As we begin the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, I’m thinking about prophets.
Not the kind which foretell the future, but the biblical kind – the ones who speak the word of God to the people, calling for justice.
I was with a group of Oromo prophets yesterday. They are pastors (primarily Lutheran) from churches throughout the United States: Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Columbus, OH, and Washington, DC. They came to Washington to speak with the state department about human rights abuses directed against the Oromo majority ethnic group in Ethiopia.
Wasihun Gutema, our pastoral intern, is Oromo and has been sharing some of the frightening things happening to his friends and family in Ethiopia. Over 140 students have been tortured and killed in the past couple of months; journalists have been jailed for voicing dissenting views; and the military has moved into the Oromo villages, setting up a system of control using bribery to encourage neighbors to spy on neighbors.
On the eve of our meeting with the state department, there was much encouragement of each other, but there was also a sober reality: these Oromo pastors speak publicly with some risk to themselves. They expect to experience repercussions. They debated about whether or not to include a visit to the Ethiopian embassy on their travels, knowing that their names will be carefully noted and that their conversation recorded.
But Rev. Dr. Gemechu Olana said, “We are pastors. We are called to be prophets.” They decided to go.
Another prophet near and dear to Good Shepherd set up the meeting at the state department – Rev. Paul Wee. This weekend we will share a blessing with Paul and Rene before they move to Washington State next week.
As many of you know, Paul has been a prophet throughout his ministry. Serving with the Lutheran World Federation, he was a key figure in brokering the Oslo Accords ending civil war in Guatemala. He has also been involved in negotiations for peace and reconciliation in Nigeria and South Africa.
Paul knows as well as anyone the risks prophets take. He was with the six Jesuit priests in San Salvador the week before they were killed in the midst of the civil war in El Salvador. The other night I learned that he was with an Ethiopian pastor in Germany when a bomb intended for the pastor went off too early, missing him, but killing two others.
As he moves his home base to Washington, I am mindful of the ways Paul has called us to one of the cores of ministry. We are pastors. We are prophets.