Faces of Persecution: Children Like Wasihun Give Us Glimpses of Grace
The faith and courage of a child in life's darkest times assures us that for believers, suffering is not hopeless.
In Acts 8, Philip the Evangelist was present at the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch. While there is some scholastic debate on what the Bible means by “Ethiopian,” the Christian church had been established as the state religion of Ethiopia by 330 AD. Indeed, Ethiopia boasts a majority-Christian population to this day, with over 40 million Ethiopians identified as Christians.
This might make Ethiopia a surprising place for Christians to experience persecution. But the way Ethiopia’s regions are split up is primarily by ethnic lines—which often means religious groups tend to concentrate in one place. One such area is the Oromia Region, which includes the populous capital, Addis Ababa. But in the rural west of the Oromia Region, traditional religions still have a significant stronghold in some areas. In this series focusing on the children of the persecuted church, we meet the Kemede family and seven-year-old Wasihun who at seven years old endured a child’s greatest loss.
Motuma Kemede and his family were the only Christians in one village in this area. They tried to get along with their community; Motuma would explain to his fellow villagers that he couldn’t participate in their rituals because of his faith. But his community wasn’t receptive, and his efforts to share his faith were met with increasing threats and suspicion.
In August 2013, those threats and insults came to a head.
It was late at night, and Motuma, his pregnant wife, Buze, their 15-year-old daughter, Bachu, and seven-year-old son, Wasihun, were sleeping along with Motuma’s six other children. They’d worked hard that day, and had gotten home late. They had fallen asleep as heavy drops of seasonal rain fell on the roof, a comforting sound after a hard day’s labor.
The family was roused from slumber when a mob suddenly broke open their door. There were three men inside their home, and more outside—and they were there to confront Motuma.
“Stab him!” one of the attackers yelled.
The mob grabbed Motuma and dragged him outside. They started beating him as Wasihun clung to his father’s legs crying. The beating finally stopped, and Buze raced to find help while the children tried to cover a badly bleeding wound on their father’s neck.
But it was too late—Motuma didn’t recover from his wounds.
The attackers had disappeared, and Motuma’s murder would go unpunished. Motuma was killed for his faith, and his family was left behind to try to pick up the pieces.
Helping in the Face of Suffering
Shortly after Motuma’s death, Open Doors team members visited the Kemede’s home. While the entire family was understandably devastated, Wasihun’s grief left a lasting impression on Open Doors workers. Just before Motuma died, he told Wasihun, “Be strong. Look after your sisters and brothers.”
And yet … Wasihun was only seven. How could he begin to deal with the loss of the parent who had been one of the most important and stable influences in his life?
Since Motuma’s death, Open Doors has helped the family by purchasing food, paying the children’s school fees and supporting Buze in income-generating activities. Buze also benefited from trauma relief through the Open Doors widow care program and received regular visits from Open Doors workers. And a letter-writing campaign resulted in many cards, best wishes and prayers from supporters around the world sent from Open Doors supporters.
Earlier this year, an Open Doors field worker returned to the village where Wasihun lives and plays.
How would Wasihun react after having time to process the trauma of losing his father? Would the hurt and pain overwhelm him? And would the family be able to maintain the faith of their father and husband in the face of such unimaginable loss?
A Mustard Seed Moves a Mountain
Amidst the stark beauty of the bush framed by mountains, Wasihun and his younger siblings dashed out to meet the Open Doors worker.
“It is so good to see you!” Wasihun yelled, throwing his arms around the worker. “Thank you for coming!”
God had clearly moved in this young man’s life, and his courage and faithfulness in the face of tragedy were readily apparent.
It’s not as if Wasihun recovered overnight. He told the Open Doors team member that his father was his hero.
“My father used to buy me clothes, take me to church and allow me to help him at work,” he said. “I loved him! He loved me! He was my protection. He helped me when I got into a fight with other children in the neighborhood.”
Wasihun, who is now 11 years old, credits God for getting him and his family through his father’s death.
“I was totally shocked when my dad was killed in front of me, but God comforted us and told us that He will be the father to each of us,” he explains.
Naturally, Wasihun remains marked by his father’s death. Bachu, his sister, sees a lingering sadness in Wasihun.
“My brother was very close to my dad,” she said. “He does not want to show his real emotions and does not want us to worry that he is at times sad and depressed.”
But like Wasihun, Bachu sounds confident in the faithfulness of God to see her family through the difficulty of her father’s death.
“Since my father’s death, God has spoken more and more to us and assured us that He loves us,” she shared. “God comforts us. God told us He will be our dad. He will show us His goodness even more in the midst of persecution.”
Buze says the closeness of God was apparent in the help Open Doors was able to provide for her family.
“Your presence meant more than anything to me,” she said. “It made me feel I have brothers and sisters who care for us. My hope continues because you supported me.
“With the help I had from you, I was able to buy one cow and feed my children cheese, milk and yogurt. I am now also able to buy and sell produce at the market. I also mill pepper and sell it. I cannot imagine life without your help. I would not have survived with nine children. I truly would love to bless all who showed their kindness to us.”
“I Ask That They May All Be One.”
When children suffer, the world listens. To hear Wasihun remember the night his father was killed is to remember this fact. But to listen to Wasihun is another reminder—that, for Christians, suffering is not hopeless. The hope of Wasihun and his family provides a glimpse of grace offered in the darkness; a reminder that God restores all things to Himself.
Buze may credit the presence of Open Doors workers for getting her family through the initial days after her husband’s death. But it’s faith like Buze’s—and Waishun’s and Bachu’s—that will shore up God’s Kingdom in Ethiopia and around the world.
The news may be filled with stories of unimaginable suffering and Christian persecution, and yet it’s these real people who remind us the headlines have a very human cost. And the faith of Wasihun and his family reminds Christians that they are part of One Body, serving one Father, with one mission—to make the Name of Jesus known throughout the world at whatever cost.