The door opened. The guards pushed another body into the 10 by 16 cell, bringing the number of prisoners to 75. Gut-wrenching, desperate cries emitted from the men as they rearranged themselves on the rocky floor. They leaned against one another, each napping on another’s shoulders when they could — they never slept for long. A bucket of urine occupied one area surrounded by plastic bags filled with vomit and excrement. Guards dropped food through a small window near the ceiling. Lice, ticks, and bedbugs feasted on the men, who scratched incessantly, developing open, infected sores. Grown men, hardened criminals, mournfully wailed for relief and trembled in fear.
A man named Tilahun Goshu sat among them.
Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church attempted to silence Tilahun for pointing out non-biblical practices and teachings in their religious system. When their tactics didn’t work, the spiritual and governmental leaders sent him to jail. It plunged him into the worst situation he had ever found himself in.
Tilahun told me that he could not control his circumstances but he could choose his reaction. He leaned on his relationship with Jesus and never doubted His faithfulness or character. Galatians 2:20 became real — “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
He made it his goal to become a living example of Jesus, even in those tight, wretched conditions. He entertained the other prisoners with Bible stories, hugged those he could reach, and prayed for those who were sick. “My face felt warm like it radiated Christ. I was joyful and happy.”
Some of the men asked him how he could be so calm and helpful to others. He shared his story of reading and rereading the Bible, discovering the truth of God’s love. He told them about his own journey and explained what it meant to follow Jesus.
With each passing day more and more of the inmates wanted God’s peace, salvation, and promise of eternal life. Tilahun’s unwavering faith drew unlikely souls to God.
Tilahun says of this time, “It was beautiful. Instead of falling, my spirit soared! I felt the Holy Spirit hovering over me all the time. The prison took away my physical comforts, but it never crushed my spirit!”
Every Christian Faces Opposition
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Everyone who publicly lives as a committed Christian will face resistance from unbelievers. Our reaction to this opposition is our choice.
“My spirit still rejoices!” says Tilahun. “Whenever I think back on my imprisonment, I am amazed at God’s grace during that time. God revealed Himself to me in a special way. I felt honored and free!”
Like Tilahun, let us be more intentional and bold in our walk with the Lord. We can’t change our circumstances, but we can choose how we react to them.
Hear the rest of Tilahun’s story on the ANM Podcast: “Coming to Faith in Ethiopia” (January 13, 2021)