Waleke Waiso was one of the earliest women to believe in her area and is remembered for her strong faith and vibrant Christian life, even amidst great persecution.
Waleke was born about 1900 in southwestern Ethiopia. Not much is known of her childhood. She was married to Ato Ginbo Segamo and they lived in Ocholo (former Gamu) as a young couple.
Two evangelists came from Wolaitta to farm in that area and through them Ato Ginbo believed in l927 EC (1934). Just a few years later, Waleke also was converted and abandoned the worship of the sun, moon, mountains, rivers, and trees. The Christian teaching was like honey and the two evangelists were invited to stay in that area and teach both in Ocholo and Chencha. The first six people to believe became the seed of the 990 Kale Heywet local congregations which now exist in the North and South Omo region.
During the years of the Fascist Italian occupation of Ethiopia, there was much persecution but many became Christians during these difficult years. In 1939 a church called Bezuza was formed in Ocholo. Waleke remembers that some of the accusations against them included such statements as these: “Their country is in heaven and so is their king.” “They preach about the equality of people and have encouraged the people not to pay taxes.”
Her husband was arrested and fined for keeping evangelists in his house. The evangelists were kept in prison for two years. The Christians used their tithes to help pay wages for the evangelists.
Later twelve believers were imprisoned. During that time thirty-four out of the thirty-five accusers who had falsely testified against the believers died. The thirty-fifth accuser died the day the prisoners were released. In Tahesas 1943 EC (1950) thirteen believers were again imprisoned. No family or friends were allowed to visit them, but through this trouble the believers were strengthened. They took risks to visit their brothers in prison and to bring them food. In Sene 1943 EC (1950), a riot occurred against the Ocholo church. The believers’ homes were destroyed and the cattle stolen or destroyed by the rioters. The believing men were shot at and stabbed with knives and spears. The believers fled to Chencha, Boreda, Zordo, Wolaiyta, Kembata, and Hadia. Ato Ginbo, Waleke’s husband, and Ato Tolcha, another elder, had gone to Addis Ababa to plead before the government regarding the persecution, and were gone for quite a few months.
Waleke Waiso suffered terribly while her husband was away from home. She records that the rioters had made a pledge among themselves to prohibit believers from going to the market place, to funerals, weddings, or even to the local springs for water. All the believers were chased away, but Waleke stayed at home helplessly waiting to deliver her baby. She could not go anywhere. In those two days of rioting, every house was looted and destroyed except for theirs. Just at that time, Waleke gave birth to a long-desired son, Samuel, without any assistance. Six days after the delivery, people who found out that she was still in town and marched towards her house.
Suddenly she heard the sound of many people outside the gate and was very frightened. She pleaded with God to deliver her. Then men entered her house and started searching for valuables. Finding nothing, they came and tore off the clothes she was wearing. As the men left, she ran after them begging them to have mercy. She noticed that others were looking at her oddly and yelling abuse at her. Then she realized that she was naked. She picked up a strainer woven of straw and covered her shame.
A day or so later, she was boiling some seed that had secretly been given to her when she again heard the sound of many people outside. They threw stones, then broke the strong fence and entered her house. She cried out to the Lord, and God answered in a way she would never have imagined. Suddenly there was thunder and lightning followed by heavy rain and hail stones so fierce that her enemies had to disperse.
After that incident she prepared to flee. Having nothing to wear, she tied a straw mat around her and carried her baby out of the house in the early morning hours. She was hungry and tired after having had nothing to eat for three days. She didn’t even know where she was heading. After walking a long way, she sat down to catch her breath and suddenly felt something cool on her face, like someone’s breath. She heard a voice saying, “Do not be afraid. Get up and go to Hailemariam Gebo’s house.” Then she was shown the way. Rain continued and after walking for a very long way, she reached the River Boso that was full to the brim. She cried, “Oh, Lord, what shall I do now? Shall I return?” She sat down and argued with God.
After a while she saw a big trunk being pushed by the river towards her. Just when it reached the place where she was sitting it stretched out and took the form of a bridge across the river. A strong power lifted her spontaneously and threw her to the other side of the river. She screamed, thinking that baby Samuel had fallen into the river. Then she again heard the same voice of comfort soothing her and telling her not to be afraid. By night she reached Ato Gebo’s house where they took away the straw mat, dressed her in fresh clothes, and wrapped the baby in a blanket.
The man who had torn her clothes off died that same year along with his whole family. Other calamities also befell that community. The crops did not bear fruit. Many women miscarried and there was drought in the land. The community elders got together and confessed that all these calamities had come upon them because they were persecuting the believers, the “people of water,” thus called because they baptized using water and drank only water, not strong drink. So the elders eventually invited the believers to return. In 1944 EC (1951) the Christians finally returned rejoicing, singing, and carrying the national flag and the thirteen believers were set free. These church leaders who were released appealed to Emperor Haile Selassie and the court ordered the looters to pay a fine of 21,000 birr to compensate for the houses that had been destroyed. They finally paid 10,000 birr, and the believers forgave them the remainder of the debt.
Emama Waleke Waiso is revered for her spiritual and physical endurance. Her husband Ato Ginbo died in the late l980s. Waleke lives with her son Samuel in her old age (2006).
Article in Kale Heywet Magazine, # 15, 1990 EC (l998 Gregorian).
Davis, Raymond J. “Ginbo’s Story, Part I: The Gates of Hell” and “Ginbo’s Story, Part II: The Wrath of Man,” in The Winds of God, SIM, 1984, pp. 13-32.
This biography was translated and written in 2003 by Sophia Mulu, director of SIM Urban Ministries, Addis Ababa. The liaison coordinator was Mrs. Lila Balisky, serving with SIM in women’s ministries.