Here I am: send me
By Mercy Kambura
Tibarek Wondimu serves biscuits and tea with a beautiful smile. Her kids linger nearby, laughing and demanding cookies. She’s particularly happy today because her husband arrived in the morning from South Sudan.
Our picture of Tibarek is ‘a gentle and quiet spirit,’ but behind her calm demeanor is a seasoned missionary who’s turning the world upside down by reaching out to the women of South Sudan.
God made me see that He can use us — women. He can give us strength and ideas if we rely on him.
Her commitment has come at a hefty price.
She says, “I love God. I want to serve God. I have a desire to share the good news.”
When Tibarek and her husband Yacob Aga felt God’s call to be missionaries, she did what she believed is the very backbone of missions – she prayed. And she asked for prayer from family and friends.
God opened doors for them to join SIM, and the newlyweds packed their bags for South Sudan to work among the Dinka and the Shilluk.
Bearing the heat, diseases and a brick wall of a language barrier, they served God among the Dinka. For four years, they taught the Bible, discipled, baptised and planted churches. They built a hospital, a school and boreholes for the village. They catered to the physical and spiritual needs of the Dinka in Atar, a remote village along the Upper Nile.
Though trials should come
Then one night, disaster swept into camp. Years’ worth of work, pain, tears and toil burned to the ground in a raid from a neighbouring ethnic group.
Tibarek and Yacob escaped narrowly. They evacuated to Yabus, a village at the border of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Despite the trauma and deep sorrow for the destroyed work, they continued ministering to the Sudanese for six months. One evening, Yacob complained he wasn’t feeling well. The following morning, cerebral malaria took him home to glory. Heartbroken, Tibarek returned to Ethiopia with her husband’s body. Yacob Aga was the first Ethiopian missionary to die on foreign soil.
The cross before, the world behind
Tibarek went on to enroll in a mission school in Ethiopia. God brought to her a godly man named Getachew Tsegaye, and together they returned to South Sudan. At their new base in Doro, 160,000 households were settled into four refugee camps, hosting 19 different tribes.
In 2013, they established a church under a tree for the Jumjum people.
Tibarek immersed herself in discipling eight women under that tree. She brewed Ethiopian coffee and helped do their hair, blending in with the community. As the group grew, so did her belly. Soon, she left for maternity leave.
Co-worker Asule Angami from North East India took over the discipleship group. When Tibarek returned, Asule had multiplied the group from 8 to 35 women!
Next, Tibarek reached out to women from the Burun tribe that practices Islam mixed with traditionalism. Tibarek and Getachew planted a church in the community.
Preaching was unacceptable, so Tibarek started using the Bible as a tool to teach the alphabet to women, since the majority are illiterate. She also taught skills such as crocheting. As they worked, the women listened to the audio Bible. The group started to grow.
In 2016, with rising insecurity and now with two children, she had to leave again. She handed the group over to Sarah, a Sudanese woman whom she had discipled. Today, the group is going strong under Sarah’s leading.
Godly leaders such as Tibarek of Ethiopia, Asule of North East India and Sarah of South Sudan — each one discipled by someone in her own past — know that when women meet in groups like this, transformation happens.
Fields are white and harvest’s waiting
Tibarek and the children relocated to Nairobi, Kenya, while her husband continues travelling to South Sudan to minister. But relocating was not a ticket to stop spreading the gospel.
Tibarek now befriends South Sudanese women in Nairobi, conducting weekly Bible study and prayer. She also attends a South Sudanese church and teaches twice a month.
She says, “I would initially think I’m not doing much; I was just following my husband. But the Lord opened my eyes and I realized I can also play a bigger role. God made me see that He can use us — women. He can give us strength and ideas if we rely on him.”
When Getachew speaks of his wife’s mission work, his face lights up. He’s clearly a proud husband.
“If we’re not praying, we can’t get success or fruit for our labour,” says Tibarek. “We need power and strength, and that comes from prayer.”
Adversity has pushed her out of comfort zones and out of difficult mission assignments.
As a missionary, she has also experienced nearly every status a woman can have — married and single, not having children and having them. She maintains that ministry is right where you find yourself.
“I’m a wife and mother. My family is also my ministry. But while I’m here, there’s so much I can do. I can pray. I’m lucky I have a good husband who’s supporting me in every way.”
Getachew agrees with her. He says, “Women were the first witnesses and preachers about Jesus’ resurrection. The prayer group in Mark’s mother’s house was made up of women. Even in the mission field, women are more receptive to the gospel, and they, in turn, preach to their husbands. We need women to reach women where men can’t.”
Tibarek (far right) with her women’s discipleship group in South Sudan.