A Leopard Among the Bannas
His name means leopard, but after 50 years of ministry in southwestern Ethiopia, he would rather be known as "Mahari"—merciful. Now in his eighties, Mahay earns 300 birr (less than $40) a month as an itinerant evangelist in this hot and rugged land.
Ethiopia, one of the world's oldest surviving kingdoms, is also one of its proudest. It holds the distinction of being the only African nation never to have been colonized (except briefly, during 1936-41, by Mussolini's Italy; Liberia also escaped colonization but was founded in 1822 by Americans). Its heritage stretches from figures such as the Queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon and is said to have had a son by him, to Emperor Haile Selassie, whose League of Nations address in 1936 stands as one of the great moments in twentieth-century political rhetoric.
Ethiopia's 440,000-square mile landscape is similarly mythic. The Semien mountains rise to 15,000 feet in the north, descending through hundreds of coffee plantations to rivers, waterfalls, and lakes, and stretching out into a blistering hot southern terrain that can scarcely be farmed.
In the extreme southwest, near the intersection of the Kenyan, Sudanese, and Ethiopian borders, is the Gamu Goffa region—home of the Bannas, a dangerous pagan people that became Mahay Choramo's riskiest mission.
Wineskins old and new
Mahay lives in Soddo, a sprawling town halfway between the capital city of Addis Ababa and Gamu Goffa, smack in the middle of the Ethiopian highlands. He is elderly and tired but still active, having refused a comfortable retirement. Instead, he persists in his calling as an evangelist and mercy-worker. He knows that despite a burgeoning evangelical movement in southern Ethiopia, there is still great poverty, suffering, ...