The arrival of Norwegian Lutheran Mission (NLM) in Ethiopia in 1948 as pioneering Gospel messengers opened the way for evangelization of the local communities in SWS territorial boundaries and was the beginning of a holistic service in the Synod. The Mission launched Evangelistic and social work such as medical and education ministries. One good example is the establishment of hospitals at Gidole and Arba Minch. Following NLM came Danish Lutheran Mission and Icelandic Lutheran mission which started work in some of the districts.
The former South Ethiopia Synod which covered the whole of Southern Ethiopia was so vast that it became difficult to coordinate the holistic ministry of the Church. Therefore, it was agreed that the work of the Church in the South Western part of the country should be organized separately, and that resulted in the establishment of South West Synod. Thus, SWS was established in 1990 with its head quarter located in Arba Minch at the distance of 495 kms from Addis.
The Synod’s territorial/catchment area covers:
- South Omo - 250km
- Gamo Gofa; the area coverage is 360 km
- Wolayta 115km
- Segen Surrounding peoples zone 78km
- Mesketo special woreda 300km away from the Synod’s head quarter.
The Synod constitutes the following entities:
684 congregations and 318 outreach places, 17 parishes; 156 ordained Pastors and out of them 2 are female, 609 employed evangelists and 827 volunteer evangelists. And 589,169 members. The Synod has 352 employed workers 289 male and 63 females.
The population of SWS working area is estimated about 3.5 million and one third of the population direct beneficiaries of the Synod’s services. There are over 24 recognized ethnic groups who speak more than 26 languages and dialectics with full range of local cultures, administrative trends and social values.
As mentioned above Norwegian Lutheran Mission (Denmark Lutheran Mission and Icelandic Lutheran mission) the main founder of the synod. Having a great effort in evangelizing the people and the pioneer mission partner for establishing the first vocational school in Arba minch. So far the Mission has been working with different projects, capacity building of pastors, supporting bible schools and performing a vital role in evangelizing the people in South Omo.
The Berliner Mission work has joined the synod around its establishment, however the mission has great role especially in capacity building of pastors and in educating needy girls, in supporting water project and low cost church building from the beginning of its partnership so far.
Finish Lutheran Mission is also one of SWS partners working by sending personnel for Bible translation, supporting outreach work and collaborating with the synod in capacity building.
A Lutheran Bible translator (America) is a new mission partner who joined the Synod in 2013. Since the synod has about 24 recognized ethnic groups and 26 languages and dialects, the involvement of Lutheran Bible Translators is so important. The Mission partner is currently taking part in bible translation work and literacy work of the synod by sending personnel and financial support.
The synod is working in two outreach areas. The main outreach area is South Omo (low land) outreach area and there are more than 110,000 populations but only 4000 people became Christians or members of EECMY - SWS. The second one is the outreach area in Gofa and surrounding areas in which there are new settlers namely Salaysh and Angla people who came from different parts of the country.
In order to serve its members and the community at large, the synod has the following departments or structures:
1. Administration Department
This Department encompasses executive leaders of the Synod. It includes president, vice president, executive secretary and some other personnel who play their specific roles. They are especially responsible for initiating the key jobs of the synod based on the objective and mission of the church. They are in charge for planning, envisioning and predicting the future direction of the organization. It also requires them to follow and evaluate the total work done of the Synod.
They are also the once who execute decisions of the, Council and Board of the Synod in order to effect its implementation process. Furthermore, they are responsible for maintaining relevant communication channel be it is local, national or international. They do have another responsibility which is overseeing the leadership and stewardship of congregations, parishes and the total roles of the Synod.
2. Mission and Theology Department
Here are Department of Mission and Theology Director, Bible translation, literacy and Christian education and outreach works of the Synod.
- Responsible for the evangelization, outreach, and training centers such as Seminary, Bible schools
- Assigning evangelists, initiating the activities and educating trainers
- Follow up the enhancement of congregational growth and discipleship of the members
- Care for Synod, national and international mission activities and its dealings
- Take care of the nurturing process of the congregation activities
- Encouraging and mobilizing members of the Synod for the mission work
- Facilitating the very ground and teaching Christian ethics to the youth
- Empowering women to upgrade their lives context within the society
- Specially the leaders are responsible in forecasting and planning based on the reality of the situation of the environment in order to present advanced Biblical teachings
- Literacy work
3. Finance and Administration Department
This Department is one of the key departments which undertake the financial management of the Synod. The department comprises director, chief accountant, and accountants.
4. Development and Social Service Commission (DASSC)
On the basis of policy of the EECMY, the Synod’s DASSC is relieving some major development and social problems of the community where the synod is serving. Leaders are made up of director, project manager, planning officer, monitoring and evaluation expert and other personnel. The department is very selective in its approach and working with the community whose life situation is so dire especially when it comes to food security, potable water, and sanitation, hygiene, health care and education. Eradicating harmful traditions such as Female Genital Mutilation and HIV& ADIS control and prevention work are the major plot in which the department is actively involved. Thus in collaboration with local and international partners the synod undertakes development and social works. The intermediate objectives are more focusing on five thematic areas of SP:
Based on the SP thematic areas of intervention, currently SWS has been implementing over 15 projects and programs among which some are institution based service provision. These projects/programs can be categorized as 3 health and health related 4 education & training, 4community development/ food security, 4 WASH projects.
5.1 Youth and Children Ministry:
The section has one responsible leader who takes care of nurturing the youth and children in Christian education. In addition to that the section is expected to care for the spiritual aspects of students who are in higher institutions and universities. The leader is administratively answerable to the executive secretary and technical wise to the evangelism director.
5.2 Christian women ministry:
the section is answerable administratively to the executive secretary of the synod and technically responsible to the evangelism department. Its main mandate is taking care for the Christian women advancement in connection with Biblical teaching. The section is also accountable to physical needs such as sanitation, maternity, marriage, economic matters and etc.
5.3 Economy Development and Stewardship Office:
Following the declining of block grant and finally of stopping the established this Department.. Its major call is looking into different alternatives for financial and economic capacity building of the synod. The section follows a dynamic approach which enables it to see the current business methodologies in order to improve the status of the income of the synod. Currently the section is bringing remarkable advancement especially in the field. The Key works are implementing the tithe policy of the church.
6. Joint programs:
South West Synod has five joint programs in which it gives both social and spiritual service to the local community and congregations as well..
6.1 SWS – Arba Minch Seminary: this seminary is new and launched Sept. 2015 academic year. It served as one of the Bible schools for the last 22 years. The seminary started giving theological training in a diploma level for 3 years. It has comprised of Director, teaching staff and other supporting workers. Currently the number of students are 28, and 5 out of them are female students. The institution is an academic center in which theological, social and historical events have been thoroughly discussed. Furthermore, it is the only higher institution of the Synod in which the respective local congregations and parishes train their ministers and leaders.
6.2 Arba-Minch Mekane Yesus Vocational College: this vocational College is a center in which multi technical purposes are being performed. As stated above it is the first higher educational institution in the area. It has trained a significant number of students since its establishment. At present the College is giving trainings in Auto Mechanics and IT. Providing a genuine spare parts of cars by being a sub dealer of MOENCO. It also has Wood workshop and other income generating activities like producing hallow block. More than 45 people got job opportunity in the college and the college has been giving scholarship for 20 students every year.
6.3 Mekane Yesus Future Hope Academy
This project is purely secular in its academic career aiming to provide quality education to the community around. It is working under the policy of the Ministry Education. Its building construction has been supported by volunteering Teachers and students from Norway. By now it enrolled about 620 students from kindergarten to 8th grade. Grades 9th and 10th will be started by next academic year. 11th and 12th grades will be opened there after. By now the school has 26 workers both teachers and office workers.
6.4 Parish Bible schools: there are five local Bible schools. Namely, Arbaminch, Gofa, Jinka,Gerese and Gidole parish bible schools. Among them two are 2nd and four are 1st year Bible schools. The total number of students in these by this academic year is 199. Among them 18 are female students.
6.5. Gidole and Turmi Hostel supported by KNH, by now more than 150 students getting support.
7. Unity and Vision Sharing Approach
The initiation was started by the Synod leaders in August 2010. The main objective of the project was to maintain close relationship between congregations and the Synod. It was assumed that the technical approach can pave ways in order to enhance the preaching of the gospel and introduce the vision of the church at all levels. Practically, it created good effect on facilitating mechanisms to render the idea of self-supporting approach, vision of the church (EECMY) at large. Moreover, the new approach is found as an impressive technique in adjusting two ways of communication channel among the leadership and local congregations. In order to fulfill the vision, 17 great assemblies (conferences) have been conducted in which over 120,000 people participated. And from the gatherings more than 300,000ETB collected for evangelism.
8. Major challenges of the synod
- Shortage of Human power with regard to the growth of the synod
- Interest of split following the ethnic diversity and personal wish.
- Lack of understanding among the members in implementing the church vision.