Peace Lutheran Church parishioners have opened their hearts and wallets to reunite Ethiopian refugee Bishop Teshome Deingede with his family.

Peace Lutheran Church parishioners have opened their hearts and wallets to reunite Ethiopian refugee Bishop Teshome Deingede with his family.

Deingede came to the United States in July 2001, leaving behind his wife and six children in Nekamte, Ethiopia.

"I was being persecuted by the current government for being a voice for the voiceless people," he said.

In March 2004 a student uprising occurred, and he voiced support for students and teachers who were being detained, beaten and imprisoned for protesting torture and abuse. Deingede received a call from his secretary at home, encouraging him not to go to work because authorities were searching for him.

"That is why I ran away," Deingede said. "Since that day I haven't seen my family."

He said he moved to Columbus because his brother lives here. For the past four-and-a-half years he has been sending money to Ethiopia to support his family and has been working to have his family join him. When he needed $6,700 for the airfare, his Peace Lutheran congregation opened their wallets.

The Rev. Kai Nilsen, Peace Lutheran lead pastor, said after Deingede started attending Peace Lutheran, they had a conversation. He brought up Deingede's plight during a staff meeting. Through church connections, parishioners contacted U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Genoa Township), who was able to get through some of the red tape.

Deingede's family arrived at Dulles Airport on Dec. 19. On Dec. 21 the family attended church services at Peace Lutheran to formally greet and thank the congregation. He has two sons and two daughters, ages 22, 21, 19 and 14, and two adopted children with whom he has yet to be reunited.

It is not possible to adequately describe how grateful he is to Peace Lutheran members, Deingede said.

"It is hard to convey in words what they have done," he said.

Nilsen said Deingede shared his story with parishioners over the Thanksgiving weekend, and he was overwhelmed by the response. One family gave $1,000, and some young people each gave $1.

"Each gave according to their own means," he said. "The community rallied around something to see the impossible. It was very inspiring."

For three years, Deingede said, he would take two steps forward and one step back in his quest to join his family.

It has been a remarkable journey, Nilsen said.

Officials still are working to bring his two adopted children, ages 26 and 11. The Ethiopian government has been giving his wife a hard time, Deingede said.

"They never gave her clear information what they required," he said.

Trinity Lutheran Seminary provided the family with an apartment in Bexley. His Peace Lutheran family provided the furnishing for the apartment.

Deingede already has been ordained in the Lutheran Church and is seeking a job.

tstubbs@thisweeknews.com