Friday, August 21, 2009

A Conversation with Pastor Ezra Gebremedhin

Part Two

Issayas: You are Aboi Woldeab Woldemariam's nephew. I have a good friend, Dr. Nicole Saulsberry, who wrote her dissertation on Aboi Woldeab. I'm always urging her to publish it. Do you know if Aboi Woldeab had kept a diary or notes on events. If so, have you thought of writing a book about Aboi Woldeab using private (family) and public records?

Pastor Ezra: Yes I have a small notebook with material from an interview that I had with Aboi Woldeab. I don't know when and how I can use these notes, which were taken when he lived with us here in Uppsala for some months in the 1980s. I am sure that most of the things that he told me are things that he had told others. But, I haven't looked at these notes for some time.

Issayas: I read the late Prof. Gustav Aren's two books (Evangelical Pioneers in Ethiopia and Envoys of the Gospel in Ethiopia) about 8 years ago. What are the similarities and differences between your upcoming book and Prof. Aren's books?

The late Prof. Gustav Aren and Pastor Ezra Gebremedhin

Pastor Ezra: Let me say that the book [whose subtitle is "The Roots and Development of The Evangelical Church of Eritrea 1866-1935" (Allow me to keep the main title a secret!)] is basically a work of the late Karl-Johan Lundstrom, a missionary of the Swedish Evangelical Mission (SEM) to Eritrea. Several sections of the coming book build on material from Gustav Aren's Evangelical Pioneers in Ethiopia (1978) and, to a lesser extent, his Envoys of the Gospel in Ethiopia (1999). This is not surprising. The book must begin with an introduction into the historical background of the Evangelical Church of Eritrea (ECE). Not all future readers of the present book would have read Prof. Aren's books. Furthermore, the material taken from Aren is particularly appropriate for Eritrea and the ECE, though Gustav uses the same material as a prelude to the history of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY). However, the present book by Karl Johan Lundstrom has given me a good deal of new knowledge about the history of the SEM and its mission in Eritrea, and the "prehistory" of the ECE. This is particularly true of Karl Johan Lundstrom's material on the history and culture of the Kunama and the Mensa. Furthermore, I have been impressed by K.J Lundstrom's contributions to our knowledge of the involvement of the Italian colonial powers, the Catholic Church and Catholic mission activity in the work and life of the SEM and the Evangelical community. The accounts on the roles played by missionaries from the Waldensian Church (a Protestant minory) in Italy in the work of the SEM and the ECE have also been very enlightening. Finally, it has been most revealing for me to read about some highly gifted, dedicated but stubborn Swedish missionary personalities on the mission field.The late Karl Johan Lundstrom

Let me explain to you as to how I came into the picture. Some three months before his death in December 2003, Karl Johan called me in Uppsala to tell me of the state of his health and to ask me to take over and complete the task of recording the history of the ECE. I couldn't believe my ears when he told me that the doctors had diagnosed an advance state of cancer. I visited Karl Johan and his wife, Maj-Britt at their home in the small community of Eksjo in the province of Smaland. My intention was to see him in person and to receive some more specific information and directions on the work he had started, before he became too weak to share information with me. We talked about the assignment in somewhat general terms. Even though he showed me some chapters of the emerging history of the ECE and some of the notes on which he had based his work , he felt that there was no need for any special hurry on specific directives to me. I must admit that I was a little uncertain about his optimism at the time. I continued my journey to Uppsala and never saw Karl Johan again. In hindsight, I must admit that the lack of a clearly defined mandate has led to uncertainty and unnecessary delays.

Next, part three.

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