It is the 28th of July 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1979.
Of all the years in the late 20th century, this may have been one of the more important. Today we will look at a few cultural highlights from the year, a few very significant political events, and finally, the disappearance and death of the man known as the “African Bonhoeffer.”
Americans would have likely heard of the bands The Clash and The Dire Straits, but no American could have claimed to have seen them in person in the USA before this year. The Clash toured the states for the first time with their “London Calling” album. The Dire Straits toured the US for the first time in support of their album “Communique.”
Several movie franchises began in 1979. The first “Alien” movie, as well as the first “Star Trek,” was released this year. While the franchises would be successful and entertaining, these two movies are about as slow and plodding as Stanley Kubrick’s snooze fest “2001: A Space Odyssey.” While we might forgive 40-year-old space movies for boring us to tears, please remember that the original “Star Wars” had already been released.
The top-grossing movie of the year was the original “Superman” with Christopher Reeves. This is the one where Superman somehow flies backward around the earth, reversing time, and saving Lois Lane. There’s also something about an earthquake.
While it was all disco and yacht rock in 1979, a few glimmers of hope shone through on the music scene. Joy Division released their “Unknown Pleasures,” the B52s released their debut self-titled album, Tom Petty had “Damn the Torpedoes,” and the Talking Heads released their “Fear of Music.”
The Cold War was moving along in fits and spurts. Brezhnev and Carter agreed to the SALT II Accords, which was the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, part 2. However, this treaty, which would have limited the numbers of new nuclear missiles, was never signed by Carter as the Soviets would soon invade Afghanistan.
As the two superpowers dealt with failed excursions in the Middle East as well as high oil prices and inflation, some countries began to make a move towards self-determination. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein came to power as a moderate, secular Muslim while in Iran Ayatollah Khomeini returned and helped begin the revolution that led to the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In South America, the Sandinista’s took power in Nicaragua from the dictatorship of the Somoza dynasty. In Africa, Idi Amin, the butcher of the Ugandans, was pushed out of control by the neighboring Tanzanian army. In Southern Africa, the region known as Rhodesia, a one-time British colony named after Cecil Rhodes, was taken back by the natives who renamed the area Zimbabwe.
Ethiopia had been one of the few African nations that rebuffed European colonizers in the scramble for Africa. The Ethiopian emperor Hailie Selassie ran a controversial, but decidedly internationalist regime for an African country. However, he was overthrown in 1974 by the Derg, an Ethiopian Communist organization backed by the USSR.
The Derg was opposed to organized religion, and this would cause a problem for the large Ethiopian Christian population.
One of the most important Ethiopian Christians was Gudina Tumsa, an African Pastor born in 1929. He grew up with a familiar blend of folk religion and Christianity but became convinced of the exclusive truth claims of Christianity while at school. He went on to work as a gardener at a local hospital when he was asked to become a translator. He gained the attention of a few missionaries as a bright and pious young man. He was given a scholarship to seminary in Africa and was able to attend Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he earned a degree in 1966. He was deeply moved by the theologies of Reinhold Niebuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as Martin Luther King Jr.
Tumsa argued for a holistic gospel that not only offered the forgiveness of sins but also worked towards bringing the kingdom of God to fruition on earth. While his spiritual goals had physical components, he was keen not to let nationalism or ideology shape his theology. He claimed that both of those must take a back seat to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It was on this day, the 28th of July, in 1979, that Gudina Tumsa was teaching Sunday school at a church in Addis Ababa. Upon leaving the church, Tumsa was kidnapped and never seen again. After the Derg was overthrown in the 1980s, it was confirmed that Tumsa had been strangled to death. The Atheist Junta knew that this popular pastor and theologian who refused to bow the knee to ideology was dangerous. Gudina Tumsa has since become a symbol in the African church for steadfastness and pastoral care. Born in 1929, Gudina Tumsa disappeared on this day in 1979. He was 50 years old.
The reading for today comes from an African church father. This is Athanasius, from his “On the Incarnation.”
“Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of July 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by noted Crumbacher enthusiast Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.