ROGERS, Ark. —Arkansas corporate executive Haileyesus Abate cries, he says, for the people of his native Ethiopia, a majority Christian nation where numerous tribes still worship nature as deities and have never heard the Gospel.
Typical is the Mursi tribe in southwestern Ethiopia, whose men use clay and natural pigments to paint intricate, colorful patterns on their bodies to attract a bride, who likely will have had a hole punched just below her lip before puberty; the hole stretched by the insertion of progressively larger, round, flat, decorated wooden plates. The larger her plate, the larger dowry the groom’s family pays in negotiating a union, according to custom.
Mursi and other tribes are seeing Muslims working to build mosques in their villages and seeking to convert them to Islam, Haileyesus said. He hopes that Christians can also develop relationships in these villages and new believers can form the nucleus of new churches, a movement he calls church planting.
Pointing to the 50,000 congregations in the Southern Baptist network of churches, he told Baptist Press of his dream to one day see up to 50,000 ministry initiatives from these churches serving the needs of the tribes across his native country.
Living in the United States almost 30 years, he has established relationships with various grassroots communities, he said, and hopes to use these networks and connections to benefit his country of origin.
“I actually weep about that,” he told BP. “We are not from the same tribe, but just God put a burden on me to make a difference for them.”
When his pastor, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd visited Ethiopia at the invitation of governmental leaders, Haileyesus was privileged to visit his home country and travel to remote areas where many tribes live.
While in Ethiopia, Floyd met with Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries working there, and told them of Haileyesus’ desire to spread the Gospel even further by recruiting Southern Baptist churches to establish ministry points within unengaged, unreached tribal groups.