Mesfin Tesfaye was born on January 13, 1935 in Addis Ababa. His father, Tesfay Tedlla, belonged to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) while his mother, Debre Adankegn, was Catholic. As his father left home to go to the war during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, his mother raised Mesfin alone in the rural village of Mojo. Here, he grew up, working as a shepherd boy until the age of ten.
He went to Nazareth for his elementary education and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior at age sixteen while attending the Mennonite Mission School there. Then he moved to Harar Province to attend Medhanealem High School.
After finishing high school, he enrolled in the engineering college at Haile Sellassie I University in 1958 but could not continue due to illness. He then became a teacher at Atse Gelawdewos School in Nazareth for two years. In 1960, he began studies at the Alemaya Agricultural College, which were interrupted when civil war broke out in Ethiopia initiated by General Mengistu Neway, while His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellassie I was away visiting the state of Mexico. Colleges were closed and all the students had to return home to their families. When he arrived home, Mesfin found his mother terribly sick and helpless. As a result, he could not continue his education and began instead to look for a job to support his mother.
For six months he worked as a clerk in the Fiber Company and afterwards as teacher at Saint Joseph School in Addis Ababa. Even though he was now earning enough money to adequately support his mother, he took another job for less pay when the director offered him a position as an editor in the literature department of Sudan Interior Mission (SIM). He edited the Kale Heywet Magazine for two years and also translated many books and tracts for SIM.
In 1964, responding to a call received at a Billy Graham Conference, he decided to serve the Lord full time. So, he served for two years (1965-66) as an elder in the Meserete Heywet Church,-the present Geja Kale Heywet Church,-and taught English at their church night school. Starting in September 1966 and for the next two years, he worked as chaplain of the Girls’ Christian Academy. This was a very difficult time for Christians who were severely persecuted by the society at large. But even at that time, Mesfin was determined to teach the Bible in school.
In 1966, he married Tenfyelesh Yigezu, a teacher at the Girls’ Christian Academy, an institution owned by the Sudan Interior Mission in Addis Ababa. The couple was blessed with one daughter and three sons, and lived together for twenty-two years until Tenfyelesh Yigezu died in a car accident in 1988.
When Mesfin was offered a scholarship in Canada, both he and his wife quit their jobs in preparation for their departure. Nevertheless in the end Mesfin declined the scholarship because the donors wanted him to come without his family. Then, Mesfin and his wife began looking for other jobs and had to move to Nazareth. He worked at the Haile Mariam Mamo Hospital as an administrator and his wife became a teacher at the Dressers school there.
In 1969, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and began praying in tongues for the first time. From that time on, he took upon himself the responsibility of evangelizing everyone and also stayed awake all night praying. At first, his wife was so worried that she called the doctor who prescribed sedatives for Mesfin. He refused to take them. The following day Mesfin was taken to the mental hospital but the doctors there found him mentally sound.
When the Baptist Mission Youth Group found out about Mesfin’s anointing, they asked him to be the minister of the church. He prayed with his family and together they decided that this was God’s will for them. As a result they moved to Addis Ababa and Mesfin became pastor of the Baptist Mission Church which his wife named Berhane Wengel (meaning Gospel Light) in 1969. They pastored that church for seven years.
While a pastor, he was elected by his denomination to work for Bible Society Ethiopia as secretary of the committee overseeing the translation of the Bible into Amharic. Consequently, he left Berhane Wengel Church and worked in this new position for thirteen years. The committee members were elected by their various Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant denominations to serve in the Bible Society. Mesfin represented the Protestant denomination.
Since 1976 however, Mesfin had been working as a freelance itinerant evangelist to all denominations without belonging to any particular church. At this time, World Vision Ethiopia prepared a conference to bring together the leaders of all the churches. God gave Mesfin a message to deliver to all the evangelical church leaders during that conference. In his sermon taken from John 11 and entitled “Take off the grave linen,” Mesfin said that some of the leaders in the church had been called out of their graves like Lazarus but were still walking around with linen strips wrapped around their bodies and faces. This stirred up opposition among the church leaders who were present, except for the Pentecostal leaders who supported him.
With a friend named Berhanu Derese, Mesfin attempted to start a church uniting the different Protestant denominations again. They drafted a constitution for the church but could not move ahead due to fierce disagreements over the next three years with the missionaries on the one hand and with ethnic group members on the other. In the end, the missionaries founded the Kale Heywet Church, based on the draft prepared by these two men who, unfortunately, were not given credit for their work.
At the end of his Bible translation mission, Mesfin visited several countries. The Wycliffe Bible Translators gave him a ticket to tour Mexico. He visited Greece seven times as well as Singapore, England, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington D.C.
Mesfin had good contacts with the Billy Graham Ministries and attended the Berlin crusade (October 26 to November 4, 1966), the Lausanne, Switzerland International Congress on World Evangelization (July 16-25, 1974), and the Amsterdam International Conference of Itinerant Evangelists (June 19-26, 1983). He feels rich, having seen so much of the outside world. For him, this was his reward for sacrificing his scholarship opportunities in order to work as a pastor and Bible translator.
At the present time (2005), Mesfin lives in a small rented house in Addis Ababa with his youngest son. He suffers from diabetes and his health is deteriorating with the loss of his eyesight in his right eye. He feels forgotten and abandoned by the evangelical churches, which once supported him in his ministry and would like to be visited and loved as before.
Meron Kidane, “Biography of Ato Mesfin Tesfaye,” a paper presented to Evangelical Theological College, May 31, 2004.
Degafi Sisay, “Biography of Evangelist Mesfin Tesfaye (nicknamed Maranatha),” a paper presented to Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, February 26, 2001.
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.