The Mursi people live in one of the least accessible areas of Ethiopia. When a British anthropologist visited them for the first time in the early 1970s, they had never heard of the country of Ethiopia where they lived. While the Mursi are isolated from the rest of the world, many of them carry guns like AK-47s. Neighboring peoples like the Banna and the Bodi threaten them by raiding their prized cattle. The Mursi generally reciprocate such cattle raids.
The Mursi live in the Omo Valley in southwestern Ethiopia. Their territory is hedged in by three rivers and a mountain range, making them one of the most isolated people groups in Ethiopia.
The Mursi are survivors whose isolated geographic location, combined with the crises of drought, famine, war, migration, and epidemic diseases has shaped their identity. Cattle raids and civil instability between bordering ethnic groups is merely a means of survival.
Every aspect of daily life revolves around cattle and crops, which set the economic standard among the Mursi. When they trade in the market, crops and cattle are exchanged as money.
When a young Mursi girl reaches the age of 15 or 16, her lower lip is pierced so she can wear a lip plate. The larger the lip plate she can tolerate, the more cattle her bride price will bring for her father.
As one of the most remote people groups in Ethiopia, the Mursi have remained relatively autonomous from the Ethiopian government. They alternate between peaceful and hostile relations with their neighbors, the Bodi and the Banna.
In the mid-1980s, the Ethiopian government gave SIM permission to build a road into the remote Mursi area to establish work among them. Since that time, SIM has served among the Mursi through evangelism, teaching and curriculum development, health care, agriculture programs, water development and animal husbandry. One SIM missionary’s veterinary ministry has been especially effective because he can care for the cows that the Mursi prize and depend on.
Three SIM missionary couples currently live among the Mursi. After 14 years of building relationships, the first Mursi became a believer. Others have followed, and the church is beginning to grow. Missionaries continue to pray and build relationships with this remote people group who is known and loved by God. To help reach the Mursi and other groups in Ethiopia, SIM works side-by-side with the Kale Heywet Church (KHC), an association of over 7,000 congregations.
At present, audio recordings of the gospel exist. In partnership with SIL, SIM has recorded the JESUS video (or DVD) in the Mursi/Suri languages. SIL has also completed a translation of Luke's gospel. In addition, translation of the book of Jonah was recently completed, the first whole book in the Mursi Bible.