Ethiopia Vignette #5:
Victory and Defeat: Tesfaye and Zemete
In any serious venture in Life, there are ups and downs, victories and defeats. Often, when we are hearing of the Lord's work, we are told only the success stories. One of the greatest gifts the Lord has given to us is the ability to keep on in the work, despite the "defeats." If I understand Scripture correctly, the prize of the Lord Jesus is not given to the fastest believer, but to the one who crosses the finish line. In other words, we are not in competition with each other. We are "in competition" with faithfulness. We must keep on keeping on, no matter the setbacks, no matter the disappointments, no matter the lack of story-book endings.
So this vignette includes the stories of Tesfaye and Zemete, two believers in the Alaba church with whom we have shared great victories and great defeats. Neither of them is now with the Lord; they are both continuing to run the race.
We were introduced to the Lord's church in Alaba, Ethiopia, through two of our Ethiopian 'sons', Ahmed and Nigusse. In the Spring of 2005, just a few months after our first trip to Ethiopia, Nigusse wrote to us by email, "We lost one last week."
Confused, I wrote back, "What do you mean, 'we lost one'?" That was my introduction to the serious persecution of the church in Alaba. A young 19-year-old had been murdered in a field by a neighbor because he was Christian. (What the Lord did through that sacrifice is covered in another vignette.) Our hearts were burdened for the parents and siblings of this 19-year-old. How we longed to comfort them, but the Atlantic Ocean and the continent of Africa separated us.
In the providence of God, a few months later, in June, 2005, Dave began to teach a course at the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His course was the ancient Greek language, the original writings of the New Testament, and his students were men from all over Ethiopia who were preparing for church leadership. (We video-taped this course, and used it to produce a Greek DVD set that is now being used all over the world.)
During a weekend break from this teaching, Dave, Ahmed, and Nigusse quickly drove to Alaba. The 6-hour ride took them over rough roads under construction. The purpose of the trip was to put arms and tender words to our feelings of compassion for this bereaved family. Arriving in the main town, they continued on little rural roads that were little more than wide foot paths. Eventually they arrived at the hut of the grieving family. After time in prayer and compassion, Dave, our sons and the Alaba church elders climbed back into the rented vehicle.
As they approached the church which is affectionately called "the Mother church" (being the first in Alaba), they saw a small man bowed over with grief. He had just arrived at the church compound. They listened as he told his story. His 8-year-old daughter had just been slaughtered (their word) by Muslims in his village; they had killed her and now they were refusing a burial place for her. After all, she was Christian, and they did not want their Muslim cemetery desecrated by a Christian body. What was he to do?
It was the providence of God that placed Dave on site when this man Tesfaye arrived. And it was the grace of God that put money in Dave's pocket to rent a vehicle and bring his child's body back to the main town for burial in the Christian cemetery. All vehicles were owned by Muslims at that time, and they raised the rent very high when the dead body of a Christian was going to touch their vehicle.
What a blessing to us to be able to console these two families who were suffering deeply because of their alliance with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But that was not be the end of our relationship with Tesfaye. Little girls in America sent us dollies for his two remaining daughters.
And Tesfaye continued faithful in his village. "They (the Muslims) tell us that we must leave the village," Tesfaye told Dave. "They do not want Christians in the town. But this is our home. We will not leave." A handful of Christians in the town were meeting in Tesfaye's home for fellowship, prayer and teaching. He was on the very edge of the front line, standing alone for the Gospel.
We asked him once, "What is your strategy for winning the Muslims to Christ?" You might be surprised at his answer. "We do 3 things: We live pure lives. We love them. And then we stand ready to answer their questions about the power in our lives." So simple. So biblical. Just humble believers living out the Gospel, shining as lights upon a hill, for the salvation of many.
As time went on, however, the persecution continued, taking many forms. Once all believers in the village were physically expelled. They were placed on the road far from the village and told they could not come back to their homes. Government authorities intervened and forced the villagers to allow the Christians to return to their homes.
Sometimes the homes and shops of the Christians were burned or looted. Always, the Christian wives and children were taunted at school or the water pump. The marketplace was a place of persecution as prices were raised or commerce was refused to Christians.
Then we got the horrible news about Tesfaye's wife. She is a gentle, timid lady. She had suffered so much for Christ! Now she had left Tesfaye and had gone to be with a Muslim man. Was it trickery? Was it ambush? Was it intimidation? Had she just broken spiritually, unable to take any more pressure as a Christian?
Only God knows all the ins and outs of her decision. But the damage to Tesfaye and that small group of Christians in the village was beyond measure. Her decision struck at the heart of their testimony. It was a complete victory for the Enemy.
Tesfaye was broken. He was humiliated. He struggled for spiritual breath. The church leaders intervened, but his wife refused to return to Tesfaye. She divorced him and married the Muslim man.
We encouraged Tesfaye to forgive, to continue faithful to her, to guard his children from the Muslims. Years went by. Then word came that his wife was now being beaten by the Muslim man. Tesfaye was thinking of taking another bride. We advised against it. We encouraged him to stay faithful to his (now divorced) wife, and wait for her to return. It was hard, but he followed our advice. Everyone was praying. It seemed hopeless. But Tesfaye stood like the shining sun, his face set upon obedience to the Word.
Then came word that his wife wanted to return to Tesfaye. Now came a different struggle. She was "damaged goods." She had been in bed with this Muslim man. She had dishonored him and the whole church. How could he take her back?
In the providence of God, Dave was there in Alaba when word was received that she wanted to return to Tesfaye. They spent many hours together, praying, and reading through the book of Hosea. The next day Tesfaye returned to Dave, his face shining and happy. "I will take her back. This is what God wants."
So they were re-married, so to speak. Their children came back to them. And the family was restored. The church leaders and us felt that it would be better for them to settle in a place with less stress and persecution. So (by the grace of God) we gave them funds to move, build a new house, and start a new store in a different district of Ethiopia. Today, they are solid and stable, growing in the grace of the Lord Jesus, and rejoicing that in Him, there is always room for forgiveness and healing. This forgiveness and healing lacks only our repentance and obedience.
The Enemy seemed to win, but in the end, the Spirit of God won His victory. It's not over 'til it's over, as my grandmother used to say.
That first trip to Alaba, Dave was introduced to another believer. Literally, as he was getting into the car to leave, an evangelist ran up to him. "Please help us!" he cried out. Then he told the story of a lady in his little rural congregation. Her name is Zemete. A year before she had given birth to twins. The labor was in her hut and ran on for several days. Due to lack of medical intervention, she was left with fistulas (holes joining the vagina with the urethra and rectum). As a result, she was constantly oozing urine and stool. It was impossible to keep clean. She smelled horrible. No one wanted to be near her. Her husband had left her, and she had become a social outcast.
This problem is not uncommon in Ethiopia. It is especially prevalent in northern Ethiopia, where the boney structures of the women are smaller. Early marriages and birthing before full development, coupled with poor medical services, contribute to the problem.
A husband-wife doctor team have set up a fistula hospital in Addis Ababa, the capital. If the woman can get to the hospital, services are provided free of charge. "Will you help us get Zemete to the Fistula Hospital?" the evangelist pleaded.
You know, some questions are no-brainers! As Christians, there is nothing to consider. The need is real, the answer to that need is in our hands, and Christ's command 'Love one another' rings from the pages of Scripture....so what is there to consider? "Absolutely, yes! Here is the money for transport. You come with her to help her. Here is money for your housing in Addis while she is at the hospital." Again, God had supplied the needed funds through believers in America.
Dave left to return to teaching his Greek course, and the next week the evangelist brought Zemete on the public bus to the fistula hospital. Dave went to greet her there. She looked like death warmed over! She was gaunt. She was so weak. She undoubtedly was septic.
They started her on antibiotics. They gave her good nutrition. She was kept clean. For the first time in a long time, she began to feel good about herself.
After about 3 weeks, they did the surgery. It was a beautiful success! What a joy to see Zemete come back to life! She remained in the hospital another month for rest and recuperation. Then she was sent home. The instructions were clear: no intimacy with her husband for 6 months, to allow for full healing. The church leaders met with her husband. He understood the restriction. But after 2 months, it was more than he could bear. He violated the rule, and undid all that the surgery had accomplished!
Oh, the pain of such a loss! What a violation of the picture of Christ and His bride!
Would we be willing to sponsor her again? Yes, but what would we do with the husband? The church leaders discussed with him. He refused to exercise self-restraint. They tried sheltering Zemete with her family or others. Nothing worked. The church filed against the husband with the government social services department, but in Ethiopia there is little protection for the oppressed. In the end, the church leaders decided that this man could not possibly know our Lord Jesus.
So today Zemete continues with her affliction. She is regularly in the services of the little rural church. She loves her Lord Jesus. In her heart she is joyful, despite the shame she bears. She knows that we love her. I often send a new dress for her, just to remind her that she is the bride of Christ, and He cares for her far differently than her human husband.
The agony of defeat...the pain of sin. It is real. It hurts. Sometimes it disables. But it can never keep us from the victory. Jesus will redeem His whole church. His program will be completed. And His glory will be magnified.
It's not over 'til it's over.
April 19, 2012