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Formation for church leadership in Ethiopia

The chance to study in America was an opportunity Tamrat Debessa did not think was possible. The teacher from Ethiopia had returned to his hometown of Hawassa a few years before to work at Tabor Evangelical College, with plans of pursuing his Ph.D. and putting his newly acquired knowledge to work back home.

He applied to several European colleges, but was floored when the chance to study at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis came his
way. “This is a life-changing opportunity,” Debessa said. “I am learning so much from the Seminary, not only from an academic side, but also from a spiritual side.”

Debessa is in St. Louis on a scholarship through the Global Seminary Initiative, a partnership between The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and churches around the world. Debessa is a member of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, a church body with more than 7 million members and growing fast.

The Seminary’s Dean of Advanced Studies Dr. Gerhard Bode said through the initiative, international students identified by their church bodies as future leaders can attend Concordia Seminary. “I’m really excited about this partnership,” Bode said. “It makes it possible for students to come here who probably wouldn’t be able to do so otherwise.”

Tamrat Debessa delivers the opening message at a missiology workshop  in Ethiopia. Photo: Courtesy Tamrat Debessa
Tamrat Debessa delivers the opening message at a missiology workshop
in Ethiopia. Photo: Courtesy Tamrat Debessa

Debessa arrived in the United States in 2015 and plans to complete his Ph.D. in 2019. He said going back to Ethiopia with an advanced degree will help his church body better prepare pastors, teachers and evangelists to serve their congregations.

“There is a high need,” Debessa said. “There are more than 3,800 congregations in South Ethiopia where I am serving and we don’t have enough training centers. Most of our churches are served by lay ministers because they don’t have pastors. We are doing our best to prepare those pastors, but we’ve only trained around 500 in the past eight years.”

He said Tabor Evangelical College, where he eventually will teach biblical studies and cross-cultural communications courses, has an ambitious plan to implement a master’s degree program in the next several years. Right now, only missionary teachers from Norway and Denmark have doctorates, but the hope is for more Ethiopian teachers like Debessa to earn their doctorates and to someday offer that level of education at the school.

Debessa said not only does Concordia Seminary provide top-notch theological education, it also is providing practical training for him as a leader, skills he will be able to use in Ethiopia. “I am learning how to deal with students, how to deal with the faculty, how to deal with financials,” he said. “There are some things I learned about Western culture that are different from the African culture. This knowledge will help me address many issues.”