“No! Not another one! Not yet!”
Sister T had watched her brother die from complications of HIV. Another brother and sister were battling HIV too. As their immune systems lost the ability to fight off infection, her brother contracted pneumonia, her sister lymphoma.
Her brother took his last breath. T slowly walked down the hall to tell her sister, who was overwhelmed with pain. The next day her sister also died. Three siblings gone in the same week!
T worked as a nurse in a hospital in Ethiopia. “I could barely make my feet move across the floor,” she said. “I tried to focus on my patients, but they had become room numbers—1, 2…—instead of human beings. Depression grabbed hard onto my body and into my soul. Then a friend gave me a Bible.”
Every time she read the Bible she felt better. “A warmth came over me and I felt peace—even joy,” T recalled. “In 2003 I decided to ask Jesus to be Lord and Savior of my life. Immediately I felt compelled to tell my family and co-workers of the freedom I was experiencing.”
Her co-workers complained, and in a scene reminiscent of the New Testament, she was brought in for questioning…by the priests.
The church in Ethiopia
Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity dominates the religious landscape of the country. The church claims to date back to the first century, when Philip the evangelist explained the gospel to and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26–40). Nearly 2,000 years later, the Ethiopian church has its own patriarch (similar to a pope) and bishops.
Church leaders tend to emphasize good works and liturgical ritual, to the detriment of a message of salvation through personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Priests exercise enormous power and often speak authoritatively for their communities. Followers observe specific dietary laws, rules for communion, and fast days (as many as 250 days a year).
Those who believe in salvation by grace and simple faith in Jesus Christ, called “Reformers” in Ethiopia, are treated as cult followers and warned to come back to their Orthodox tradition, which is inextricably tied up with their Ethiopian identity. Community leaders come down hard on those who don’t heed the warnings. Such Christians have lost jobs, been separated from their children, and been divorced because of their decision to follow Jesus outside the Ethiopian traditions. However, some say “yes” to Jesus regardless of the consequences.
Questioned and pressured by the religious authorities, T stood firm: “I will not deny my faith! What do you know about Christ and being born again?”
The priests could not change T’s mind, so they demanded that her family convince her of the error of her ways. When they did not succeed, they kidnapped her three children and gave them T’s sister to raise. They even made her pay custody!
Today, T does not have a home—she stays with friends—and her children are not with her. Yet she is not discouraged and her faith has not wavered.
And her family? She lost three siblings and then was rejected by the rest of her family. But one relative responded differently to the change in T’s life: at the age of 91 her father became a believer. T prays that the remaining family members and her children will see this too and want it for themselves.
“I lost everything but Jesus. I discovered Jesus is enough.”
T’s true name and photo are withheld for her protection.