Terfa Jarso was born in 1923 to his father Jarso Tinge and his mother Rowinsse Choma in the former Kelem Awraja of Wollega province, at a place called Doyu Sombo. His parents who were semi-traditionalists had him baptized at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church where he was given the baptismal name Gebremeskel. Besides tending the cows, Terfa supported his parents by joining them when they offered sacrifices on big mountains or needed to visit the Qallus. A Qallu is the common name given to the Oromo traditional religious leaders who can predict what the future holds for an individual, a family, or a community.
Terfa didn’t receive any formal education. However, a year before his conversion, in his eagerness to read the warning written and posted by a shefta, Terfa bought the fidel (Amharic alphabets) that helped him to read and write within one month on his own. Shefta is the Amharic name for an armed person who hides in a forest and robs people. They sometimes break into houses to demand money. If they don’t get the amount they want, they either kill the head of the family or torture them. This particular shefta killed people of the area who failed to provide the gifts he requested. By learning to read in this way, God was preparing Terfa to read the Bible that he received from a missionary as a gift at his conversion in 1937. He was fourteen.
On May 15, 1948, Terfa married Dammie Beyen. They had eight children, three sons and five daughters.
His First Encounter with Christ and Ordination for ministry
According to Almaz Terfa (the fourth child in the family), Terfa Jarso heard the gospel message for the first time from a missionary while he was tending the cows belonging to the family. However, Amanuel states that it was an old Bible written in Afan Oromo and Amharic, side by side, that he received as a gift from his brother that led Terfa to Christ.  Whatever the means, his positive response to the good news caused a conflict between the teenaged Terfa and his father because, from then on, he refused to accompany them to offer sacrifices on the mountains and to visit the Qallus. As a result he was thrown out of his home and denied the right to be fed and supported, as a child of his age deserved.
Terfa later witnessed to his father and led the whole family to Christ. Mr. Jarso Tinge and the other family members were baptized by Rev. Gidada Solan, the father of Dr. Negaso Gidada, the former president of Ethiopia. Rev. Gidada Solan was an effective instrument in carrying the gospel message from Dambi Dollo to other areas while he was blind.  As the need grew, Terfa joined the Mission School at Dambi Dollo in August 1944 for one year of biblical education. He was officially ordained at the fifteenth meeting of the Ethiopian Missionary Association, held from December 10–16, 1958 at the request of Sayo Presbytery.  This implies that, in those days, the urgency for spreading the gospel required giving more attention to genuine calling rather than to the level of one’s education. Paul rightly says that the secret of our sufficiency lies in the Lord (2 Cor. 10: 17).
How Did Terfa come to Illubabor?
Dr. Thomas A. Lambie, missionary of the American Presbyterian Church, began the evangelistic activity both at Dambi Dollo (in Qellem Wollega zone) and Gorie (in Illubabor zone), which made the connection between the churches in both areas easier.  Amanuel Teferi, in his BTh paper, pointed out that Dr. Lambie first visited Gorie in December 1920 after being invited by Ras Nadew. The friendship between Lambie and Ras Nadew helped to secure the permission for mission work. Later, on March 3, 1924, the mission station was officially opened at Gorie by R. F. Shields and Ruth L. Walker who were appointed to the annual meeting of the Ethiopian Mission held the same year. 
Terfa first came to Illubabor, Gorie, with his wife and two children in 1955 because the congregation in Dambi Dollo that was being led by Rev. Gidada Solan, “who visited and preached in Gorie in December 1928 for three weeks,” sent him to serve with the missionary in Gorie.  After staying for two years in Gorie, Terfa had a conflict with the missionary and returned to Dambi Dollo in 1957. Soon after this, he suffered from a toothache, which he interpreted as the consequence of his returning home while God still wanted him to stay in Gorie.
The church in Dambi Dollo again wanted to send him back to Illubabor. He came to Gorie for a second time in 1965 leaving his family in Dambi Dollo because he didn’t want to stay there permanently. When he arrived in Gorie and was serving there, he suddenly got sick and was taken to Mettu hospital where a missionary doctor was working. This was how he met missionary Dr. Clark and Ato Kassahun Ashne. His sickness was so serious that he nearly died. When Dr. Clark knew that his situation was hopeless, he asked Terfa what he wanted them to do for him. Terfa responded by telling him to send his body to Dambi Dollo to his beloved wife and children.
According to Almaz, Terfa experienced heaven and was told to go back to earth because he still had much ministry work to do. Dr. Clark and Ato Kasahun Ashne, the only two persons Terfa knew at that time, prayed for him even though they saw him stop breathing. Then, suddenly he started breathing again and was eventually healed. At this time Almaz and her brother were called and came to help at the hospital.  Amanuel Teferi states that the two medical doctors, who were allowed to conduct worship services and to bear witness to Christ, felt the need to have a national pastor work with them and moved Terfa Jarso to Mettu.
Terfa’s Contribution to God’s Mission
His Ministry around Dembi Dollo
Terfa was well known by the people in Qellem as a man of God whose prayer healed many sick people. After serving as an elder in Anno congregation, his home church, he became an evangelist in Anfillo in 1945. He opened a school in Anfillo where he started teaching the Bible and fidel (the Amharic alphabet) hand in hand, living with his household on a farm because the church couldn’t support him financially. After a special experience of being filled by the Holy Spirit one night in January 1951, Terfa ministered with healing power at Aleqa Tabor where the number of believers increased rapidly from 15 to 300 within one year. Later, he planted churches at Shogo, Kaffi, Gobbi, Sholla, Hineche, and Qoor that grew fast as a result of his energetic preaching between the years 1963-1965. After this time, he moved to Mettu (Illubabor). 
His Ministry in Illubabor
Although the missionaries stayed in Gorie for fifty years, they only managed to establish the congregation in Gorie. Because the language problem made communication with the Muslim dominated population ineffective, which caused the ministry to fail, the missionaries decided to close the mission station at Gorie. Consequently, the national heroes, one of whom was Terfa Jarso, took over the role of spreading Evangelical Christianity in the province.
At his arrival in Mettu, Terfa continued to conduct worship service on Sundays in a tiny hospital chapel. He often visited the patients at the hospital and taught them the Word of God. As a result, many were converted. In addition to traveling from place to place for village evangelism, he was allowed to teach the Bible (ethics or “gibregeb”) at the government school called Kidus Gebriel. When the number of believers increased, the hospital chapel couldn’t accommodate them, they approached Fitawrary Worku Inquselasie, the governor of Illubabor, to request a piece of land for a church building. Terfa managed to mobilize the people and the Mettu Bethel Congregation building was completed on September 19, 1971, which marked the fulfillment of his vision for this project.
Terfa travelled both on foot and on mule beyond Mettu and Gorie areas to Tepi, Kefa, especially Maji Awraja (regions in the southern part of Ethiopia). There he evangelized the local people, including the marginalized group called Manja, while he was serving as the only pastor for the two congregations at Mettu and Gorie.
During the severe persecution of the Dergue regime when the churches were closed and properties were confiscated, Terfa advocated for the church and confronted communist ideology. He fought to have the churches opened and to obtain the release of young preachers and other believers who were in prison.
His ability to memorize Bible texts led the people of Illubabor to refer to him as “the walking Bible” or “the walking concordance.” His effective evangelistic work was apparent from the establishment of the Kefa Illubabor Bethel Synod. The coverage of this synod includes Jimma and Mettu, the two capital cities of Kefa and Illubabor. In 1976, he served as vice president and was re-elected to the same position repeatedly until his retirement in 1989. This synod has been exhibiting significant growth and spiritual maturity under its new name Illubabor Bethel Synod thanks to Terfa’s legacy. As a result, Jimma Bethel Synod was established in 2012.
By faithfully distributing support for the needy, Terfa helped to strengthen the relationship between the partners and the synod based on trust and mutual respect which subsists to the present day. Even during his retirement, he continued to serve in Mettu congregation. One day however, he got sick and was admitted to St. Paul Hospital where he died on March 15, 1993. He was buried beside the new church building of Mettu Bethel congregation.
Later, it was decided that the Bible school should be named Terfa Jarso Bible School because of Terfa’s contribution to the present day Illubabor Bethel Synod. The Bible school has currently been upgraded to a college level institution and is training ministers at the diploma level. Terfa, even without formal education, set a model for the present day ministers by giving priority to the church and full commitment to evangelism.
The Challenges and Terfa’s Faithfulness
First, the missionaries did not like the fact that he brought the Afan Oromo version of the Bible to Gorie because the language used for preaching in Gorie is Amharic because of Amahara domination. Secondly, his preaching was limited to the church compound in Gorie because the Orthodox clergy considered him a threat to the Orthodox Church. Third, his long stay in Gorie caused an offense to his family because they considered this showed a lack of concern for the family. Almaz told me that even the youngest of the daughters refused to greet him because she couldn’t recognize him as her father. Finally, serving without salary was another problem he faced. At that time, Terfa cultivated crops on the church compound to feed his family. Once, he was accused of teaching against the work ethic but this later proved to be false when the government delegates visited the church compound.
Terfa Jarso exhibited an extraordinary commitment to taking the gospel across geographical and ethnic boundaries. One of his best qualities was his ecumenical view towards other denominations. He demonstrated this outlook when he did not hesitate to receive people who came from different denominations to worship at Mettu Bethel congregation when other churches were closed by the Dergue government. He showed his concern for the sick and other needy people not only through words but also by sharing what he owned. His legacy is still well valued by the current leaders of the Illubabor Bethel Synod and the partner Presbyterian Churches of the U.S.A.
Wondimu Legesse Sonessa
- Amanuel Teferi, “The Walking Concordance,” thesis submitted at the Mekane Yesus Seminary (Addis Ababa: MYS, 1999), 6.
- Almaz Terfa, Oral Interview, Nov. 1, 2010.
- Teferi, 7.
- Terfa, Oral Interview.
- Teferi, 10.
- Tariku Tolessa, “Work or Experience as a Foundation for Christian Doctrine,” thesis submitted at the Mekane Yesus Seminary (Addis Ababa: MYS, 2002), 18.
- Teferi, 3.
- Teferi, 3.
- Terfa, Oral Interview.
- Terfa, Oral Interview.
- Teferi, 4.
- Teferi, 11-12.
- Teferi, 5.
- Teferi, 12, 19.
- Teferi, 27-28.
Terfa, Almaz. Oral Interview at Mekane Yesus Seminary. Addis Ababa, November 1, 2010.
Teferi, Amanuel. “The Walking Concordance.” Thesis submitted at the Mekane Yesus Seminary, Addis Ababa: MYS, 1999.
Tolessa, Tariku. “Work or Experience as a Foundation for Christian Doctrine.” Thesis submitted at the Mekane Yesus Seminary, Addis Ababa: MYS, 2002.
This story, received in 2017, was written by Wondimu Legesse Sonessa, a graduate of Luther Seminary in the Masters of Theology program.