Sometimes God’s love looks like grand miracles and great provision. Sometimes it looks like toasted barely and hot coffee on a Sunday afternoon.
For Geremew and Rediet Tulu, Word of Life’s pioneer missionaries to Ethiopia, it can be both.
On a recent trip to Uganda, I visited this well-loved couple and walked away with a greater understanding of what it looks like to follow Jesus. Dropping in unannounced is a social norm in this culture, and at the end of the dusty red road, we were greeted with genuine smiles, selfless hospitality, and shy babies. The home of Geremew and Rediet is beautiful and simple, representing the non-frivolous life of following Jesus across countries. The house was quickly filled with laughter, informal Ethiopian dance lessons, and story after story of God’s faithfulness.
From cursed to Christ follower
“The preacher was preaching about Christ. He said ‘Christ is love. He loves every one of you.’ So I’m wondering… my family hates me. Did Christ really love me?”
After Geremew’s mother gave birth to her first child, she visited a local witch doctor to hear about her family’s future. This man informed her that her last child would be different than all the rest. From the color of his skin to his religion, this child would bring trouble to the family from the very beginning. As it turns out, Geremew’s coloring is different than his siblings. Ever since his unusual birth, the family blamed him for all of their problems.
“I’m asking myself, is this really true? I asked everyone. My teacher answered me, yes, Christ really does love you.” Geremew asked his teacher to show him who Christ was. He knew nothing about the Bible, nothing about religion, and certainly nothing about God. His family was devoted to witchcraft; those things he knew very well.
“Every day I start thinking about Christ, asking who He is. Christ loves me? Are you serious? How do I know this love? Finally, I start reading the Bible. I read the book of John. I read John 3:16, and I was so excited! I asked, ‘God can you show me yourself? I need you. I want to change. I want to worship you. I want to follow you.’”
After Geremew accepted Christ, his family chased him away from home. At just 15 years old, he was left with nothing- no place to sleep, no food to eat, and no clean clothes. He remained homeless for a year.
To describe this year of his life, Geremew tells me this: “God is faithful.” He felt God draw near, saving him from danger, providing for him, and displaying the perfect love that he had been seeking his whole life.
Geremew knew that love this amazing needed to be shared with others. He began to share the Gospel, and as he connected with other believers, eventually began planting churches in Ethiopia. One of those churches led him to Rediet.
The prayer that saved a family
Rediet, like most Ethiopians, came from an Ethiopian Orthodox family. They knew about Jesus, but did not have a relationship with Him. As a teenager, Rediet had so many questions about religion. After speaking with a Christian relative, Rediet knew she wanted a relationship with Jesus but was hesitant about what she would have to give up for Christ. One day at church, when someone was teaching from John 3:16, she realized that all Jesus was asking from her was to believe and give Him her heart. From that day on, Rediet had a huge desire to serve God, and she did it with much joy. She began to serve in one of the churches that Geremew had helped start. She loved to sing and worship with other believers and was actively involved in helping meet any needs, from cleaning to singing to sharing the Gospel.
“When my dad found out that I was a believer, he was outraged that I had not told my family.” In fear, Rediet told her father that if he would not allow her to keep going to church, she would obey, but begged him to allow her to keep worshiping and praying to God in her own home. He agreed to these terms, and she was thankful. She began to pray in her home that God would have mercy on her family and that through her life, they would come to know the truth.
“One day my dad was very sick. He asked me to pray for him. I asked God to please give me this opportunity, but I was fearful. This was my dad, and he was not a Christian. So I prayed for him. He had been close to death, bleeding and suffering, when all of a sudden, his pain went away. The rest of the family came into his room and saw all the blood, but saw that he was not suffering anymore. He told them ‘I was dying but God saved me because she prayed for me.’
“They started worshiping God that day. They knew of God but because of persecution stopped [worshiping Him] many years ago. So God saved my family also.”
Rediet’s family began to go to church again, and Geremew was the one who began to teach her family about the Bible. “It was not easy to find the real Gospel here in Ethiopia. There are a lot of false teachers, but Geremew was teaching me a lot. He would come and visit and pray for us and then go back and study. We asked him a lot of questions. He would guide us in the Bible.” After some time, a friendship developed, and eventually Geremew asked permission to marry Rediet.
The next step
One day, Geremew met an American named Kurt, who came to Ethiopia while serving with another ministry. Kurt was curious about what life was like as a believer in Ethiopia, so Geremew shared honestly about how he came to know Jesus and the struggles and joys of following the Lord. When Kurt asked about the future, Geremew said simply, “I want to learn.” Kurt promised to pray and look into some things, and eventually found the brand new Word of Life Bible Institute in Uganda.
“He asked me if I wanted to go, and I said no. I don’t know Uganda, I don’t know anyone. My wife is pregnant, how can I study and provide for my family?”
The answer to those questions, yet again: “God is faithful.”
Rediet and Geremew prayed, and the Lord opened the door for Geremew to study at the Bible Institute. That year, he learned more about God’s Word than ever before. He learned how to read the Bible for himself and how to teach it to others. He studied academically, but also learned how to use his time wisely as he balanced family life with his studies and ministry. As he grew, so did his family.
This year, it’s Rediet’s turn to study at the Bible Institute.
Rediet has her hands full, balancing the full load of school work and ministry with being a mother to three year old Tsega and one year old Lewi. Despite the long days, tiring work, and full schedule, she is thankful for where God has her family. “I’m happy now because I have a resource. The BI is helping me in my life to give it all for God, to know God, how He loves, how we can be His family and partner to reach every person.”
Bringing it home
During his time at the Bible Institute, Geremew was asked to help bring Word of Life back to his home country of Ethiopia, starting with the youth.
“Most of the churches that we do have in Ethiopia are not focused on the youth at all. We started teaching the Bible, and slowly, people began accepting the Gospel. Things are changing, slowly. Religion in Ethiopia is very tight. It’s not easy, but God is helping us through different challenges. Most of the people are not living their lives by the Bible, so we are starting to bring Quiet Times and camping ministry. It’s not easy. It’s a big mission and a big vision we have for Ethiopia, so we need big wisdom for how we approach this. To teach the Bible only is not easy [in culture that is accustomed to very charismatic religion].” Persecution can also be a factor, as Geremew experienced when he was young.
Rediet is most excited to show the people of her country how to apply God’s Word in their lives, especially the women and children. “We have a lot of plans to reach young women and young men with the Gospel and help them study the Bible and to be discipled.”
Geremew and Rediet realize that they have a very serious mission in front of them when they return home. They need an army of praying believers behind them, and are so incredibly thankful to the many believers who have helped open the doors of ministry to them, supported them, and encouraged them on this journey so far. They were especially thankful to Thomas Obunde, Dave Nightingale, David Robertson, and other Word of Life staff members. They have seen many lives changed through the ministry of Word of Life and are excited to bring those opportunities back to Ethiopia.
“This whole thing is not by our knowledge or by our power. It is God who can do all things. Pray for us; stand with us. Support us, or even come do ministry with us.”
How you can pray:
-Finances/ support raising for the field
-Ministry connections to be made in East Africa
-Strength and wisdom
-For both of their families, and for their children Tsega & Lewi
-Remaining time in Uganda learning, training, and preparing to go
-Cooperation from the Ethiopian government as they establish Word Of Life
Find out how you can support Geremew and Rediet by clicking here.