Our church team returned home from a joy-filled trip to Ethiopia, where we met with orphans and single parents with HIV/AIDS. We also spent time with the local social workers employed by Food for the Hungry (FH), who regularly look after them.
Travel in a foreign country – especially in rural Africa – presents Americans with unique thrills and challenges. Our guide was Kebede Lulie, who manages marketing and communications for FH/Ethiopia.
We landed in Addis Ababa and met Kebede at the airport. He did many things to relieve our fears and help with our cultural awkwardness. He created an in-country “survival guide” for our team, told us what we could safely eat, and tirelessly served as translator.
He used humor and hugs to quickly establish connections with the orphans we visited. He negotiated the price of our souvenirs and helped us find bottled water and bathrooms. He even taught us to write our names in Amharic.
But none of those things compared to the way Kebede inspired us spiritually. Crushingly poor as a child, Kebede grew up very faithful to the national Orthodox church. One day, his sister had a transforming encounter with the living Christ, and told him she had found Jesus.
Soon Kebede was determined to find Jesus as well, searching constantly for something more than ritual. Eventually, Kebede came to faith in Christ at the age of 17, during the dark period of the communist Derg regime in Ethiopia.
Six months later, he was imprisoned and tortured for his new faith and his refusal to violate the Bible at a communist youth meetings. For more than a year, he suffered physical and emotional abuse, cut off from his family and education.
After his release, he tried to re-enter school, but faced imprisonment again. Unwilling to compromise his faith, Kebede paid a price that few of us in the West ever dream of—but having Jesus meant that nothing could break him or defeat him.
Today, Kebede is a well-educated, happy, spirit-filled family man with a full life. His early years of suffering influence everything he does today. Whether it’s explaining to an orphan that he also went hungry and knows the child’s pain, or celebrating the progress his beloved Ethiopia is making to overcome poverty.
Most of all, Kebede is “not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” His faith lived out before the orphans and widows inspired us.
I want to leave you with one last portrait of our new friend. On our first full day in Zeway, we all sat down to lunch at the hotel and started practicing songs we thought we might sing at worship with the FH social workers.
Kebede then sang a short worship song in Amharic. A few minutes later, Kebede left the table to talk to an Ethiopian man trying to drown his sorrows in beer. The man asked Kebede to come outside and explain God to him, because he was planning to go to the lake to drown himself.
Kebede patiently encouraged and exhorted this man with the gospel, and finally prayed over him, telling him to come back any time that week to speak some more. Here is a photo of that moment.
The desperate man, whom Kebede counseled, laid his own hands on Kebede’s head to bless him, too. All of us from Hope in Ethiopia wish to pray blessings over Kebede as well. Thanks be to God for His provision of godly men and women — Kebede, every FH social worker, nurse, staff member, driver, architect and secretary — who stand with us to care for orphans and widows in their distress in Zeway.
Blog written by Ellen Tuthill from Grace Covenant Church, Austin, Texas.