Contextualization of the Gospel among the Showa Oromo of Ethiopia

Master's Thesis, 2009

84 Pages, Grade: Pass


Table of Contents


Definition of Key Terms

Introduction and Research Methodology

People and the context in which the Gospel is communicated
The Failure of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to Evangelize the Oromo of Showa/ Showans
Lessons learned from the failure of the EOC
How to alleviate the problem

The EECMY Approach towards Contextualizing the Gospel to the Showa Oromo
Contextualization of their customs and religious rites
The Irreecha/Thanks Giving. Filling with Christ
Indigenous language and Bible translation as the means of contextualization
Incarnational approach as means for the Contextualization of the Gospel to the Showa Oromo

The Lutheran (EECMY) Theology of Mission and Missiology in Light of this Research Paper



In the course of writing this research paper I have become indebted to many persons. I owe the deepest gratitude to my advisor Dr. Christopher Kaiser without whose generous support and guidance this paper could not have been completed. He has been reading and giving me constructive criticisms, for which I am grateful in deed.

I owe the deepest gratitude to my wife Ebise Hambissa who has been with me in prayer and carried the burdens of loneness. She has been a blessing to me in many ways. I am also indebted to my father Rev. Senbeta Gutema, my mother Amane Tolla, my dearest sister Hanna Senbeta, and three of my brothers; Ato Mengistu Senbeta, Habte Senbeta, and Age Senbeta whose contribution and encouragement helped me most to complete successfully.

Above all, glory to God the almighty with whom everything is possible. He has helped me throughout my school year, and kept me safe and enabled me to complete my study successfully. He has been the source of my strength, health, and broadening of the horizons of my knowledge. May Glory be for him forever and ever!

Last but not least I thank the Western Theological Seminary for helping me financially throughout my stay at the seminary. I also never escape without expressing my gratitude to all the faculty members, my faculty advisor: Dr. Christopher Kaiser and the Th.M. director Rev. Jeanette Beagley-Koolhaas in shaping my future ministry and academic career.


This research paper is about the contextualization of the Gospel among the Oromo of Showa in Ethiopia. It deals with the culture and language of the people and how gospel contextualization is possible through the culture and language of the given people. It studies the Showa Oromo clan for reference purpose but its principles are applicable to any culture and can be a lesson for anyone who aims at evangelization through the culture and language.

The research paper consists of three parts including the introductory part. The first part of the research consists of a brief description and analysis of the Showa Oromo and how the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) failed in here evangelization strategy because of the unawareness of the cultural conditionings of the gospel and inability to preach in the language of the Showa Oromo. This part elucidates the failure of the EOC from different angles and explains that the failure of the EOC is the failure of the other churches too since all belong to the one body of Christ. As a remedy, this section forwards the importance of ecumenism and partnering between the EOC and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) as a tool to learn from one another and engage in mission together.

The second part introduces the role of the EECMY in contextualizing the gospel to the Showa Oromo through the language and culture of the people. The EECMY contextualized the gospel to the culture of the people making points of contact already found in the traditional Showa Oromo faith. Here the research explains the role of the EECMY in contextualizing the Irreechaa/Showa Oromo thanksgiving into Biblical Christianity. The EECMY used traditional name of god/Waaqayyo in evangelizing the people, which helped the people to come to Christ. The EECMY also gave the people the Bible in their language by contextualizing some pre-Christian Showa Oromo terms into evangelical Christianity and using the words in translation. This section also explains how the EECMY used native language in preaching and teaching the people. The EECMY’s incarnational ministry that involved holistic approach is also explained in detail.

The third section of the paper deals with the missiology of the Lutheran Church because the EECMY, which this paper explains about, is a Lutheran in tradition and heritage. Here the role of the EECMY in mission and the Lutheran mission theories are elucidated. This part Explains in detail that mission is by no means a human endeavor. The church is the sent one and everyone participates in mission because baptism is for discipleship and a disciple is not passive. This part also explains that by no means, mission is the proclamation of the word only nor the diaconic service but it is the inseparable implementation of both.

Finally, a conclusion is given taking major issues from the research paper.

Definition of Key Terms

Afaan Oromoo: Oromo language

Amharas: the second biggest ethnic group in Ethiopia whose language Amharic is the language of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia.

Contextualization: it is the faithful presentation of the universal God’s message in the language of the receptors within their Socio-cultural context in applicable way without any increment or decrement to or from the message of the Gospel of God.

EECMY- Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus: the Lutheran church in Ethiopia.

ELCA: Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

EOC: An acronym for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Geeze: A dead language not used by any ethnic group in Ethiopia yet a liturgical language in the EOC.

Irreecha: Oromo Thanksgiving usually celebrated on the 25th or 26th of September before the harvest year.

LWF: Lutheran World Federation.

Onesimos Nasib: A person who translated the Bible to the Oromo language in 1899. His original name was Hiikaa Awaajii. The name Onesimos was given to him in 1872 when he was baptized by the Swedish Missionaries.

Oromo: the biggest ethnic group in Ethiopia comprising 40% of the total population.

Showa Oromo: One of the Oromo tribes inhabiting in the Central highland of the country.

SEM: Swedish Evangelical Mission

Waaqa/Waaqayyo- God in Oromo

WCC: World Council of Churches

Introduction and Research Methodology

The contextualization of the gospel has been of great importance to scholars since the employment of the term “Contextualization” in 1972.[1] Many books and articles have been produced since then. Contextualization takes into account the culture, language and everything attached to the norms and values of the people one aims at evangelization.

I employed descriptive methodology for this research and studied the contextualization of the gospel among the Oromo of Showa in Ethiopia. I have read several articles and books on the subject matter. The books and articles are books produced in the Western world. I have also referred to few Ethiopian writers. I did so because of the distance from my home country and scarcity of written resources on this specific issue in my country. I am also compelled to do so because I have few people for oral interview. This method helped me in dealing with the failure of the EOC in her evangelism among the Oromo of Showa. As Contextualization of the gospel is without an option the necessary tool to reach to the people, the EOC being unaware of the cultural conditionings of the gospel and many other reasons failed to evangelize the people. Lessons learned from the failure of the EOC are depicted in this research effectively using the descriptive methods.

A brief role of ecumenism and working in partnership in mission as a tool to alleviate the problem faced by the EOC is also included. The failure of the EOC is the failure of the EECMY since both belong to the one body of Christ and since mission is in partnership in this post modern era. The method has also given me the opportunity to study the EECMY part of the global Lutheran Church, in how the EECMY effectively contextualized the gospel to these people. In using the language and culture as the key behind the contextualization process, the EECMY became successful in mission. The EECMY used pre-Christian name of god as a point of contact for her evangelism.

This research paper also enumerates how the Irreechaa/Oromo thanksgiving can be contextualized. It elaborates important facts within Showa Oromo cultural heritage and sees it from the scriptural point of view and studies how it will be fulfilled by Christ. The research also digs out how redemptive analogy goes with the Irreechaa/ Oromo Thanksgiving. The role of giving the Bible in the recipients’ language is also dealt with in how it plays the role in contextualization process. An incarnational approach as advocated by the Lutherans and the EECMY in particular towards gospel contextualization among the Oromo of Showa is thoroughly studied. Here the EECMY translated[2] the gospel message to the context of the people. The EECMY also followed the incarnational model through the sacrament of the Lutherans. Baptism, Holy Communion and the word of God affirm that God is incarnated to any context. God is still active among any community through these sacraments. The baptismal and communion service rendered to the Showa Oromo made them active to participate in mission because a baptized person is a disciple and a disciple is not passive. He/she who is baptized engages in mission holistically.

Finally, this research paper gives a study of the Lutheran missiology and mission theory relating to the paper and forwards conclusion to the research paper.

People and the context in which the Gospel is communicated

To fully understand the contextualization of the gospel to any culture one must first understand the ethnography and context in which the gospel is communicated. Thus, this section of the paper elucidates a brief ethnography of the people under discussion.

Cultures and languages are the products of humans and are not divine phenomena or divine products. Yet there are some concepts of the Supreme Being in either personal or impersonal forms in all religious cultures.[3] As humans naturally seek God, God communicates with them within their cultural and linguistic environment that is believed to posses some sort of divine presence. John R.W.Stott and Robert Coote affirm this as follows:

Cultures with all its merits and limitations, has played a fundamental role in God’s self disclosure in human history. Divine revelation does not come in vacuum. It can only come with reference to cultures, that is, in relation to the religious environment, language and understanding of man; otherwise we could not understand it. It is the greatness of God’s mercy that he voluntarily limits himself to the vehicles of human culture to make himself known.[4]

There are many places in the scripture where God communicated with people communally and individually. In all these places he communicated within their cultural and linguistic setting. At the same time, he did not communicate with an alien culture and language. Similarly, the Oromo people in Ethiopia specifically the Oromo of Showa have their own language and culture. They have a God whom they worship with their language and within their cultural environment. The Oromo God is Waaqa/Waaqayyo who was interacting with this people in their cultural and linguistic sphere. Accordingly, “No Christian witness can hope to communicate the gospel if he/she ignores the cultural factors.”[5]

The Showa Oromo have the culture and language of the big Oromo people in Ethiopia. The culture and language as a context in which the gospel is to be preached is enough to embrace the gospel of God contextually. The Oromo of Showa are not exposed to modernization despite the proximity of the area to the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. Most areas, and of course the outskirts of the towns where the people reside, are very traditional. Though they are very traditional they pay allegiances to their languages and cultures. As they like their languages and cultures, any evangelization process needed to take or takes into account the language and culture of the people.

The Oromo of Showa speak Oromo language. Oromo language is considered as one of the most widely spoken language of Africa. The Showans are proud of their language, culture and Oromo identity. They pay allegiances to their god/Waaqayyo, their cultural structures, language and Oromo identity. These are “potential allegiances”[6] they have.

As they embraced their ancient cultures, beliefs and rites withstanding the intermingling of races by the Ethiopian rulers, most people see them as the true Oromo. They culturally practice their traditional belief. Their clothes, respect for women and belief in nuclear family system reflect their cultures. As not open to any modern culture, they have preserved their cultural identity. The attempt to evangelize them by Coptic [7] Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church here after the EOC completely failed. The Showans were resistant to repeated evangelization attempt of the EOC and thus became resistant to change. The worldview of the Showans was not challenged by the EOC teachings and the people tend to be quite protective of their worldviews and assumptions.[8]

Generally, the Showans are adherents of their language and culture. Thus, any contextualization of the Gospel to these people would need to adopt their languages and cultures.

The Failure of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to Evangelize the Oromo of Showa/ Showans

A church is a community of the followers of Christ who believe and witness the saving power of Jesus Christ. The same community is also anticipating the second coming of Christ to judge the world. The EOC is part of the body of this church. As a church, the EOC is the gathering of sinful yet forgiven people by the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ. Since a church is sinful and simultaneously righteous, the EOC is part of it and never be exempted from mistakes. A church commits mistakes in evangelization as the Catholics did in Latin America. The EOC made a mistake in her evangelization towards the Oromo of Showa in particular. This section of this research paper is not to magnify the mistakes but it uncovers the mistakes and then forwards lessons learned from the failure of the EOC. This section also is not to belittle the EOC but is to bring to the scene the importance of language and culture in evangelization process. Yet it digs out the failure of the EOC by carefully studying books written on the subject matter and gives analysis of how the EOC failed to reach to the Oromo of Showa in Ethiopia. As part of the body of Christ called to preach the Gospel of the kingdom of God, the EOC and any researcher learns from this failures and works towards its improvements.

According to historical accounts, the EOC was formed in the 4th Century A.D. It was incepted in the Axumite Kingdom that expanded South ward to the present day Ethiopia. During its expansion, the EOC’s main agenda was to evangelize the entire people of Ethiopia into Orthodox Christianity by force if not by continuous evangelistic attempt. During this evangelization process the main aim of the EOC was to evangelize any ethnic group in Ethiopia into “one language, one culture and on country.” The one language was the Amharic language, the one culture was the “Amhara”[9] culture and the one country was the single Ethiopian empire. The attempt made to evangelize the Showans by the EOC also had this hidden agenda. Yet the attempt of the EOC completely failed for various reasons.

First, the unawareness of the cultural conditionings of the gospel: The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is culturally conditioned. It is the one gospel, yet diverse. It is “given,” yet culturally adapted to its audience.[10] Contrary to this, the gospel presented to the Showa Oromo was not culturally conditioned thus it was resisted. “People resist the gospel not because they think it is false but because they perceive it as a threat to their culture, especially the fabric of their society, and their national and tribal solidarity.”[11] The EOC tried to bring the gospel to the Oromo of Showa yet unaware of the cultural conditionings of the gospel. The EOC employed a different language for her ministry towards these people besides that the EOC became captive to cultural ethnocentrisms in her gospel presentation among these people.

Newbigin justifies the cultural conditionings of the gospel on the basis of his definition of the gospel. According to him:

“The gospel is the announcement that in the series of events that have their center in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, something has happened that alters the human situation and must therefore call into question every human culture.”[12]

He perceives culture as the sum total of ways of living, developed by a group of human beings and handed down from generation to generation[13]. One of the key words to be noted in Newbigin’s definition of the Gospel is “announcement.” Gospel is announcement. Because any form of announcement is carried out in words of humans, therefore every announcement which the gospel includes is culturally conditioned. The announcement of the gospel is not done in the language of angels nor does it fall down from heaven. It is done in the language of human beings especially the mother tongue. This has always been the case right from the beginning of the proclamation of the events of Christ’s death and resurrection and throughout the selection and canonization process of scripture. Newbigin articulately affirms and justifies the cultural conditionings of the Gospel accordingly:

“Neither at the beginning, nor at any subsequent time, can there be a gospel that is not embodied in a culturally conditioned form of words. The idea that one can or could at any time separate out by some process of distillation a pure gospel unadulterated by any cultural accretions is an illusion. It is, in fact, an abandonment of the gospel, for the gospel is about the word made flesh.”[14]

The authorships of New Testament scripture profoundly illustrate Newbigin’s presupposition, especially when we consider that it is not only verbal statements of the Bible that are culturally conditioned but also every style of life that claims to embody the truth of the gospel. In what they call the fruits of contextualizing literary activity, which led to the creation of the New Testament documents themselves, David Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen have observed that “Each of the four gospels…reflects the cultural orientation of its author.” They cite, for example, Mathew’s Jewish orientation which influenced his selection of material such as messianic prophecy, kingship, and the divine titles of Jesus, and Aramaic which characterize his Jewish-Greek language. On the other hand, Luke exhibited a Hellenistic mindset.[15]

This leads to the question, how the understanding of this cultural conditioning of the gospel affects communicating the Gospel. First, we must pay attention to the use of language as summed up in Lesslie Newbigin’s rationale:

The communication [of the gospel] has to be in the language of the receptor culture. It has to be such that it accepts, at least provisionally, the way of understanding things that is embodied in that language; if it does not do so, it will simply be an unmeaning sound that cannot change any thing.[16]

Despite this reality, the EOC never preached in Oromo language to the Showa Oromo in particular and to the different ethnic groups in Ethiopia in general. As the EOC did not preach in Oromo, her evangelism was resisted affirming the lack of unawareness of the cultural conditionings of the gospel.

It is worth affirming that in the whole process of contextualization, God’s will is translatable to other languages wherever the gospel is presented. It was true that the synoptic Gospels were written in different languages. Matthew was written in Hebrew, Mark in Latin, and Luke in Greek.[17] Jesus himself was using different languages. It was obvious that 1st century Palestine was a multi-lingual society.[18] Within this society Christ was using different languages. He was communicating to the people according to their linguistic background. This understanding reveals that Jesus was contextualizing his message to the recipients. Thus using the language of the receptors in communicating the Gospel needs to be prioritized when it comes to contextualization as Newbigin affirms.

In fact, in Ethiopia, EOC has never ever translated the Bible into any other language other than Amharic besides that she is “mono-linguist” in her preaching. But “Pentecost is our Biblical warrant for saying that God accepts languages.”[19] The EOC needs to learn from this despite the past mistakes and becomes aware of the cultural conditionings of the gospel.

Secondly, our communication of the gospel should also take into account the non-verbal aspects of a language. We must express the gospel through…the cognitive tools, concepts, images, symbols, and thought forms by means of which people today discover meaning, construct the world they inhabit and form personal identity.[20] According to this point, forms matter. Forms have different meanings among the different ethnic groups. The EOC saw every per-Christian Showa Oromo form as evil that hurt the people. The way Showa Oromo were worshipping their god was completely changed. For instance; the Oromo of Showa express their thanks to their Waaqa/god in the form of moving their necks usually called komkommee which the EOC changed into her own means called shibsheba, expressed by moving hands. The EOC also changed traditional Oromo worship materials and Oromo music in to what is called “Yaredaw”[21] that led to what Charles Kraft says “Domination Syncretism,”[22] which reflects the imposition of Orthodox Christianity upon the people.

The second reason for the failure of the EOC was that the EOC was trying to evangelize the Showans in Amharic language using non-Oromo ministers. The EOC did not consider the language of the Showans as useful instrument for evangelization of the people. The church’s usage of non-Oromo speaking ministers was not wrong. It was wrong only when the people were deprived of getting the language translated into their Oromo language. Paul Baxter observed the following when he sat in an Orthodox Church: “I sat through church service in which the preacher and all he congregants were Oromo but the sermon as well as the service was not understood at all. To preach in Oromo would have resulted in the preacher being fired or imprisoned.”[23] The EOC followed mono-cultural perspective that Kraft elucidates as, “no respect for other people’s ways.”[24] This mono-culturalism of the EOC can be perfectly elucidated that the translation of the Bible into Oromo by Onesimos Nasib was opposed by the EOC clergies. His translations, rather than pleasing the EOC clergies, evoked a response comparable of the Catholic Church’s outrage towards Luther’s translating the Bible into German.[25] The clergies claimed Onesimos provoked conflict and his works were seen to encourage the rejections of the imperial language and religion.[26] Onesimos was seen by the Abyssinian/EOC clergy as everything that the Amharas did not expect or wanted their Oromo subjects to be. But this rejection of the Oromo Bible by the Abyssinian clergy symbolizes more of a rejection of the language in which it was written, Afaan Oromoo, than the Bible itself.[27]

A mono-cultural people is proud of its own way of life, looks down on the other people’s language.[28] People with such an attitude are ethnocentric and feel that theirs is the superior culture or world view. Rheenen reinforces this mono-cultural attitude saying, “Their views are the only true views.”[29] This depicts that according to the EOC the views of the Showans were inferior and unacceptable. Reality is only the one presented by the EOC to the Showans and perceiving realities from different directions are impossible. Rheenen affirms Kraft’s understanding’s of mono-cultural attitude saying that such people assume their belief was accepted because they are superior.[30] Certainly, the EOC used Amharic language to evangelize the people. The EOC did not consider that the Oromo language is relatively adequate. Despite the availability of Oromo Bible, the EOC used Amharic Bible to evangelize the people which a number of Showan elites saw as hatred. EOC was claiming that the Bible the Protestants preach[31] was not the right Bible only because it had sixty six books while that of the “EOC has eighty-one.”[32] Thus, the EOC was telling that the Bible in Oromo language is a book of the heretics. Despite this, Orthodox Christianity did not get root among the Showans because the EOC did not give the Bible, even the one with the eight-one books, to the people in their language.

Thirdly, cultural pride is another reason why the EOC failed in her evangelistic mechanism among the Oromo of Showa. Every Oromo culture was seen as evil and was not seen as if God can make use of Oromo culture. Charles’s Kraft pointed out in his book Anthropology for Christian witness that “There is no sacred culture in the world and in reality there is no culture that is totally good or bad.”[33] This teaches us that every culture has some sort of inadequacy and brokenness. It is corrupted by the devil. Rheenen affirm this saying:

All cultures demonstrate satanic brokenness on one hand and Godly influence on the other. Cultures exhibit both a proclivity to sin, which alienates them from God, and attributes of goodness, reflecting divine presence.[34]

This elucidates that every culture is corrupted whether it is the culture that the EOC cherishes or the culture of the Oromo of Showa seen as evil. At the same time it depicts that even if there is satanic corruption, there is divine ingredient in Oromo culture which the EOC was unable to manipulate. Cultural pride it self shows the corruption of the specific culture that the EOC was propagating and cherishing. This cultural pride made the EOC to “stay aloof” from the society. In this case, the ministers of the EOC remained themselves as Stott depicts.[35] Stott further explains this saying:

“We hold on desperately to our own cultural inheritance in the mistaken notions that it is an indispensable part of our identity. We are unwilling to let it go. Not only do we maintain our cultural practices with fierce tenacity, but we treat the cultural inheritance of the land of our adoption without the respect it deserves. We thus practice a double kind of cultural imperialism, imposing our own culture on others and despising theirs.”[36]

This idea enumerates that the EOC separated herself from the society she was aiming at missionaizing.[37] The missionization objective then failed because the EOC considered her own culture which of course was the culture of the Amhara ethnic group in Ethiopia as desperately important while challenging the Showan Oromo culture as evil. In considering the Showa Oromo culture as evil some of the Showan people even accepted that their own culture is evil and came to what Rheenen calls “reactionary mono-culturalism”[38] where the subject people fail into inferiority complex, ridicule their own culture and accept an alien culture. Irrespective of this wrong attitude, I argue that every culture is good for its owners and can only be judged by aliens when the owners begin to judge it. At the same time God respects and interacts with people in their cultural spheres and language. Kraft says, “God who exists apart from culture, relates to and interacts with human beings in and in terms of the cultural waters within which humans are immersed.”[39] One can deduce from this idea that a culture is something God respects and “culture is a vehicle usable by God…”[40] Precisely, God can use a pagan culture for his purpose.[41] Thus, he uses the culture of Showa Oromo for the expansion of His kingdom. Lessons learned from the failure of the EOC

Evangelization of the gospel needs to adapt the cultural customs and language of the target group. Imposing our cultural alien customs upon the group aimed at evangelization results in an impediment to the gospel. My late professor of church history Dr.Yonass Deressa explained in September 2001 that the mistake committed by the EOC against the nations and nationalities in Ethiopia by becoming the instrument of one ethnic group made the gospel handicapped. He further noted that “Had the EOC adapted the culture and language of the nations and nationalities in Ethiopia, the country would have been the single fully Christian nation in Africa.”[42] The problem he said was “cultural imperialism”[43] which led to the churches failure. Gospel is not something in a pot and then moved to the other place with the same pot and planted.[44] Basically, the gospel preached is about Christ which is the binding principle of Christianity but the way we preach differs. Christ is non-negotiable in any culture. A gospel served in one ethnic group’s cup should be served in a different cup to the other ethnic group. For instance according to Dean Flemming[45] Paul did not approach both the Jewish and the Greeks in the same way respectively in Acts 13:13-52 and Acts14: 8-20. He approached the Jewish by narrating God’s saving intervention in Christ. He coined Davidic promise to the resurrection of Christ and finally challenged his Jewish audiences to their religious exclusivism. He then approached the Greeks by natural revelation while they are in the context of idolatry. This notion depicts that the same Christ is served differently to the different people in the world. “The Bible's life-giving message, in order to be meaningful to Africans, must be served in an African cup.”[46] By analogy, the Bible’s life giving message must be served to every ethnic group within their cultural environment with the linguistic background they own. The EOC found it hard to share the gospel to the Oromo of Showa within their cultural and linguistic background and according to Pieter N. Holtrop and Hugh McLeod though this is a problem it can be solved using the vernacular language. They both pointed the issue as follows:

“The fundamental problem that every religious conversion process grapples with- at all times and in all areas- is that of finding a linguistic medium, as a suitable means of facilitating an easy communication with pagans. Undoubtedly, to overcome this otherwise almost insuperable language barrier, the use of native tongues seems to be crucial.”[47]

The above quotation depicts the importance of native tongues for evangelization. Native tongues do not come just from the blue. They come by learning. When Jesus came to this world he came as a learner.[48] He was learning languages and cultures. He was doing this to respond to the social conversion. In any social conversion process the demand for native tongues and the demand for indigenous culture are not an option but a requirement. Jesus did not come with the knowledge of Jewish culture and language, albeit his ability to be. He learned language to communicate, and learned the culture of worship sitting in the Jewish temple. Certainly, he learned all Jewish norms, values and cultures. At the same time Jesus did not only come as a learner but also as a humble servant.[49] This reflects how he made himself empty which means that he did not act as if he was superior. Taking Christ as our own hero, we need to engage in learning languages and cultures of the host society in our contextualization process of the gospel. Similarly, we need to humble ourselves and avoid any cultural superiority. We need to know that any culture is corrupted by the devil and at the same time it has some divine ingredients. The EOC did not understand this in her evangelization process and thus labeled the entire Showa Oromo culture as evil. This handicapped her ministry and paved the way for the protestant missionaries who successfully manipulated the Showa Oromo language and culture.

Humility refutes mono-culturalism and ethnocentrism. Mono-culturalism can be broken by employing what Paul Hiebert says “Meta-culturalism,” which enables us to appreciate the good in other systems and more critical of our own. It can also be broken by knowing the values of cultures and by avoiding cultural biases realizing that our cultural values are not absolute.[50] In any contextualization process avoiding mono-culturalism and being aware of the cultural conditionings of the gospel are the remedy for true contextualization.

The EOC is compelled to change her unwritten policies[51] because of the political realm in Ethiopia that is focusing on ethnic based federalism where ethnic groups have the right to learn in their language and cherish their cultures other than the one country, one language and one culture of the past Ethiopian rulers which the EOC was pushing from the back. According to one of my informants an Evangelist, Waaqee Ji’oo Garbii:

The EOC has begun serving in different languages. Yet it is at a very law speed. He noted that the EOC published a book called Utubaa Amantii / Pillar of faith into Oromo. Waaqee also noted that the EOC has started worship in Oromo in few places and on the inauguration of the book Utubaa Amantii /Pillar of faith the EOC patriarch, Abune Paulos said using the language of different ethnic groups opens the road for evangelism.[52]

But still, the failure of the EOC is there and her speed in cherishing diversity in her mission is too slow but time itself compels the EOC to accept diversity in her gospel contextualization. It is not a choice for the EOC to contextualize the gospel but a requirement in the changing environment and the political arena of Ethiopia. Yet one learns the following from her failure:

First, accepting the host culture as valid, albeit the imperfections.[53] There are many imperfects within a culture but there are also many perfects which we can make use of in contextualization of the gospel. We have to be aware here that we who are taking the gospel to an alien culture are in no position to say this is the imperfect part of the host culture. It is only when the owners of the culture see it as imperfect that we take advantage of judging from biblical point of view.

Second, we should take seriously any custom of the people we are going to communicate the gospel. Here we need to use the customs as the vehicles to communicate the gospel other than seeing the customs as evil and uncivilized. For instance there were many Showa Oromo customs that the EOC should have used as the vehicle of communicating the gospel and have become all things to the Showa Oromo as Paul says when speaking to Corinthians in 1Corinthians 9:20–21.According to this text Paul was able to adopt to every situation to win others for Christ. It does not mean there were no evil within that culture but Paul aimed at adapting to the situation “without losing his identity.”[54] The EOC should have been everything to the Oromo of Showa without losing her identity.

Third, we need to be aware of the devastating role of mono-culturalism and ethnocentrism. There is no perfect culture in the world and at the same time no culture is superior to the other. Paul was refuting Peter in Galatians 2:11-16 about cultural superiority. Peter himself was changed of this attitude. Peter had changed his attitude of cultural favoritism in Acts 10:15 when God saved Cornelius and Peter affirmed that God does not show cultural favoritisms. This reflects that God accepts people as they are within their cultural spheres. There is no superior or inferior culture in front of God. This underlines that mono-culturalism and ethnocentrism holds no water, for God is not partial to any culture or ethnic identity.

How to alleviate the problem

The EOC is rich in traditions which other churches should respect and consider as their heritage. Similarly, the EOC needs to keep and sustain the traditions of the other churches and people without imposing her own. With respect to traditions of the people aimed at evangelization both the EOC and the Lutherans in Ethiopian can make a difference ecumenically. Thus, to alleviate the problem that the EOC faced in her mission strategy, it is good to work together with other churches in Ethiopia. Ecumenical relationship alleviates the problem. It was initiated in 1978 by the EECMY which the EOC rejected.[55] Both churches are members of the World Council (WCC) of Churches. Having a lesson in the WCC I observe that both can form strong ecumenical relationship. With strong ecumenism both churches can work together in mission. With strong mission theory namely “Mission as the church with others,”[56] or literally mission as partnership the problem of evangelization faced by the EOC will be alleviated.

The EOC has slightly opened her door for new mission theory which is mission in context and the contextualization of the gospel to different cultures and languages. The light is lit now and both churches can take further the evangelization of the people of Showa and Ethiopia. The EOC can speed up the evangelization process with her Lutheran sister church in the pluralistic environment and the current political realm of Ethiopia. The unity in mission is not because of the political situation in Ethiopia but it has to be because of God’s unity in the one body of Christ.[57] Mission is not competition but it is the passion to make the world believe in Christ. This passion involves the coming to Christ of any ethnic group within their cultural and linguistic environment. The time of ethnocentrism, mono-culturalism and the unawareness of the cultural conditionings of the gospel has gone forever and the time is the time to cherish diversity in being united as the body of Christ. It is the time to mutually participate in Missio Dei with love and belongingness.

Conclusion: Wherever there are humans there are mistakes. As a church is the collection of people there is no way to exempt her from mistakes. Yet mistakes are good if one is aware of learning from it. The EOC failed in her evangelization of the gospel among the Oromo of Showa because of the unawareness of the cultural conditionings of the gospel, mono-cultural and ethnocentric attitude towards the people. The God that the Christians worship is the God that interacts with people within their cultural and linguistic spheres of water. He is the God that transforms cultures. He is the God that never discriminates people on the basis of their cultural and linguistic background. He is the God in whose sight every culture and language is seen as an instrument for the expansion of his kingdom.

The failure of the EOC is the failure of the other churches too since all work for the expansion of the same kingdom. The world has tremendously changed in many ways and no evangelism can go further without ecumenical partnership. Through partnership, I observe that the mission of the church will be renewed and her mission will be successful in diverse cultures with diverse languages.

The EECMY Approach towards Contextualizing the Gospel to the Showa Oromo

The EECMY, whom this section of the paper aims at and explains her methods of contextualization among the Oromo of Showa, Contextualized Biblical Christianity effectively into the Showa Oromo. The EECMY preached the gospel to these people in the language they speak, gave them the Bible in their indigenous language and followed the affirm and fulfill [58] method of their culture with Christ. These people have already known who God is and who the Holy Spirit is. I thus discuss how these pre-Christian beliefs were redeemed and paved the way to fulfill it by Christ. It further explains how Showa Oromo culture is filled by Christ in which case the Redemptive Analogy approach is explained in relation to the Irreecha/Thanksgiving. This section also explains the importance of indigenous language in proper contextualization. I also deal with the incarnational approach and its proper function in the evangelization of the Oromo of Showa. I define incarnation and elucidate proper contextualization through incarnational model. Primarily, a definition of what contextualization is meant is dealt with.


[1] Bruce J. Nicholls, Contextualization: A Theology of Gospel and Culture (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 20-22.

[2] Translate and all its tense forms in this paper refer to the translation of the Bible into Oromo language and the adaptation of the gospel message into the culture of the Showa Oromo which, I took “in reference to adaptation, “ from Craig Van Gelder, ed., The Missional Church in Context (Grand Rapids: William B.Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 34.

[3] John R.W.Stott and Robert Coote, Down to Earth: Studies in Christianity and Cultures (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 1980), 55.

[4] Stott and Coote, Down to Earth, 34.

[5] Stott and Coote, Down to Earth, 319.

[6] Charles H. Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness (Mary Knoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996) 200.

[7] “Coptic” refers to the Egyptian Monophysite Church and as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is believed to come from Egypt- Alexandria and had strong attachments to the Egyptian Coptic church it is also called Coptic Orthodox.

[8] Kraft, Anthropology, 381.

[9] “Amhara” is one among the different ethnic groups in Ethiopia and the second largest ethnic group whose language is the language of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

[10] John R. W.Stott, “The Bible in World Evangelization.” In Perspectives: On the World Christian Movement 3rd. ed. edited by Ralph Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 1999)23.

[11] The Willowbank Report: The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization,” In Perspectives: On the World Christian Movement 3rd. ed. edited by Ralph Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 1999), 489.

[12] Lesslie Newbigin , Foolishness to the Greeks: The gospel and western culture (Grand Rapids: William B.Eerdmans, 1986), 3-4.

[13] Lesslie Newbigin , Foolishness to the Greeks, 3.

[14] Newbigin , Foolishness to the Greeks, 4.

[15] David J Hesselgrave & Edward Rommen, Contextualization: Meanings, methods and models (Pasadena, California: William Carey Library 1973), 3-12.

[16] Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, 5-6.

[17] Ronald L.Conte, “The Writing of the Gospels - Which Languages Did Jesus Use?” December 25, 2005, (accessed January 22, 2009 ).

[18] Conte, “The Writing of the Gospels - Which Languages Did Jesus Use?” December 25, 2005, (accessed January 22, 2009 ).

[19] Lesslie, Newbigin, The Gospel in A Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: William B Erdmans, 1989), 185.

[20] Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Frank, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Post Modern Context (London: Westminster John Knox press, 2001), 159.

[21] “Yaredaw” is a music melody derived from a man called “Yared” who was the source of the EOC music.

[22] Kraft, Anthropology, 376-377.

[23] Paul Baxter, The Problem of the Oromo or the Problem for the Oromo in Lew is etal: Nationalism and Self-determination in the Horn of the Africa (London: Ithaca Press, 1983), 137.

[24] Kraft, Anthropology, 70.

[25] Mekuria Bulcha, The Making of Oromo Diaspora: A Historical Sociology of Forced Migration (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Kirk House Publishers, 2002), 141-142. All ideas are taken from Bulcha except change of few words.

[26] Mekuria Bulcha, The Making of Oromo Diaspora, 141-142.

[27] Mekuria Bulcha, " Onesimos Nasib's Pioneering Contributions to Oromo Writing."Nordic Journal of African Studies, 4(1) (1995,), 36-59. All ideas are taken from Bulcha except few changes of few words.

[28] Kraft, Anthropolog y, 70.

[29] Gailyn Van Rheenen, Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies: Missions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 100.

[30] Rheenen, Missions, 101.

[31] I italiced it because it is true that there are Protestants that added the “apocrypha or detro-canonical books” to the sixty-six books of the Bible. In Ethiopia, no Protestant church has accepted the books of the “Apocrypha.” If it is added to the sixty-six books of the Bible, certainly it creates several problems that takes time to be resolved. Among the Protestants in Ethiopia there is no other book other than the sixty-six even among the “Theologians,” actually theologians of lower academic standard but still there are many qualified theologians that do not accept.

[32] The EOC has eighty-one books in her Bible. These are the sixty-six books plus fifteen other books. The books include Synods, Did ache, Clement, Miracles of Jesus, History of Mary, Acts of the passion... Sirach, Jubilees (also called Kufale), Maccabeus, Tobit, Judith and the book of Enoch only found in the EOC scripture in the world. Protestants in Ethiopia see all these books as false truths also called pseudepigrapha. Protestants consider them as latter additions and as books collected by the EOC. For further reference see at Wondimagew,Aymro and Joachim Motovu, The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Orthodox Church Mission, 1970),77-78.

[33] Kraft, Anthropology, 77.

[34] Rheenen, Missions, 82.

[35] Stott, In Perspectives, 24.

[36] Stott, In Perspectives, 24.

[37] “Missionaizing,” is a word derived from “Mission” and I took it from David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1997), 380-430.

[38] Rheenen , Missions, 104.

[39] Kraft, Anthropology, 91

[40] Kraft, Anthropology, 93.

[41] Kraft, Anthropology, 94.

[42] Yonas Deressa, Oral Presentation Mekane Yesus Seminary, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, September 5, 2001.

[43] Yonas Deressa, Oral Presentation Mekane Yesus Seminary, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, September 5, 2001.

[44] Charles Kraft, “Culture, Worldview and Contextualization,” In Perspectives: On the World Christian Movement 3rd. ed. edited by Ralph Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 1999)389.

[45] Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament, 56-70.

[46] “Contextualizing” The Gospel in Africa, on January 12, 2009).

[47] [47]Pieter N. Holtrop and Hugh McLeod, Missions and Missionaries (Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press 2000), 1.

[48] Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnation Model for Personal Relationships (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book house, 1986), 16-17.

[49] Lingenfelter and Mayers , Ministering Cross-Culturally, 16-17.

[50] Paul G.Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1985), 102-103.

[51] “Unwritten Policies,” is the phrase to depict that the EOC has no written policy with regard to evangelizing the Ethiopian people into “one language, one culture and one country.” The EOC had hidden agenda which the recent political realm in Ethiopia refuted and challenged thus the EOC cherishes diversity.

[52] Waaqee Garbii, Oral Presentation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by phone on March 19, 2009

[53] Lingenfelter and Mayers , Ministering Cross-Culturally, 122.

[54] Without losing (his/her) identity is taken from Stott, In Perspectives, 24.

[55] Paul E.Hoffmann: Thursday Theology # 396: Evangelical Church and Theology in the Ethiopian Revolutions, part II, (January 12, 2006), (accessed on March 28, 2009).

[56] David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, New York: 1997), 360.

[57] Bosch, Transforming Mission, 464.

[58] “Affirm and fulfill” are taken from Class Discussions for Missional Church, Western Theological Seminary, December 2008.

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Contextualization of the Gospel among the Showa Oromo of Ethiopia
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Wasihun S. Gutema (Author), 2009, Contextualization of the Gospel among the Showa Oromo of Ethiopia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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