Tuomi, Aulis Ilmari and Helmi Arvokki
Aulis Elmari Tuomi (1915-1969)was born on June 21, 1915, to his father Kalle Tuomi and his mother Katarina Tuomi at a place called Karela in Finland (presently part of Russia). He was the last child for his parents, who had one daughter (the oldest in the family), and ten sons.
Aulis lost his mother at an early age and had to suffer under a stepmother’s care. When it was too much to tolerate living in his father’s house, he ran away and started working and managing his life independently. He worked with worldly adults who were in the habit of drinking and he followed their example beginning at age twelve. He continued in this lifestyle until he was sixteen years old. One day he started some soul-searching and told himself that he would be useless if he continued on in this way, and he determined to change. One Sunday afternoon, when he was walking along a road, he heard singing coming from a home where Christians were worshiping. Attracted by the sound, he walked up to the house and went in. That evening, he received Jesus Christ as his personal savior and went back home saved. He decided to serve God by joining a choir and to participate in it by playing a violin.
The following week he went to church to get counseling and more understanding about this new life he had received. At the gate of the church, he met a 15 year old girl who noticed that he was new to the place. She greeted him politely and welcomed him into the church. He was really touched by this girl and prayed in his heart saying: “Lord, let it be your will that this young lady becomes my wife.”
The young lady’s name was Helmi Arvokki Rakkolainen (1916-1991). She was born in the same town as Aulis on May 6, 1916, to her parents Maria and Uuno Rakkolainen. She grew up in the church there as the daughter of a church leader. She was baptized at age twelve and became so strong in her faith that she was qualified to be a Sunday school teacher in that church. She was going to her class that morning when she met Aulis. At that time boys and girls were not allowed to be together. One day, after she had turned nineteen, Aulis offered to walk her home after church. They began to see each other from that time on.
One day, Aulis revealed his heart’s desire and told her that he wanted to marry her in the future. He explained that it was time for him to leave for military service and that before he was to leave, he wanted to give her an engagement ring. She told him that she thought her parents should know about and agree to this plan. When her mother was told, she was not willing, as she thought her daughter was still too young for that. But her father said that he would be willing if that was God’s will. Though the mother was not willing, they prepared the engagement ceremony in secret one Saturday, and with her father’s blessing, Aulis officially gave Helmi an engagement ring before he left for military service. In less than one year he was back, and they were married on June 24, 1938.
Helmi had received a vision at the time of her baptism. She saw herself walking on a narrow street to a place where black Jews lived. The place was in Africa and the country was later identified as Ethiopia. Aulis was also willing to go abroad as a missionary and he had made that decision at age seventeen. Therefore, the young couple had to get ready to be missionaries and they agreed to go to a Bible School called The Scripture Publishers to Every Creature Mission, which was in Finland. It had been founded by Mr. and Mrs. Mattsson, who were the first Finnish missionaries to Ethiopia, having arrived in September of 1951.
The young couple began their studies in 1940, but they had no money to pay for their schooling and had to work to make up for their tuition. Helmi was serving as a seamstress, a cook, and a cleaner, and Aulis was helping with the construction of new classrooms. They finished the four year program in three years by taking evening and summer classes. In the middle of their studies, Aulis went back to military service during World War II, although it was for training without ammunition, and not for actual fighting. By that time their first son, Valto Aulis Tuomi, had been born on July 20, 1941. So, it was not only their studies they were pursuing, but they also kept growing in their professional and family life.
Helmi continued to see visions after marriage while she was in Bible School. One evening she saw a man dressed as a captain. He spoke to her saying “I came to tell you a message.” He showed her six telephone poles. The ground between them was dry and hard. Then, he gave her an old pickaxe and a spade to dig with. He ordered her to work on it and he promised to give her another assignment after she had finished that digging job. When she asked if anyone else at school had seen that captain, no one could confirm it. This had been a revelation only for her.
After finishing Bible School in 1942, the couple did not have a place to live. Helmi’s father gave a piece of land which the couple and one of Helmi’s brothers could use. They built a house together and shared living in it. After the birth of the second son, Pentti Reino Tuomi, on June 15, 1947, and their last child, a daughter named Airi Miriam Tuomi, born on March 25, 1949, the couple wanted to get ready for their mission field in Africa. They had agreed on doing evangelism among the black Jews in Ethiopia. Many people objected to their trip to Ethiopia because of the assumption that Ethiopia had been evangelized by the eunuch who was converted by Philip, Jesus’ apostle. They proposed that they should go to a Muslim country. If they agreed to that, these same people told them that they would support their work financially. But since the couple wanted to obey only God and not people, they did not want to change their minds. They pursued their plan to go to Ethiopia.
However, after the Second World War, it was not easy to earn money in Europe and they had to raise funds for themselves by working outside their home country. They went to Canada with their little children in August of 1952 by ship, a voyage that they were miraculously able to pay for. They settled in Ontario, where well-paying jobs were available, and stayed there for seven and a half years, both working and evangelizing. It was here that the message Helmi had received from the captain in her vision was fulfilled.
As the family settled in Canada, they met six people who were hard to evangelize. They had to pray for a long time for them in addition to testifying, teaching and preaching the Word of God about the good news of Jesus Christ. After a long time these people were convinced and became Christians. Now, they and their children have become pillars of the faith in the church that was established in that area. The couple was able to secure enough money for travel, so they left for Ethiopia by plane.
In January of 1959, the missionary family arrived in Ethiopia. Upon arrival, the Tuomi family was well received by the Finnish missionaries who were already in Addis Ababa, and the next day they were sent to Wolmera, a few kilometers from Holeta. They began God’s work there and in the Holeta area for the first few years. Although they could not go directly to Gondar where the Ethiopian Jews (the Falashas) lived, they had the opportunity to reach out to those who came to them, so they evangelized these people and helped some of them to immigrate to Israel some time after they began their ministry in Ethiopia.
Their oldest son had a problem adjusting to the high altitude of the country and he became so sick that they had to send him back to Finland. God used this son to support the family’s mission work for tow years and eight months, as he started working in Finland as a teenager. He was a blessing until God raised others in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A., to support them. In Detroit there was a church with fourteen members led by a Finnish couple and they knew about the Tuomi family in Ethiopia. They began to support them financially starting in 1961. This support has continued up until now, although only three out of the original fourteen are still alive. Airi Tuomi, who has continued to live in Ethiopia as a missionary, is getting this support for her work in Awassa. Helmi’s family in Finland, who are mostly Christians, also help this mission work. The others in Detroit raised more funds even as their number in the church decreased.
Mission work in Ethiopia at that time was very difficult because people were not eager to be evangelized and only came to the mission to get food and clothing. The reason behind this was that most of them were Orthodox Christians. The main task of the missionaries became the distribution of the four gospels, published in four different colors, which were coming from abroad. These arrived in packs to the supervisors, Mr. and Mrs. Mattsson. The Tuomi family was then going out as a team to distribute these gospel packages to people living in different areas. However, people were very resistant to receiving Jesus Christ as their Savior.
One day, a man who heard about the missionaries sent for them and the couple went to his home. When they arrived in that house they found the man’s mother, who had been crippled for the last seven years. When she noticed the guests who had come to her home, she begged them in the name of God to give her a piece of rope. Her suffering was too great and she could not tolerate it anymore, so she wanted to die by strangling herself. Shocked by her pleading, they told her that they came to speak about the healing and saving power of God and not for anything else. She was willing to listen to what they were telling her and she understood it and received Jesus Christ as her Savior. They prayed for her to be healed and during the night her legs and hands were released and began to move. The next morning the news of her healing spread, and the neighboring people marveled at it. Some of them asked if they could buy this power, or heal a young lady who was not married so that she would be able to marry. Some of the children of the woman who was healed received the Savior. Their faith has continued until now and there are many believers in that area.
Many people were very suspicious about the missionaries and thought they were spies. Others thought they were Italian because they were white. Italians had colonized them for five years and were still considered enemies of Ethiopia as this was soon after Italy had left Ethiopia in 1941. When the missionaries went to homes and ate with them, they were considered friends and the local people received them as family.
In those days mission work was not as simple as it is now for many reasons: the local people were not open to the gospel, the missionaries suffered poverty as the money that was coming from abroad did not last for a month and did not arrive on time. However, God provided for their needs, and they survived. Also, there was no transportation for moving to distant places for evangelistic work and they had to travel on foot with young children, or use mules, horses, or bicycles. One good thing was that they did not ask to be paid for the work, and the Ethiopian government permitted them to go anywhere and evangelize in all the provinces in Ethiopia. They were able to travel to these provinces by bus.
Airi Tuomi remembers an event that occurred while they were living in Wolmera that was miraculous. The family did not have money or food to eat as the money had not arrived on time and Aulis had gone to Jimma and Shebie for work. They had only one large cabbage in the house. A close neighbor was always providing them with a bottle of milk every day. One morning, Helmi cooked the cabbage leaves with the milk and salt and they ate it as soup for the whole family for one day. She kept the leftover bottom part of the cabbage in her kitchen and the next day she found that it had produced cabbage leaves again. So, she made the same soup the next day and this went on for about six days until one of their friends remembered to send them some money by post from abroad. When the money arrived the cabbage stopped producing leaves and Aulis came back from work. This was how difficult the life of this family was, but God always protected them.
When they moved to Holeta later on, there occurred another similar incident, because the money they were supposed to receive went to another missionary with a name similar to Airi’s. Her name was Aili and her money came to Airi’s address. The money came from the same source, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A., and created the confusion. It took some time to clear up that confusion, and they ran out of money again. There was a businesswoman living in Holeta, a foreigner and a widow. At that very time, she felt alone and she thought that the missionaries might also feel lonely like her. She felt that they might need a friend, so she cooked food, baked different kinds of bread and bought a lot of raw foodstuffs. She came to visit the family, and with the help of three boys, brought them four bundles of food. She blessed them three times like this in their time of great need and starvation, and she was God’s messenger for them. They never shared their problems with anyone, but God looked after them and that is why they survived in those conditions.
The second son also went back to Finland for his education while the last child, Airi, remained in Ethiopia with her parents because of her vision. From the time of her childhood, she had had a vision to raise Ethiopian children, and she began to do so at age sixteen. She has been serving in Ethiopia as a missionary ever since then and has continued her work and her testimony as a Christian. Being fluent in Amharic, she also assisted the mission by interpreting the preaching of Finnish and English-speaking guest speakers who came every year from abroad.
Aside from evangelization, Aulis was also constructing buildings for the mission, and Helmi was a strong evangelist. They also assisted Airi in her vision of raising Ethiopian children; first by constructing Morning Star Children’s Home in Holeta and then in Awassa. They also participated in raising children and praying with her when the children were sick or had other problems. Their prayers were answered by God and many sick children were healed. They led an exemplary life for the children who grew up with them. Their work was first established in Holeta until sometime in 1967 and they moved to Awassa the same year. The family continued working peacefully until 1969, but at end of the year Aulis became seriously ill.
In his earlier activities in construction work, Aulis had suffered a kidney injury when he fell down from a building. However, he kept it a secret from his family, and had it not been for a young man who was working with him who revealed this truth after he died, they would not have known. He died from a kidney infection on November 22, 1969 and was buried in Awassa. Before he died, he wrote to his two sons living in Finland, telling them to continue in their faith and to never forget to follow God.
The mission work of evangelism and raising children in Awassa was continued by Helmi and Airi and was later extended to Debre Zeit. In particular, the work of raising children was expanded after they moved to Debre Zeit and later on they began receiving Finnish government support to expand the construction work of the children’s homes.
After Aulis died, Helmi and Airi took their first furlough from Awassa for three months in 1974, visiting Sweden, Finland, the U.S.A. and Canada. The children’s home was taken care of by other Finnish missionaries while they were gone.
Helmi sometimes had visions, and she saw angels on two occasions. While they were still living in Awassa, she saw Debre Zeit in a vision and the angel showed her light on the small hilltop that became a part of the girls’ home later on. The light resembled that of a lighthouse that would guide a ship. She asked the angel what that was and he answered: “From this place the gospel truth will go far and wide to other areas but you have to start it here first.” After they moved to Debre Zeit in November 1979, a church was founded in that place and went on for some time, but later on the work was stopped for an unknown reason. This was an unfortunate interruption in God’s plan, and Helmi saw another vision. She saw two angels standing very sadly around the cafeteria of the girl’s school. She called Airi so that she could see it, but Airi was not able to see them. As she later told Airi, Helmi then saw the grieving angels move, flying toward the north.
When they moved to Debre Zeit in 1979, they lived in a big rented house and the work of the Morning Star Children’s Home continued there too. At the end of 1981, the mayor of Debre Zeit municipality granted them a place to build houses for children. Two houses were built from the funds which were sent by their family members abroad. When construction began they did not have enough money, but they started by faith. They later succeeded in having these houses built, step by step. The number of children was growing, so they asked the mayor again for a separate place for girls. This was also granted, and they established the Girls and Boys homes as two different compounds. The houses of the Girls home were built with funds granted by the Finnish government.
While they were living in Debre Zeit there was a time when they went totally bankrupt. They had no food and could not pay their employees. A young man had been sent from Sweden to assist with the work on a temporary basis, and he became depressed because of the shortage, because the funds from abroad were not arriving in time. One morning while he was in that condition, he saw Airi singing and being cheerful and he wondered why she was so free from worries. He asked her why she was not worried but she did not even answer him. Just then a yellow car came up behind them and two people came into the house. They had brought enough money and food to provide for the family and the children in both compounds for at least two weeks. God was with them again, miraculously working in their midst in their time of need. Airi reasons that the family and the children were praying, and God answered their prayers at that time. Their faith was strong and they all depended totally on God. This is not the case nowadays, according to Airi. Her present observation of the children she is raising is that except for a few of them, including herself, many of them do not depend on God.
They stayed in Debre Zeit until 1988, when they had to go to Finland on sick leave. At this stage, Helmi was very ill and she did not want to be treated by doctors. However, people advised Airi to take her mother abroad for medical treatment. With the help of a Finnish nurse who was a friend, and a lady doctor, Airi managed to get an x-ray of her mother’s lungs taken, because she was coughing very badly. The prognosis was devastating, as she was told that her mother’s lungs were in very bad condition except for a very small part around the lower end. They obtained the visa and were ready were ready to go, but they wanted to attend the annual conference of the members of the Finnish Mission that was held in Langano. In the meantime, Airi sent out a prayer request to all concerned, and the conference members were praying. The first night in Langano, while everyone including Airi was in a deep sleep, her mother’s room was filled with light. She heard a voice speaking the verse from Acts 27:24: “Do not be afraid, Paul;” and the next thing she felt was an urge to vomit. She vomited into the sink by the toilet, which filled up with blood and chunks of flesh, as the drain was closed. She felt healthy and she kept the vomit until morning so that she could show it to the nurses who were at the conference. In this way, God healed her completely.
After the conference they left for Finland, leaving the children’s homes in the care of other colleagues. This was in 1988-1989. Helmi’s brother, who did not know about his sister’s healing, had gotten a car and a stretcher ready to meet them upon arrival. The day after they arrived, she went to the hospital and was x-rayed again; the x-ray showed that she had clean and healthy lungs. The doctor saw the first x-ray that had been taken in Ethiopia and confirmed that it could not be hers. Her healing was performed by God that night in Langano.
When they came back, they moved to Awassa again and lived in the house of a friend of Airi’s for some time. They then moved to a rented house, but it was expensive. Helmi wanted a house that could be rented for less, so she sent Airi and her friend out to look for one. However, in spite of their repeated efforts, they could not find one, and they tired of looking. One day, tired of roaming around, the two friends went to the top of Tabor Mountain and prayed for more than half that day for a house with low rent, agreeing by faith to tell Helmi that they had found one. They went back home in the evening and when they were asked if they had found one, they said “Yes.”
Sure enough, they did find a house with low rent and they moved in. While they lived there, Helmi began to suffer from severe sores on her legs and on the top of her head. The sores became chronic, and she suffered for six months, becoming very weak. At that time they had secured a place to live and carry out their work, and a house was in the process of being built. Since Airi was in charge, she had to go to Addis Ababa to withdraw money from the bank for the construction, leaving Helmi in that condition. Helmi told her to return soon or she would not find her, and also instructed her to buy what would be needed to host many people very soon. So, Airi went to Addis Ababa very apprehensive that she might lose her mother, but she prayed fervently for her to live so that she might have some more time with her. Her wish was that her mother’s death would not come while they were in the rented house, but in the new house that was being built. She carried out the errands but was not able to sleep because of worrying, and she came back in two days, finding Helmi much weaker than before. The family and friends looked for someone to pray for her and a Finnish colleague and another Ethiopian prayed for her. Finally they called for Dr. Zenabu, who was the President of Awassa University, to pray for her, thinking he was both a Christian and a medical doctor. He came and prayed for her, but pleaded for her life to be in God’s hands soon, without much suffering. The family also agreed with that, although it was not easy for Airi to completely give up on her mother. At 11 a.m. on the morning of January 17, 1991, Helmi Tuomi died, and was buried by her husband’s side in Awassa. Before she became weak, she had inquired if anyone had been buried near her husband, telling her daughter that she wanted to be buried by his side. She very much wanted it, and God granted it for her.
Airi called Helmi’s brother to tell him of his sister’s death. He told her that he had seen his sister in a dream leaving him behind, walking with an outstretched hand toward a big cross in front of her. In his sleep, he had shouted to her, calling her by name. His voice was so loud that his wife woke him up to ask him why he was shouting. He told his wife that he could not keep quiet because his only sister was leaving him behind. How could he not react? It was at that point that Airi called him by telephone. He asked her if she wanted to have her buried in Finland, but she told him that her mother had wanted to rest with her husband, and he agreed. So, having died at the age of seventy-four years and seven months, she went to rest in peace at her husband’s side in Awassa.
Aulis and Helmi Tuomi are survived by their second son, who still lives in Finland, and by Airi, who lives in Awassa, Ethiopia. Their first-born died from an accident a long time before his mother died, but his wife and their two married daughters have their own children and are living in Finland.
An interview with Airi Tuomi was done on November 26, 2009, with the help of one of her grown up children, Ejigayehu Haile. Ejigayehu, who works at the Fida Betlehem School, was the contact person.
This story, received in 2010, is an original biography researched and written by Dr. Dirshaye Menberu, retired assistant professor from Addis Ababa University and graduate of the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology.