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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"My Story" Tuesday: Pastor Shim Habte

Pastor Shim Habte with his wife, Mizrak

Pastor's remarkable journey led by God
People often talk of "fate" or "destiny" being in charge of their lives. People of faith, however, are more likely to see God at work, guiding them as they try to do His will. The Rev. Shim Habte, pastor of the Methodist Church in Willows, CA, certainly gives God the credit for his amazing journey.

Born in the African nation of Ethiopia and raised in the Coptic Church, an ancient branch of Orthodox Christianity that traces its founding back to chapter eight in the book of Acts where an Ethiopian army officer converted to Christianity.

Shim, as Pastor Habte prefers to be called, spent much of his childhood quite ill, suffering from anemia, fainting, migraine headaches, and digestive difficulties.

In 1968, he accepted a friend's invitation to attend a Protestant church. He was impressed by the preaching there, especially some passages from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, and Shim accepted Jesus as his savior. Soon his health improved. He even became known as something of a bodybuilder after he threw away his medications and developed an exercise regime at the local YMCA.

Shortly thereafter, he attended a Bible conference sponsored by a Swedish Lutheran group and became convinced he should begin telling others about Christ. This was the modest start of an impressive career in evangelism.

In the 10th grade, Shim started a two-year teacher training program. Upon completion he moved to a city on the border with Sudan where he taught school for a year. But in 1972, he returned to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, convinced God wanted him to preach the Gospel.

This was a perilous time for evangelism. Coptic church officials were persecuting other Christians, and unrest against the dictatorial royal Ethiopian government began to breaking. Some of Shim's friends were in prison, and he prayed for guidance.

A friend invited him to a Campus Crusade conference in California.
Although he knew no one in the United States, he accepted the challenge. He was able to get a passport, arrange a visa, and find money to travel to America. He arrived in New York City December 10, 1972, a date he will never forget. Through a divine encounter with Ethiopian women working at the United Nations, Shim was introduced to Dr. Millar, a former missionary to Ethiopia who lived in upstate New York.
Dr. Miller took Shim to a businessmen's breakfast. Hearing Shim's story, a pastor attending the event saw that God's will was for the young African to attend college. Through the help of Pastor Ernie Eskelin in Florida, Shim was able to graduate from a Christian college in Springfield, Missouri.

By this time, the Ethiopian government had been overthrown and replaced by a Communist regime. Shim expected dire consequences if he returned home then, so he renewed his student visa and continued studying, earning a master's degree in theological studies from Assemblies of God Graduate School and a master's degree in international relations from Ohio University.

This theme of God guiding Pastor Shim through the maze of life continued as he followed several careers:
- Director of a Christian school in Woodland, California
- Assemblies of God minister and associate pastor in one of the largest churches in Sacramento, California
- Evangelist across the United States and Canada for several years
- Missionary to the Caribbean island of Jamaica
- Philosophy instructor at community colleges in the Sacramento area
- Transfer ordination as an elder in the United Methodist Church
- Pastor of Methodist congregations in Arbuckle, Williams, and Gilroy, California
- Six-year pastorate at Citrus Heights, California, Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church has a tradition of "itinerant ministry," which features regular reassignment of clergy to other congregations every few years.

This process brought Pastor Shim to serve the Willows First United Methodist Church, a congregation whose history stretches back about 135 years.

The remarkable journey of Pastor Shim with all its twists and turns seems to validate his core belief: "God loves us and sustains us through difficult situations. There are no surprises to God, and he has the last word."
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