APOSTLE OR PASTOR?
Missionary to America Alemayehu Wedajo
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.” Ephesians 4:11
It seems from the beginning there were apostles besides the Twelve ( see Acts 14:14, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7; 1 Thess 2:7, Galatians 1:19). Who are these apostles? Are there apostles today? Paul, writing somewhere between 60 and 80 AD, lets the Ephesians know God has given gifts to His church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Over the centuries the roles have mostly collapsed into the one gift, “pastor.” In a Christian country that might make sense – where most are Christians all that is needed is a pastor to care for the needs of those already won to Jesus. That is the mindset we still have in America. But what about on a mission field? It would take someone from a mission field to help us. Like the missionary from Ethiopia, Rev. Alemayehu Wedajo.
Rev. Wedajo grew up on a mission field – a country where a cruel authoritarian government was attempting to cleanse his ancient Christian country, Ethiopia, of Christians! But God preserved witnesses to His love. One of those was an eleven year old – Wedajo.
Wanting to know more about his family’s beliefs one day he picked up a Bible, and could not put it down. He says “a fire began to burn in my soul.” At twelve he began telling others, teaching and preaching about Jesus to anyone who would listen. This earned him a place in an Ethiopian prison, but the faith grew – his faith and faith in the hearts of the prisoners. In prison the Christians prayed and fasted. Miracles occurred, people were cured of illnesses and injuries. Out of what was supposed to be a purge of Christian faith the seeds of the Mekane Yesus (Place of Jesus) Church was watered, sometimes in the blood of martyrs.
After the communist government fell the people were even more hungry to know about God, to come to love and serve Him. Wedago heard a call to leave Ethiopia and come to America, but in a dream Wedajo heard the Lord say, “Not now. This is not your time.” He served the Lord as an ordained evangelist, and went from from place to place, wherever the wind of the Spirit blew, and he asked people, “Do you know who Jesus is?” In time he became a pastor over a congregation with twelve thousand members. He preached to a larger number of people over the radio. Then he became an apostle. The gifts St. Paul spoke about are needed on a mission field. But what is an apostle today? And how is that different from a pastor?
Maybe we should take a close look at the apostles Barnabas and Paul (Acts 14:14). We remember Jesus calling Paul into public ministry, stopped in his tracks on his way to imprison and/or murder Christians in Damascus. But Barnabas? Paul and Barnabas became apostles when the church in Antioch laid hands on them and prayed and sent them off – to do what?. To go around the world planting new missions, raising up leaders in those new missions and moving on (Acts 13, 14:22).
Paul stayed only long enough to raise up leaders, then, on to the next mission field. The missionary meaning of “apostle” lasted for centuries, and still today we talk about an “apostolic mission.” To confess the church is “apostolic” is to say we hold to the teaching of the apostles, but just as much it means the church is at its soul missionary.
Rev. Wedajo came to the United States and immediately began to start a new mission. From the start his goal was to identify those whom the Lord would send to be evangelists and apostle-missionaries. Why? Because that is the way church develops on a mission field. Even if Americans could not see it this apostle from Ethiopia saw clearly the church in America needed help. In decline for many years even as the population of America grew, Wedajo could see that he was on a mission field.
Alemayehu Wedajo does not call himself an apostle. I don’t know if he would accept others using that description. But he would call himself a missionary, a missionary to America.
Out of the mission he started he intentionally raised up and is training six missionaries, preparing them to leave Silver Springs and find where the Lord wants a new church to begin. Remember Paul and Barnabas? Apostles, missionaries, just what is needed for a mission field. In America, most pastors see themselves as caring for one group, a congregation they were called to serve. The congregations also sees things that way. That is how things are done in a Christian country, but not on a mission field.