Oromo Congregation Growing in Portland

February 01, 2021 | Church | Gemedi Geleto

Many Northwest Adventists have spent much of their lives in this corner of the United States. However, for a handful of church members, the Pacific Northwest is anything but familiar. It’s a land more than 8,500 miles from their birthplace. 

The Oromo people are a Cushitic ethnic group and nation native to Ethiopia and Kenya who speak the Oromo language. They are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia and represent 34.5% of Ethiopia's population.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, Oromos are form a very small ethnic community. The few Oromo Adventists who live in and around Portland do all they can to connect with each other and reach out to fellow Oromo immigrants locally as well as across the U.S. One way they do this is by holding an Oromo camp meeting every two years. 

In 2018, nearly 400 Oromo refugees and immigrants from Ethiopia packed a rented Baptist church in northeast Portland, Oregon, one hot summer Sabbath. The poor air conditioning did not deter people from participating in the annual convocation. They came from Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and Portland. Some were Adventists. Many were not. Youth, young adults and more than 100 children joined the congregation for the "Love at Home" convocation.

The event's theme focused on building and maintaining healthy relationships, dating, courtship, marriage and family laws in their newly adopted country. North America Division and North Pacific Union Conference pastors provided training and workshops. An Adventist physician from Los Angeles spoke on family health issues that impact Oromo refugees and immigrants in North America.

By the end of the convocation, many non-Adventists refugees and immigrants appreciated the family training. Their children were blessed by the program. These guests expressed their interest in coming back and attending another convocation.    

Sadly, the 2020 Oromo Adventist Convocation was canceled due to COVID-19. This did not stop the congregation from reaching out to Oromo immigrants and refugees community in Portland. While mass incarceration and murder were happening in Ethiopia in 2020 due to political unrest, hundreds of Oromo community members gathered together in downtown Portland to mourn lives lost and pray for prisoners back in Ethiopia. The Oromo Church was invited and was there to support those grieving and pray for the safety and speedy release of all who were unjustly imprisoned.   

When the Oromo Adventist Church was closed due to COVID-19, members quickly adapted to meeting using Zoom videoconferecing. The young people of the Portland church are also recording sermons and sharing them online.

Sharing the recorded sermons has opened an opportunity to share the good news of the gospel with Ethiopian refugees and immigrants in Australia, United Arab Emirates, Europe and other countries. On average, each video has more than 2,000 views. Many of the viewers express gratitude for the online sermons and share how God used the sermons to encourage them to return to church after a very long separation. In addition, many who live in areas where Christian churches are not allowed stated that they felt they were connected to a church family after watching these online sermons. 

The Oromo Adventist congregation also has been hosting daily one-hour prayer sessions during the pandemic where both members and non-Seventh-day Adventist community members participate. Medical professionals provide education to the congregation about COVID-19 to reduce transmission and minimize mental health and other impacts that may result from the pandemic.     

There are many challenges that limit ministry of the Oromo congregation, but by God’s grace none of these limitations have stopped members from sharing the Three Angels’ Messages. The congregation plans to build its own church to mitigate negative ministry impact due to multiple relocations from one rental church facility to another. Additionally, they would like to purchase a multimedia equipment so they can record and share professionally produced gospel videos.

Having their own church building will allow them to advance many ministries such as refugee tutorial and orientation programs, multimedia ministry, family ministry, and cooking and health seminars. 

The Oromo members give sacrificially to purchase or build a church. So far, they have donated about $240,000 to the church building fund and have pledged to give until they reach their goal of $1.5 million. They ask their North Pacific Union Conference brothers and sisters to pray for them as they continue to serve the immigrants and refugees in the Portland metro area and beyond.