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Gammada Urgesa was born in 1912 in Gimbi district, Wellega, in Western Ethiopia. When Gammada was a young boy his father, a community official, died. His mother placed him under the tutelage of an Orthodox priest and Gammada was taught to read, write and to converse in the Amharic language. Under the Haile Sellassie government, because of his facility in Amharic in Oromoland, Gammada was appointed to various government positions such as the Challia Ekka school director (1947-1952), Bojji Chokorsa sub-District governor (1953-1962), Nejo District Court judge (1963-1966), Nejo District governor (1967-1969), and vice-governor of Gimbi Province (1970-1973).
Gammada was a champion of education at a time when peasant farmers were reluctant to send their children to school. He was also innovative in launching local industries such as smelting iron ore for the production of agricultural tools, setting up looms for the weaving of blankets and cloth for clothes, and developing a saw mill to produce lumber for furniture production. For his role in providing employment for hundreds of local artisans, Emperor Haile Sellassie honored him with the title Balanbaras.
Prior to the Italians’ occupation of Wellega in 1936, Gammada heard the gospel from itinerant evangelist, Ashana, trained by the German Lutheran missionaries. Together with Evangelist Ashana, he began evangelizing in the Tegi and Challia districts. Even when they faced persecution from the Italians, Gammada and Ashana carried on valiantly. After the defeat of the Italians, Mekane Yesus Church leaders from Aira, such as Keis Daffa, nurtured Gammada in the faith through bible study and by providing him with Christian books. Soon churches were established in Tegi and Challia through the encouragement and financial support of Gammada. It was through the impetus of these two centers that a number of Mekane Yesus congregations were established in those two districts.
Gammada developed a close working relationship with missionaries from the German Hermannsburg Mission as well as the Swedish Evangelical Mission during his years serving as an evangelist and then eventually as a government official. He served on various Mekene Yesus Church committees with the missionaries, offering his cultural wisdom and spiritual insights. In turn he appreciated the technical help the missionaries offered various communities in road building and setting up grain grinding mills. Through a combined effort with the German missionaries a vocational trade school and an agricultural demonstration plot were established at Challia. Gammada was a forerunner of the Ethiopian Highway Authority in Wellega in organizing communities to build a road from Aira to Challia by manual labour.
The Marxist Revolution forced Gammada out of his local area of Challia in 1974. He retired to Addis Ababa and worshipped at the Mekane Yesus Church in Finfinne until his death in 2000. Balanbaras Gammada left three significant legacies behind: He served his country well and with integrity for over 30 years as a government official; through his encouragement and cooperation, many in the district of Challia and Tegi were evangelized; and modern methods of development were introduced by him, together with mission agencies, which created substantial improvement within Wellega communities.
E. Paul Balisky
Yonas Biratu. “The biography of Balanbaras Gammanda Urgesa,” Term paper presented to the Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (EGST), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2008.
Gustav Aren, Envoys of the Gospel in Ethiopia, Stockholm: EFS Forgalet, 1999.
This biography, received in 2014, was written by Dr. E. Paul Balisky, a former lecturer at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, a DACB participating member. Paul and his wife Lila now reside in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada.
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