Yacob Aga and his wife, Tibarek Wondimu, arrived in Sudan as newlyweds. They were among the first missionaries sent by the Ethiopia’s Kale Heywet Church into the Sudan.
Together, the young couple endured extreme and life-threatening situations. Twice inter-ethnic warfare forced their evacuation. Local Sudanese cared for them, but in other instances, they were caught in battles, and once hid in a latrine.
They were shot at and their home was burnt to the ground, destroying all their belongings.They grieved when an attack closed the new teacher training school in Yabus, but they focused on their commitment to their Father and their love for the Sudanese people.
On October 24, 2010, after four turbulent years, Yacob fell ill with cerebral malaria. He quickly declined, and the following morning was promoted to heaven. He was Ethiopia’s first missionary to die on foreign soil.
The then SIM Sudan Director, Chris Crowder, said: “Yacob was obeying Jesus’ final commands when he died. He was making disciples.”
Tibarek was now a widow. She returned to Ethiopia with her husband’s body.
Why would anyone go and make disciples in such a context? Why would they stay for years? Why would their sending church and SIM continue to strive to minister in such a context? What would motivate them?
SIM’s mission statement is “Convinced that no one should live and die without hearing God’s good news, we believe He has called us to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Firstly, Yacob Aga, his sending church and SIM were deeply convinced. Secondly, they were compelled — by love. 2 Corinthians 5:14 says: “For Christ’s love compels us.” If those who live and die without Jesus live in uncomfortable or even hazardous locations, then love compels us to go there.
The first mission assignment for my wife, Joanna, and I was to Galmi, Niger. The question arose: “What is in the desert of Niger for you?” We answered: “There may be nothing in the desert for us, but be sure as day and night, there are people in it for the Lord!”
WHAT HAPPENED TO TIBAREK?
Tibarek returned to Ethiopia. In Soddu, she sat and received condolences from more than 500 people. Crowds gathered for the burial. Twelve people gave their lives to Christ following one memorial service. Speeches testimonies, music, and prayers were given at multiple events across Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya.
Tibarek challenged attendees to use their lives for the Lord. She said: “Yacob had clear plans for ministry, do you?”
The deputy director of SIM Sudan, Tohru Inoue said: “As we mourn his passing, we are energised and galvanised to continue making disciples in Sudan.”
Tibarek enrolled in a missions training school in Ethiopia for two years. The Lord brought to her a new husband, Getachew. In 2012, she rejoined the South Sudan team with him. The church that received Tibarek back to Ethiopia and mourned Yacob’s passing, was the same church that committed to send out new missionary couples immediately to continue their work.
Having no money and no crops to sell, they decided to go to a nearby hospital and donate blood, receiving a small payment. They declared: “As long as we have blood, we have something to give to missions.”
Getachew has started churches in at least four major ethnic groups in South Sudan. We invited him to help conduct a peace conference between the warring Gedeo and Guji ethnic groups in Ethiopia. He has visited Bolivia to help mobilise the church there for missions.
So, why does SIM go to hard places? We go because love compels us to take seriously our Lord Jesus when he said: “I have come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
May God renew in us compassion for those living and dying without Christ, such that Christ’s love compels us to cross any barrier to reach them.
In 1893, three young men who founded SIM set out for the interior of the Sudan in west Africa, compelled to see souls saved for eternity. The next seven years of SIM’s ministry in Nigeria produced more missionary graves than converts.
As in times past, persecution, disease and violence are still the reality of missions. Indeed, some risks are greater today than ever before. In Burkina Faso, there are terrorist attacks and abductions. In Pakistan, the church and mission have faced bomb threats and other risks. And in India, Bhutan, Northern Nigeria, the Middle East and north Africa, physical and spiritual risks are part of daily life.
Yet how can we stop when 3,961 distinct people groups — more than three billion people — are living and dying without Christ? Risk-taking, and a clear theology of risk, are therefore vital as we move forward to do the remaining work left to be done.
Christ crossed barriers to be born into human history. As missionaries, we continue to seek out and identify barriers, specifically in order to cross them. Every barrier is, therefore, an opportunity. Barriers can be cultural, generational, geographical, social, racial, economic and others. Crossing barriers is the DNA of missions.
By Dr Joshua Bogunjoko, SIM International Director
Pray for courage in a world that opposes all that is righteous and godly.
Pray we will trust God and act wisely as we go to difficult places for the sake of the gospel.
Pray the Lord will raise more workers to share the gospel in communities where Christ is least-known.