Hawassa, Beneath Tabor Mountain
TEC Postbox 1070. Hawassa. Sidamo. Ethiopia
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Dreams come true

Written by Ruth Eva Osmundsen
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50 year Jubilee Celebration at Tabor Evangelical College

A dream has come true – this is how NLM missionary and school director Torjus Vatnedalen begins his report from Tabor Seminary in 1968. As a result of sacrifice, commitment, and courage, the Tabor Seminary compound and facilities were ready to receive the first students in the beginning of October that year.[1]

Years have passed and what was once a dream or a vision became a reality and has existed and served God’s kingdom and His people through many ups and downs the last fifty years. The work has demanded sacrifice, commitment, courage not only back in 1968 when the seminary established, but the history testifies to repeated sacrifices and new demands for commitment and courage. Every part of Tabor’s history has brought it own challenges and the many people who have served at the school - both missionaries and local staff have had their difficulties to overcome.

The Establishment of Tabor Seminary and the Ethiopian Revolution from 1968 to 1983

The facilities at the bible school in Dilla were not big enough and with the provincial capital being moved to Hawassa, it was decided that a new seminary for the South Ethiopian Synod would be established there. The aim was to have a seminary for evangelist and congregational leaders that could meet the need for leadership and biblical education among the growing number of Christian in the southern part of Ethiopia. God had brought revival to both the Sidama and the Gamo Gofa areas. The revival was spreading throughout the southern part of the country, but there were no trained Christian that could lead and teach the new church members. I 1968 there were 320 congregations, 240 preaching places and 14 mission stations in the area where NLM was working. The number of church members in the area was 28 743 people. In additional to the missionaries there were only 18 local congregational leaders and 223 local evangelist to follow up on the work.[2]   

Tabor Seminary was a long awaited dream come true, and the vision was to have a centre for theological education that would equip local Christians for congregational work and ministry. The facilities at Tabor were such that the students would come to campus with their families, and there would be bible classes for the women, kindergarten for the small children and public school for the bigger children, while the men were studying theology. The evangelist course was a two year program, and the congregational leader course was four years program with a practise year between 2nd and 3rd year of study.

In an interview on the 22nd of May 2018 a previous students Mr. Agaro Alito shared that the years at Tabor were a good time for spiritual life and growth. Mr Agaro was studying at Tabor Seminary back in 1973-1978 in the congregational leaders program. And he continued by saying: ‘The theological training we received at Tabor was really good and a foundation for our future lives. I can honestly say that the training at Tabor Seminary made me the man I am today’[3]. After finishing his education, Mr Agaro first went to Tula and was later transferred to Abela, where he served faithfully in the church for 38 years.

Being a student and a young man during the time of the Revolution from 1974-1978 was not easy, and Mr Agaro shared with us this small event: “When I was studying at the Tabor it was during the time of the Dergue[4], and there was a lot of political activities among the young people. At that time it was also fashion to have Afro hair and we at the seminary would comb our hair like the others. One day there had been some political unrest, and the government people were looking for youngsters in and around Hawassa. It was on a marked day, and I and my friend Alemu had gone to the market place. Suddenly we heard that government police had surrounded the market area and were looking for young people with empty hands and afro hair. We panicked not knowing what to do. Alemu suggested that we bought sugar cane and pretended to sell it. But then I saw a wife of one of the students from Tabor and she was holding a basket in her hand with all her gods. As her husband was nowhere to see, I ran over and pretended to be her husband grabbing hold of her basket. That basket would be my ticket out of the market place, and I held on to it desperately. The lady who owned the basket later saw her husband being beaten and taken by the police. She let go of the basket and ran to help her husband. Both of them were imprisoned that day, but Alemu and I were saved by the basket and got back to the seminary safely. When the other student and his wife later returned to Tabor we had a good laugh over all the drama and the basket that made it home safely”. [5]

Tabor Compound Confiscated from 1983 to 2001

In 1983 the Tabor Seminary compound was confiscated by the government authorities in Hawassa and with a two weeks’ notice all people living on the compound and all the school materials and equipment had to be moved out. There had been rumours about the authorities showing interest for the compound, but it still came as a shock for everybody that day in July 1983 when everyone was told to evacuate immediately. Most of the table and chairs and documents were taken to the synod compound, but some things were also moved to Hagre Mariam and to Hagre Selam. The students were on vacation at the time, but teachers and other staffs suddenly had to look for new homes and places to work, and it was with much grief that they were forced to leave the compound. This was a dark time in the history of Tabor Seminary.

  A New Era and a new name 2001 – 2018

With the fall of the Dergue and a new government in Ethiopia, a new dream was born. Several church compounds had been confiscated by the communist regime and one by one these were returned to the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY). Again with much sacrifice, commitment and courage people started to push for the return of the Tabor Seminary compound. Especially Mr. Paulos Shune (Synod President) and Odd Rannestad (NLM missionary) worked hard to see the compound again being under church ownership, and again God made possible what seemed impossible.

In 2001 when the compound was returned, the seminary in Addis Ababa was struggling with few applicants and few students. It was therefore decided that instead of a theological education, a quality Christian High School and Preparatory should be established on the compound together with other college courses at diploma level. The name of this new institution became Tabor Evangelical College (TEC). Renovating the buildings and preparing the compound for students and staff was hard and tiresome work. It took almost two years, but in 2003 Tabor Evangelical College welcomed 130 new High School students.

With the High School up and running the old vision for a theological training centre for the southern part of Ethiopia surfaced again. This time it was Melese Sidamo (bible school teacher), Zinabu Mekonnen (evangelist), Odd Åge Ågedal (NLM missionary) and Søren S. Sørensen (DLM missionary) who with courage, commitment and sacrifice worked hard to establish theological education at TEC. After much struggle the bible school was opened in 2005 and later the diploma program in 2008. Then in 2011 the school upgraded to Bachelor of Theology in Missiology and thereby TEC Degree program was established. 

Today at Tabor Evangelical College, we have 750 students attending High School (9th – 10 grade) and Preparatory (11th – 12th grade), and 105 students at the theological programs. These programs are 2nd year bible school, three-year diploma in Theology and four-year degree in Theology. We can now look back upon 50 years of history that clearly shows that dreams come true and we praise God for making the impossible possible. God is the one who gave the vision and by his grace and through the sacrifice, commitment and courage of faithful workers in God’s kingdom TEC is now a well-functioning and well recognized institution under EECMY. And as the TEC leadership looks towards the future new dreams are born and we believe that with the help of God – dreams come true.

[1] NLM årsraport 1968, ”Med murskei og sværd” side 150 “Melding frå Tabor Seminary” ved Torjus Vatnedalen

[2] NLM årsraport 1968, ”Med murskei og sværd” side 180 Statestik

[3] Interview with Agaro Alito on the 22nd of May 2018

[4] From 1974-1991 – the Dergue was the name for the communist regime that was governing Ethiopia at that time.

[5] Interview with Agaro Alito on the 22nd of May 2018