Kebede, front left, kneeling, with the team and other FH staff at site of the new office and library

Kebede, front left, kneeling, with team members and FH staff at site of the new office and library

On Sunday, our team returned home from a joy-filled trip to Ethiopia, where we met with orphans and single parents with HIV/AIDS, whom this ministry sponsors.  We also spent time with the local social workers employed by Food for the Hungry, who regularly look after them.  Travel in a foreign country – especially in rural Africa – presents Americans with unique thrills and challenges.  Our guide through all of these was Kebede Workineh Lule, who manages Marketing and Communications for Food for the Hungry Ethiopia.   We were very attached to his predecessor, Markos, and when we learned Markos was not to be our guide for this trip, I lamented.  Markos responded by saying simply, “Kebede is a very godly man.”  But I struggled to trust God that this new person could take care of a team from Grace CC as well as Markos had.

So, still apprehensive, 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.

Kebede translating Tara's presentation of the gospel bracelets

Kebede translating Tara’s presentation of the gospel bracelets

Six months later, he was imprisoned and tortured for his new faith and his refusal to violate the Bible at 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 later was imprisoned yet 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 permanently.

Today Kebede is a well-educated, happy, spirit-filled family man with a full life.  His early years of suffering inform everything he does, whether it’s explaining to an orphan that he, too, went hungry and knows the child’s pain, or celebrating the progress his beloved Ethiopia is making.  And, 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 Ziway, 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.  An Ethiopian man had been sitting on the other side of the window, trying to drown his sorrows in beer, when he heard Kebede’s song.  He asked Kebede to come outside and explain God to him, because he had terrible problems with his in-laws, and was planning to go immediately to the lake and 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.

Kebede praying

The desperate man whom Kebede counseled laid his own hands on Kebede’s head to bless him, too, for saving him from destroying himself.  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 food distributor — who stand with us to care for orphans and widows in their distress in Ziway.

With love,

Ellen, Will, Tara, Scott, Rebecca, Joel, Kristina and Sherry