Photo by Adam Jeske
Story by Adam Jeske
Is persecution good for Christians?” Alemayehu mused. The silence that followed suggested the question was all too real for him as he remembered the days of communism in Ethiopia.
The Communist government, known as the Derg, barred churches, which included most evangelical churches, and harassed and mistreated many Christians during its rule from 1975 to 1991. Yet during this season of persecution, Alemayehu Hailu decided to follow Jesus.
He faced questions and hardships. His immediate family did not support his new faith. The government did not allow Ethiopians to be involved in underground churches, such as the one he attended. This, however, did not stop Alemayehu. Instead, he became involved in student Bible study groups, became a leader in his church, and mentored other believers.
“God used the hard times”
But the pressure only continued to increase. Throughout the 17 years of the Derg’s rule, Alemayehu and other underground church leaders were often followed and harassed.
He spent time in prison—a total of nine months for following Jesus. While he was there, he was tortured and forced into hard labor all day. At night other prisoners often beat him. Other believers in prison with him were sometimes taken away and killed. Alemayehu refused to renounce Jesus.
“God used the hard times,” Alemayehu said as he further explained that the church had God’s love, mercy, grace, and power to rely on through this time of suffering.
Years of persecution resulted in years of ministry for Alemayehu. He became a deacon and then an elder, a choir member and then the choir director in the Hiwot Berhan (Life Light) Church.
After the end of the Derg’s rule, Alemayehu studied communications at Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya. It was also during this time that Alemayehu met Simon and Lynne Caudwell, a British couple who were training in Kenya to work in Bible translation with SIL in Ethiopia.
Photo by Heather Pubols
The first recruit
Alemayehu wanted to join in their work with SIL, but administrative systems at that time made it difficult for Alemayehu to serve in the way he desired. Six years later Alemayehu returned to Ethiopia and reconnected with the Caudwells. They continued talking and looking for a way for Alemayehu to become involved.
A new Wycliffe organization, Wycliffe Africa, was just beginning. Its focus was to recruit and send Africans to work in Bible translation. Alemayehu became their first recruit. In 2004 Alemayehu and his wife, Tensae, became the first Wycliffe Africa members and the first members of that organization to be seconded to serve with SIL Ethiopia.
His passion for Bible translation was evident as he worked to find a team of churches and individuals in Ethiopia to support his ministry.
“When people get the Scriptures in their own language, they grow in understanding and faith. They are mentored in Christ, their life is transformed, and development follows for the community,” he said.
He knew the ropes
From 2004 through 2006, Alemayehu worked directly for Simon Caudwell as the External Relations Coordinator with an emphasis of relating to church and government partners.
Simon shared how those in leadership in SIL Ethiopia recognized Alemayehu’s competence and friendliness, and he became as a strong candidate to become the next SIL Ethiopia director. For several months in early 2007, Alemayehu even shadowed Simon, who was the director at that time.
Photo by David Ringer
“I did some intentional mentoring and hand-over activities, but because we had worked so closely together for some years already, Alemayehu already knew the ropes. The transition was smooth,” shared Simon.
This transition made Alemayehu the first African to serve as the director of an SIL entity.
As far as the answer to Alemayehu’s earlier question of whether persecution is good for Christians, Lynne Caudwell may have answered that best when she said, “Alemayehu and Tensae show maturity that comes through when people have suffered for their faith. We have always been struck by the high levels of commitment to the Lord and sacrifices they have made to serving Him.”
And with faith that’s been tested and refined, it was not surprising when he said, “If not me, then who?”
Read a longer version of “Is persecution good for Christians?”.
Note: I traveled with Adam and his wife, Christine, in March 2011. This was one of the stories we worked on while we were there.