Is persecution good?

Alemayehu Hailu
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.

Alemayehu and Tensea
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.

2009 Ethiopia CP Meetings
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?”.

<p style=”text-align: center;”><img src=”https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-8_r0-wMbRPk/Tnsyby3vp8I/AAAAAAAAD00/aRVyzWPgQjc/s400/20110305.12050.jpg” alt=”Alemayehu Hailu” width=”400″ height=”267″ />
<em>Photo by Adam Jeske</em></p>
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.
<h3><strong>“God used the hard times”</strong></h3>
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.
<p style=”text-align: center;”><img src=”https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-4k7mi02BGMc/Tns6HZRQOEI/AAAAAAAAD4M/dICENbtlQXg/s400/IMG_3316a.jpg” alt=”Alemayehu and Tensea” width=”400″ height=”267″ />
<em>Photo by Heather Pubols</em></p>
<h3><strong>The first recruit</strong></h3>
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.
<h3><strong>He knew the ropes</strong></h3>
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.
<p style=”text-align: center;”><img src=”https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-gOSUYRN8Z8k/TnsvnbXFGRI/AAAAAAAAD0E/szUPFeV2G4g/s400/DSC_6873a.jpg” alt=”2009 Ethiopia CP Meetings” width=”400″ height=”268″ />
<em>Photo by David Ringer</em></p>
<p style=”text-align: left;”><em></em>“I did some intentional mentoring and hand-over activities, but because we had worked so closely together for some years already, Alemayehu already <em>knew the ropes.</em> The transition was smooth,” shared Simon.</p>
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?”
<em>Read a longer version of <a href=”http://www.thewordislife.net/Stories/tabid/67/Default.aspx?id=2376&amp;pg=1″ target=”_blank”>“Is persecution good for Christians?”</a>.</em>

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.

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The Bible is My Life

In 1984, Communist leaders in Ethiopia told a Christian named Dereje Tilahun to leave his job as a land surveyor and begin work as a political cadre (communist activist) within the Communist government.

“I said, ‘No.  You are atheist. I believe in God, so how can I join with you?’” he explained. “We had to speak up and say ‘This is wrong.’ I was bold enough to tell them.”

Dereje Tilahun

“I didn’t give up my faith”

He credited this boldness to the support he had from a group of Christians gathering together in their homes at night to pray and study the scripture.  Through all of the seventeen years of Communist rule in Ethiopia, this group grew closer to God and each other.

Dereje sees that God used this time to strengthen and prepare these believers as well as cement into his heart the importance of Bible study.  When Dereje refused to work for the government, he lost both his surveying job and his freedom.  Like many evangelical Christians in Ethiopia at that time, he spent time in prison.

“It was only six days,” he said with a smile, “But it was very tough!  I was obliged to lie on a cement floor.  In the evenings there were beatings.”

His understanding of scripture sustained him through that time.  “In prison, I secretly brought a Bible,” he laughed.  Whenever he could, he read the words aloud for the other prisoners who listened eagerly.

“I didn’t give up my faith.  I told [the guards] that the only way to salvation is Jesus Christ.  They were laughing at me, but sometimes now these same people are coming to Jesus Christ,” he shared.

From Land Survey to Bible Survey

After his time in prison, Dereje was without a job and unsure where to go. He spent two months praying and believing God would provide whatever he needed.  Through a friend, he heard about a job working with Scripture Union, an international organization that aims to make God’s Good News known to children, youth, and families through Bible reading and prayer.  Over the next ten years, Dereje worked with Scripture Union by spreading Bible Study and devotional materials across Ethiopia particularly among high school students.

“When I joined Scripture Union, I told them that I [went] from land survey to Bible survey,” he said.

The materials, though, were all printed in Amharic, the national language in Ethiopia.  As a native Amharic speaker, Dereje did not question whether people speaking any of the other languages of Ethiopia would understand these materials. Now, however, he sees the importance of providing scripture and devotional materials for people in their heart language.

This realization deepened when a childhood friend, Alemayehu Hailu, a Wycliffe Africa member who now serves as the Director of SIL Ethiopia, invited him to he attend a workshop done by SIL.  After the workshop, Alemayehu and others urged Dereje to join in translation work.

Recognizing the Need

Dereje went to his family and church members seeking prayer and discernment.  “It took me two years to decide,” he recalled. He was motivated by the incredible need he saw.
Dereje with Amharic Bible

“There are more than 80 languages in Ethiopia, and only 8 have the [whole] Bible!  It’s not good to give Amharic Bibles to those people who don’t understand.  We have to bring the Bible in their own language.  When it is in their mother tongue, they can understand it. They can love it.”

Finally in May 2009, Dereje stepped down from his job of fourteen years working with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) in radio broadcasting and magazine editing.  He joined Wycliffe Africa and was seconded to SIL Ethiopia. He now works in the Scripture Use department where he oversees a team preparing and distributing printed materials, recordings, and videos that help people apply scripture to their everyday lives.

“I see that my life was built by the word of God by studying the Word in group Bible studies.  I want to transfer this idea, this knowledge, to other people in their own language.  Then their life will also be changed by it,” he shared.

“The Bible is my life,” he said while placing his hands on his well-worn copy of the Bible in his own language.  “I cannot live without the Bible.”

Photos by Adam Jeske

Read a longer version of this story

Note: This story was written by Christine Jeske. I traveled with Christine, and her husband, Adam, in March 2011. This was one of the stories we worked on while we were there.

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Partners in Translation

Dr. Haileyesus Engedashet and Dr. Daniel Hankore
Dr. Haileyesus Engedashet and Dr. Daniel Hankore are both
Bible translation consultants in Ethiopia. Photo by Adam Jeske

“Dir biabir anbesa yasir.”
“If all the spiders work together to make a web, they can capture a lion.”
-Ethiopian proverb

At first glance, Dr. Daniel Hankore and Dr. Haileyesus Engedashet may seem like unlikely partners in Bible translation work. They worship with different denominations, speak entirely distinct mother tongues, and work with separate organizations. Yet both are Translation Consultants, and both believe passionately in translation.

As they took turns speaking at a Bible translation awareness gathering, there was no doubt they shared a common purpose. And between sessions as they enjoyed laughter and coffee together, it was clear their friendship runs deep.

Recalling the years they spent attending graduate school together, Daniel said with a friendly slap to Haileyesus’ shoulder, “We became like family.”

Partnership brings synergy

The partnership between Haileyesus and Daniel is a piece of a larger picture across their home country of Ethiopia where partnership in Bible translation is bringing together a vast array of Christians toward a common purpose.

2009 Ethiopia CP Meetings
2009 Ethiopia CP Meetings held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Photo by David Ringer

Partnership is not unique to Ethiopia, nor is it new in Ethiopian translation work. The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, a member of the Lutheran World Federation, invited Wycliffe staff to come to Ethiopia to help with Bible translation programs more than 30 years ago. Over the years, that partnership broadened to include other denominations and organizations.

Recently some of these partners gathered to formalize their partnership and design a Comprehensive Plan (CP) that outlines agreed upon goals and activities for language development and translation.

This partnership includes the two largest protestant denominations in the country—the Ethiopian K’ale Heywet Church (meaning “Word of Life”) and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (meaning “Place of Jesus”). The partnership also includes The Word for the World Ethiopia; the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia (ECFE); Protestant and Orthodox churches; several organizations associated with the Wycliffe Global Alliance; and SIL Ethiopia, which brings its expertise in education and language development.

“[The partnership] has created synergy. We can do better by partnering with others than we can by ourselves unilaterally,” said Rev. Yonas Yigezu Dibisa, Director of the Department for Mission and Theology for Mekane Yesus.

Much has yet to be done

The enormity of the task of translation in Ethiopia reinforces the need for unity. Over 80 languages have been identified in Ethiopia, of which only eight have complete scriptures and nineteen have complete New Testaments.

The Bible Society of Ethiopia
Yilma Getahun, General Secretary for The Bible Society of Ethiopia.
Photo by David Ringer

Yilma Getahun, General Secretary for The Bible Society of Ethiopia, spoke similarly. “[Partnership] starts when we see the number of languages in the country and the number of scriptures translated. It is very clear how much work needs to be done.”

One reason for partnership is to use resources wisely.

“[Alone] we cannot reach the whole nation, but if we work with different organizations we can share different skills, expertise, and it minimizes cost and time,” said Tessema Wachemo, Director of The Word for the World Ethiopia.

While efficiency in resource use is a clear advantage of partnership, Mike Bryant, the CP Manager for SIL, made the point that “partnership is most important because of the issue of ownership.”

Doug Blacksten, Deputy Director of SIL Ethiopia and the previous National CP Manager, explained, “If translations were done by one group and not the others, some groups just wouldn’t accept it.”

While the organizations share a common purpose, they each bring unique skills.

“Everyone brings to the table their strengths and their experience, and we need everyone in the group for developing a language, [translating the Bible], publishing it, and finally making it available to the community,” said Dr. Tesfaye Yacob, National CP Manager and former General Secretary for the K’ale Heywot Church.

Focusing on common goals

No relationships come without challenges, though. The past decade in Ethiopia has seen splits within denominations as well as confusion over responsibilities among different organizations and disappointments over funding expectations.

Dr. Daniel Hankore
Dr. Daniel Hankore fields questions. Photo by Adam Jeske

At the workshop, Haileyesus and Daniel fielded difficult questions on the differences between denominations.

“If we work together and resolve our problems it will be better than pointing fingers at one another,” Daniel said afterward. “We must protect our unity.” In order to achieve this unity, he advised, “Look not at your own identity; look at the common goals.”

Tessema Wachemo agreed that they must focus on the urgency of the task. “People are dying and losing their opportunities before they hear the word of God in their mother tongue,” he said. “[Bible translation] is not an optional ministry, it is mandatory.”

Read a longer version of Partners in Translation.

Note: This story was written by Christine Jeske. I traveled with Christine, and her husband, Adam, in March 2011.  This was one of the stories we worked on while we were there.

Learn more about the Ethiopia Comprehensive Project.

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God’s at work

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More from my trip to Ethiopia in March…

Bible translation work goes beyond the translation of the Bible itself.  We want to see people actively engaged with scripture using what they learn to help them with the difficulties they face, so other materials are often also translated.

One challenge faced by many communities in Africa is how to appropriately respond to HIV and AIDS. A booklet called Kande’s Story addresses this issue using a scriptural approach.  It has been translated into many languages in Ethiopia including Guji-Oromo.  The church took the lead in conducting workshops in the area using the translated Kande’s Story booklets in order to educate and create an environment of openness to facilitate dialogue about HIV and AIDS.

The people we visited in Chambe told us that other programs about HIV and AIDS had been done in their community, but in the national language, Amharic.  Because Kande’s Story was in their language, more people understood the content and responded to the teaching.

Below is the story that resulted from our trip there.  Read it and be encouraged.

God is at work.

God’s Word Speaks on HIV:
Kande’s Story in Ethiopia

by Christine Jeske

Rural home in southwest Ethiopia

On a Sunday morning in the town of Chambe in southwest Ethiopia, Pastor Bilu Demissie Shorbote explained to his congregation the words of Psalm 23.  “In Christ,” he said, “there is a place of healing and comfort.  Has anyone here experienced God’s comfort?”

“Amen.”  The people responded together.

Bringing hope and light

In recent months, the town of Chambe had experienced new and tangible evidence of God’s comfort through a booklet about HIV and AIDS.  The booklet, originally titled Kande’s Story, tells the story of a young woman whose parents die of AIDS and how members of the local church respond with support and healing.

Kande’s Story is a true-to-life account based on stories told by a church leader from northern Nigeria about children in his community.   The story was first written in 2004 by Shellbook Publishing Systems, who then allowed SIL to further adapt and use the story and add a facilitator’s manual.  Since then it has been translated into 139 languages, including thirteen in Ethiopia.  Among these is the Guji dialect of Oromo spoken in the village of Chambe.

As people read and discuss Kande’s Story, they uncover ways to apply scripture to their everyday life as the facilitator’s guide includes Bible passages.  Together participants discuss Jesus’ treatment of lepers, God’s view of sexual sin, justice for orphans and widows, and much more.

Healing a stigma

An estimated 2.1% of Ethiopian adults were HIV positive in 2007, but that number has been climbing toward the Sub-Saharan African average of 5%.  A staggering 22.5 million people across Sub-Saharan Africa are HIV positive, and nearly 15 million children are orphans due to AIDS.

The stigma of the disease remains strong in Ethiopia.  Communities often ostracize those suspected of having HIV and their family members.  Churches commonly teach that HIV is the wrath of God and a proof of sin in the life of the infected person.  Many people will not touch an infected person, and they even fear to pronounce the name of the disease, calling it instead “that thing.”

The impact of the story is noticeable.  In Kibre Mengist, a city near Chambe, a group of HIV positive people have started meeting every Friday in a public place. Together they share coffee, friendship, and support. Their public presence boldly announces their HIV positive status to the community with an openness unheard of before Kande’s Story workshops.

"I used to be afraid of people who are HIV positive."

“I used to be afraid of people who are HIV positive,” said Hamero Kedir, a young woman from the region.  “Now I will say hi, shake their hands, and come close to them to try to help them.”

Spreading the word: “a new taste of freedom”

When government leaders in the region surrounding Chambe heard about Kande’s Story, they became excited.  They approached the presenters and asked for the workshops to be repeated in each of the 15 districts across a region of four million people.  Previously in this region the fliers, posters, and radio broadcasts regarding HIV and AIDS were only in the national language, Amharic.

“The government has given training on HIV, but this one is special because it is in our mother tongue and whoever is given the training should give the training to another,” explained church leader Worku Mute, who is referring to the method where those who read the story and participate in the workshops are asked to teach others about the disease, so the story spreads exponentially.

Others can help spread Kande’s Story. Guji translator Danbala Elema said they need more copies of the translated booklet to distribute.  The first printing included 20,000 copies, but some four million people speak the language.

Kande's Story team

“My wish is that it could reach every people,” said Worku, who coordinates the sending of local missionaries through Evangelical Church Fellowship of Southern Ethiopia and would like every missionary to have a copy.

As the church service closed in Chambe, Pastor Bilu Demissie Shorbote and the congregation sang, “Jesus saved me from dying, cast away my sin.  Now I am free and happy.”  Today, as people read Kande’s Story in their mother tongue in Chambe and across Africa, Jesus is giving those affected by HIV and AIDS a new taste of freedom and happiness.

Read a longer version of this story

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The Guji-Oromo Worship God

I visited a small church in a remote town called Chambe in southwest Ethiopia in March.  This choir was composed of more than half of the church.  Beautiful music, enjoy!

Millions of people speak the Guji dialect of the Oromo language of Ethiopia.  A translation of the New Testament was completed recently, and the translation team continues to work on a translation of the Old Testament.

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