Religion ghost? Ethiopian refugee thrives with strong values, family and maybe something else

Every now and then, I get a letter from a reader that is rather poignant. It's like this person is reading a good story in the local newspaper and then there is a passage that produces a kind of melancholy feeling, a sense of curiosity and loss.

Was there a religion ghost hiding somewhere in the story? Would anyone else read this news report and feel the same way? Would other readers have the same suspicion that there was crucial religious material missing?

So the reader sends me the URL to the story, often with a note that reads something like this:

Numerous media outlets have published stories about Oromo Ethiopian refugee Tashitaa Tufaa's success in the US. ... As a Greek Orthodox when I read the article I was curious as to whether his religion -- Christian or Islam -- had any effect on him. I reviewed many of similar articles. Religion was never mentioned.

In this case we are dealing with a story from the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The double-decker headline proclaims, success-story style:

Minneapolis/St. Paul transit entrepreneur Tashitaa Tufaa is Entrepreneur of the Year
Tashitaa Tufaa, who built a $12 million school bus service in just a decade, is the Metropolitan Economic Development Association's 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year

Simply stated, this is a business story about -- from all accounts -- a remarkable man:

Tashitaa Tufaa, whose walk to school in his native Ethiopia was a 10-mile round trip in bare feet, now sees to the safe transit of thousands of schoolchildren daily as president and CEO of Fridley-based Metropolitan Transportation Network Inc.
After starting 10 years ago with just a taxi and his wife's minivan, Tufaa has built the school transit firm into a growing company with more than 200 employees, nearly 300 buses and more than $12 million in revenue last year.
That success, and the hard work and humility with which he has achieved it, have helped earn Tufaa recognition as the 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA).

There are key words that keep showing up in the various news reports, words like "values," "family," "humility" and references to his unique business practices, like strong beliefs against going into debt.

This passage from the Star-Tribune report is typical and, I suspect, one of the passages that inspired this GetReligion reader to send in the URL:

Tufaa arrived in Minneapolis as a refugee in 1992 and began studying political science at the University of Minnesota. His first job here was as a hotel dishwasher. He began driving buses while he was a student and continued on nights and weekends as he worked for a school district and then for the city of Minneapolis.
He decided to start Metropolitan Transportation Network after he lost the city job. The work combines his love of the Twin Cities metro area with his deep knowledge of its roads and neighborhoods.
Metropolitan Transportation Network began providing bus service to Beacon Academy Charter School in Maple Grove several years ago, after the previous provider went out of business in the middle of the school year, principal Jordan Ford said. About 300 of the school's 423 students ride the company's buses each day.
"One of the things that I liked about him was that his handshake was his word," Ford said. "Tashitaa is very responsive. We've watched his company grow and yet he's been able to stay close to his mission of serving the student."

Tufaa requires his drives to focus on student safety and the needs of individual families. Drivers wait, when dropping children off, for adults to meet them or for the child to safely get inside their homes.

Let me stress that I know that these are not inherently "religious values." Secular entrepreneurs can care about families and children, too. I get that.

But if you know something about Ethiopia and refugees from that complex land, it is hard not to join our reader in wondering about the generic "political" issues that brought this man to America. He could be an Orthodox Christian, a Muslim or a believer in the tribal faith common in his homeland.

Would it help readers to know the faith component here, if there is one (which, I agree, seems likely)? I read several other stories about this man, as well as watching the video piece at the top of this post. More silence on the religion front.

Now, it does appear clear (if you read elsewhere) that Oromo organizations in this region have worked hard to prevent separations based on faith. It's possible that Tufaa was asked, but has chosen not to talk about, the religious tradition in his past (and perhaps his present).

Thus, you keep running into passages such as this one, from a Volunteers Of America feature:

Employees marvel at his ability to grow the business without sacrificing his values.
“When I joined everything all I was hearing was, ‘We want to be more like a family,’” said Charles Marks, an assistant transportation manager at the company. “We kept that tradition and that makes the drivers come back every year. I always keep an empty chair next to my desk for anyone who wants to come and talk.”

Now, I hope that a few GetReligion readers will take the time to read the Star-Tribune article for themselves. Do you share our reader's concerns?

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