuel went to Canada instead of his brother, and the other siblings only left Ethiopia later. This was the kind of concern that Tekle inculcated in his children.
Tekle had a great impact on the Kale Heywet churches of Ethiopia throughout his life and ministry. In his later years, he suffered greatly from ill health. A road accident in l985 left him in a weakened state for the rest of his life. Many said of him, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3).
When Tekle died, the whole Kale Heywet family throughout Ethiopia, to whom he had been a father and a counselor, mourned him. Truly, he had fought the good fight and kept the faith as he dealt with the nation’s troubles and sorrows, especially during the Communist regime. His funeral was held in the International Evangelical Church in Addis Ababa.
Tamene Yoseph, “The Biography of Evangelist Tekle W/Giorgis,” student paper written at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST), Addis Ababa.
Lois Bixby, “A Look through the Rear View Mirror” (unpublished reminiscences).
Video produced by Selamawit Tekle shortly after her father’s death entitled “The Donkey of the Congregations: The Life Story of Tekle Wolde Giorgis.”
This biography was researched and written in 2004 by Dr. Dirshaye Menberu, retired professor from Addis Ababa University and graduate of the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology. The liaison coordinators are Dr. Paul and Mrs. Lila Balisky, serving with SIM and at Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology.