Awi (Agew) People

Agew An Open Door for the Gospel by Bill Harding, Outreach Administrator May 1998

It was a privilege to be apart of an SIM/KHC team in a joint effort to gain information and to seek to determine if it is God’s timing for SIM and KHC to begin to penetrate the Agew people with the gospel. This was the second survey that SIM and KHC has done. In response to SIM Area Council to gather this information a survey team was formed. The members of the survey team were Bill Harding (SIM-ETH Outreach Administrator), Jim Ardill (SIM-ETH Development Administrator), Lee Gilliam (SIM-ETH Treasurer), Dernessie Made (KHC Deputy Gen. Sec.), Alemayehu Goshu (KHC Evangelism Coordinator) Tadessa Fufa (KHC evangelist), and Bekele DeBoche (KHC Northern Evangelism Coordinator). Scott Hughett, Africa Coordinator for Samaritans Purse, was also along as a guest. This survey was conducted on April 21-24, 1998.

Agew is located in northern Ethiopia southwest of Bahirdar in Gojam. It is a dusty, long, three hour Land Cruiser trip from Bahirdar through Dangilla to Koso Bir, the capital. Koso is a strong and bitter medicinal drink made from the berries of the Koso tree. When this local potion is imbibed, it is the cure for tapeworm. The story is told that when Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, was returning from exile to Ethiopia via the Sudan, he had a terrible bout of tape worm. The place, Koso Bir, was named after the potentate had tried to cure his intestinal problem by drinking Koso.

The Agew people of Gojam, which number 717,085, are predominately Ethiopian Orthodox. They are know as the “original Cushites” of the Auxurnite and Zegwe Dynasty. They have been dominated and surpressed by the Amhara for centuries yet they still have retained their own language which is unwritten. With the new government policy there is a resurgence of the use of the language. This is the only place in Ethiopia I know of where they plow with a horse. All the women either have shaved heads or have crew cuts. They do not cover their heads but wear a sash around the ears and forehead to show they are Agew. They say that hair is a temptation to man and thus all women must keep there hair cut. The administrator mentioned that there has never been an GO (Non-Governmental Organization) working in Agew.

The Lord went before us as we came in unannounced into Koso Bir, the capital of Agew. Koso Bir is a “boom town’ ‘ located on the Addis Ababa-Bahir Dar road. We met first with a believer from the Mulu Wongale church to determine with whom we should meet in government. We proceeded to meet with the Vice President of the region who was quite receptive. He then organized a meeting with the President of the Agew region for the next morning. Wow, it was so great to get such a warm welcome with an open and receptive spirit. He recognized one of the men with us as one of his former students, Ato Tadessa Fufa. The President of Agew said “I know about SIM and KHC from the media and how you have contributed to building up the south of Ethiopia. We would love for you to come and help us in any way you feel. I know you preach the gospel message. You can preach the gospel, but when you preach, you must contribute something that would benefit our people in a more physical way. Our greatest needs are in the area of water, education and health.”

We discussed openly, youth ministry, a library and reading rooms, teaching English in the high school, Agew language translation and many other possibilities for access to minister to the Agew.

As a result of our few days there we all affirm that the door is open in Agew for the penetration of the gospel and the invitation from the top government leaders was clear! KHC has taken the initiative by already assigning Tadessa Fufa, the President’s former student, as the first evangelist into Agew. He has already begun to work to evangelize and begin to plant a church in Agew. He will begin to network with other government leaders as well. In the first week of his service, three people received Christ as Lord and Savior.

Having returned from this survey, I have met with the SIL Ethiopia director, Mary Breeze. She indicated to me that the Agew language is a top priority in SIL. She was delighted to hear of our survey and is willing to seek personnel to translate the language.

Our challenge …..

I feel with all, the tension of lengthening the cords and driving in the stakes. To establish and maintain an SIM team in Bahirdar is to drive in the stakes. To launch a new strategic effort in to the land of Agew is to lengthen the cords. I feel this tension is a biblical tension and a tension that has driven SIM historically with great blessing from God and must drive SIM now to reach out in faith to the new challenge of taking the precious gospel of Jesus Christ to the Agew.

I believe that the time is ripe, the harvest is ready and it is high time to be involved in the process of seeing God send forth laborers into this field. The time is right politically … it is the political leaders that are beckoning SIM to help with the economic and spiritual needs of their people. This door that has been slammed shut for many years is now open. The time is right spiritually …. the Agew have been an oppressed people ruled by others for centuries. This oppression has affected the hearts of the Agew to be more spiritually receptive to the gospel message. This we have seen with our own eyes as we saw the receptivity to our verbal witness for Christ among the Agew. The time is right relationally … the KHC has from the beginning been mutually active with SIM in prayer for the Agew. Together KHC and SIM have “sent in the spies to survey the land.” It is KHC that has taken the initiative and the responsibility to send in the first church planter. KHC is calling SIM to join hands in an effort to make Christ know among the Agew. The time is right linguistically … for there is a resurgence of the use of their own language after the forced domination of the use of Amharic. This past year the educators have begun to reintroduce the Agew language at the primary school level. The Administrator of Agew said that they are desperate for school materials and would be open for the translation of the Scriptures written in the Agew language. The time is right strategically … three years ago, KHC and SIM Ethiopia prayerfully agreed that mandate of our mutual efforts would be to focus on the unreached peoples of the Orthodox North, the Muslim East and the “cross-border” peoples of Ethiopia. (SIM/KHC Outreach Meetings at Bishoftu with Gordon Stanley) This proposed effort to reach the 717,085 Agew fits into this broad strategic directions that SIM and KHC senses that God has led them.

May God give us His own wisdom and direction as we seek, together, the will and the way and the timing of God in regard to the opportunity that He has put before us regarding the unreached Agew people of Gojam.