by Kathy Harless
“We left a church in Ethiopia.” Ray Giles wrote in tears in late 1977, yet a quiet victory filled his heart. His family and other Christian Missionary Fellowship missionaries had been hastily evacuated in the spring with the advent of a strong Marxist government.
For nine years before that, Ray and Effie Giles worked alongside teammates in evangelizing, educating, and planting churches among the unreached Oromo and Gumuz peoples. Ray’s greatest concern was whether they had prepared the new and maturing Christians for the persecution that lay ahead. Yet, a church was being forged in Ethiopia in a way that could not have happened with missionaries present.
Sharing the gospel had required fluency in Amharic, the national language, as well as in the Oromo and Gumuz languages. Ray demonstrated a gift for language, but he always coupled that with hard work in learning not just words but how to communicate with the hearer. An able teacher, he trained new Christians and new church leaders in the basics of Scripture and evangelism, and began translating the Bible into the local language.
Effie believed her ministry was in supporting her husband. Because they lived in primitive circumstances, a good deal of her time was spent in maintaining a livable home. But Effie’s effectiveness in women’s ministry was visible through her interest and tenderness in relationships. Many women came to know the Savior out of everyday conversations.
FROM VIRGINIA TO ETHIOPIA
During their growing-up years in a small southwestern Virginia town, Ray and Effie attended school and church together, and then married as teens. Since both of their fathers were farmers, they were expected to follow that path. Yet, godly parents instilled in them a desire to follow God’s path above all. Little did they know they would be more than farmers; God would call them to be international harvesters.
As newlyweds, they went off to Milligan College for schooling with no money and only a few possessions. Ministry began in Elizabethton, Tennessee, followed by service in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and Greenville, North Carolina. God also blessed them with four children—Deni, Donna, Jerry, and David. Ray’s preaching increasingly focused on missions and on building a missions program.
Then one day, the Giles met Doug Priest Sr. and his wife, Marge. The Priests came all the way from Oregon to the church in North Carolina to raise support as CMF missionaries for a new team in Ethiopia. Ray and Effie’s hearts were stirred by the needs in that faraway country. They too decided to go.
INVOLVED IN WORLD MISSION
Several years later, after their rapid departure from Ethiopia, the Giles family had an overriding conviction that God was not finished with them in his world mission. Ray researched places to serve in East Africa for CMF and entered Wycliffe’s Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL)—invaluable experience for tribal situations where there is no language school or written language.
Upon seeing that Ethiopia would not soon reopen, Ray and Effie accepted the invitation to become part of the CMF home office in Indianapolis. Ray took to his roles in recruitment and in overseeing fields, church planting, and new entries. Effie encouraged missionaries, recruits, and friends through her dual ministries of letter writing and fervent prayer. Their children were off to college and getting married.
Missionaries gladly received advice and guidance from Ray because they knew he understood much about their ministry. Recruits found the Giles’s advice to be practical and grace-filled. Many doors opened because of Ray’s research. CMF began work among the Turkana and Maasai of Kenya, as well as radio outreach to Ethiopia. Indonesia, Tanzania, and urban ministry in Mexico, Chile, and Great Britain tripled CMF’s outreach.
In 1984, Ray and Effie traveled to Kenya to witness God at work among unreached tribal people. While there, Ray employed what he had learned at SIL to develop teaching materials for the preliterate, nomadic Turkana. He devised 10 symbols that could teach the gospel, be memorized, and be reproduced in the sand of the Turkana desert. That method is still used today.
In late 1984, Food for the Hungry (FHI) asked the Giles to give a year to famine relief in Ethiopia. After days of intense prayer, Ray and Effie realized they needed to go. Although the work was exhausting and heartbreaking, there were joyous but cautious reunions with some Christians from the area they ministered in before. Lives were saved through their relief efforts with FHI, but when their role was completed in 1986, Ray and Effie wearily returned to the U.S., to CMF.
BACK TO AFRICA AND HOME AGAIN
Then, in May 1991, the Marxist government in Ethiopia fell, opening the door for CMF—for Ray and Effie—to return the following year. After establishing CMF’s work once again with government agencies, the Giles renewed ties with believers and eventually moved to the area they left in 1977. There, they found that from the 4,000 Christians of the ’70s, the church had grown to 30,000 believers through the fire of persecution.
Ministry resumed, grew, new team members joined them, the church developed, fellowship intensified, and team members were trained to take their place. So, after seven years, Ray and Effie knew God was calling them back to the U.S.
Although the Gileses officially retired to East Tennessee, they didn’t really. They have made many trips to Ethiopia to encourage the Christians, as well as continuing correspondence and e-mails with national leaders. They have become a steadfast part of the Lone Oak Christian Church and its global outreach. Living close to Milligan College and Emmanuel School of Religion, Ray and Effie have fostered relationships with and inspired students toward missions, shared about evangelism and church planting in a cross-cultural context, taught Amharic, and laid a foundation for a new team of CMF church planters in Ethiopia.
All four of their children and their spouses have served or are serving as missionaries in Africa. David is currently CMF’s director for church planting, a role similar to his dad’s of two decades ago. Grandchildren are active in ministries and missions, and providing great-grandchildren. Soon grandson Marshal Giles, wife Rachel, and their two young sons will join the CMF team in Ethiopia.
STILL PLANTING AND HARVESTING
Right now, Ray and Effie are engaged in a new challenge: Ray has pancreatic cancer. His doctor recently remarked, “Medical students are taught a lot about the body, but know little about communicating bad news or the impact of spirituality on patients. It is obvious there is something different in your life. Would you be willing to be interviewed about your spirituality and its impact on you? We want to use what we learn to teach our medical students.”
These spiritual farmers are still planting and harvesting. Ray and Effie are pressing on to finish and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”
Kathy Harless is a staff writer for Christian Missionary Fellowship International, Indianapolis, Indiana.