About Dr. Tibebu

At his funeral, Dr. Tibebu Haileselassie was described as “love.” This claim was made again and again – from Denver, Colorado, where he passed away, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he was laid to rest – “Tibebu was love.”  This statement reflected his godly and Christ-like character, as his life clearly exemplified God’s love towards others. People paid tribute with their memories and stories of this loving man, and some even walked away expressing their wish for a funeral like his: a celebration of life more than anything else.

Tibebu was born on September 8, 1947 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. From an early age, he was an exceptional student, winning national academic awards from Emperor Haile Selassie I and scholarships to schools like General Wingate, a prestigious school in Addis Ababa. His younger sister Mulu Emebet describes him as thoughtful and mature beyond his years, and his brother Mikre says he was wise, just like the meaning of his name.

Upon graduating from General Wingate among the top of his class, Tibebu went on to medical school at Addis Ababa University. There, he graduated with honors in 1975. Shortly thereafter, he married Lishan Agonafer and together, they moved to the Ogaden region, which borders Ethiopia and Somalia. They settled in the town of Kebri Dehar, where Tibebu served the people as a medical doctor. Although he was only required to complete one year of service, he went further and served two years in Kebri Dehar–and would have continued living and working there if he hadn’t been taken captive, along with almost four thousand Ethiopian civilians, during the Ethio-Somali War of 1977-78.

Tibebu and Lishan’s first-born daughter Emnet was one years old when her father was captured, and their second child Rekik was born the same day Tibebu was taken captive: July 24, 1977. Eleven years later, Tibebu and his family were reunited when Ethiopia and Somalia exchanged prisoners of war. Upon their release, Tibebu’s fellow prisoners testified that he had continued serving them in prison as their doctor, pastor, educator, and advocate. Tibebu’s sacrificial service under those difficult circumstances led him to be celebrated as a hero, but he purposely avoided the honors and accolades that officials wanted to bestow upon him — in order to spend more time with his family and find out God’s will for the next phase of their lives together.

Tibebu was enriched and fulfilled by his experience in Somalia, and became more passionate about working with oppressed and poor people. He got the opportunity to do this when he was miraculously offered a two-month consultancy position with UNICEF, which turned into a career of twenty years that took him and his family around the world.

Throughout his life, Tibebu’s faith was evident to family, friends, and passersby. Even when he was seriously ill, towards the end of his life, people couldn’t help but be affected by his gratitude, faith, and sense of peace through it all. It was the celebration of this life that family and friends experienced at Dr. Tibebu’s funeral.