When All Else fails
My name is Nebiye, I was born in Ethiopia and came to the States with my mother and my father at the age of two. We’ve basically lived and resided in California pretty much all of my life until relatively recently. I currently reside in Dallas, Texas, married to my lovely wife, Hiwot. We’ve been married for 15 years and we’ve been blessed with our four children. I grew up in a Christian home and I’ve been pastoring and preaching for about 16 years now. That all began in California.
As far as my story is concerned, it really does, harkens back, I would say, to my parents, and the series of events that surrounded their need, as they sought, to leave everything and up and go from Africa, from Ethiopia, to America. My father had the opportunity of being a part of a revival, and a movement that had occurred in Ethiopia. Beginning of course, in the city, among college students, among many young people. It was a huge revival and a movement that swept their generation. Wherever there are Ethiopian Christians, evangelicals, Protestants, if they’re, I would say, 60 right now and above, they were caught up in that in that movement, and then everybody else who’s 50-40, and so forth, is basically the fruit of those people who ended up reaching all the rest of the subsequent generations.
But in any case, you have to understand that Ethiopia was a monarchy all its lifetime, up until Haile Selassie, and his coming to an end. As soon as that came to an end, it basically created a vacuum in the land. That’s where communism swept in and there was a lot of bloodshed, and brothers killing brothers in the streets, friends who grew up with each other at odds with one another, it was just a very devastating, unreal situation that had occurred.
But around that very same time, many Christians who had a heart for missions, whether that’s from America or other places had also seen, around that same time, opportunity to be able to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. One of those places was Ethiopia and that persecution drove my father in and out of jail and prison. And it caused the church to go underground, especially during the communist regime. There was no allowance for it. So you really couldn’t account for how much God was doing, because there was no way to do so. It was all underground. But as soon as communism came to an end, that church that was underground came up. You can really tell how many churches we had, how many conversions we had, and it was unimaginable to see the work that God was doing, even in the midst of all that was going on.
At that time, my parents had the opportunity to be able to find a different place, to be able to, with their new marriage and child now, which was me, find a different place to be able to build out the legacy that they wanted for their family, and the faith tradition that they wanted. So we moved and we moved, and my father was involved with, along with a handful of other families in California, in Sacramento, being a part of a church plant. It was a Bible study that would turn into a fellowship that would then be birthed into a full fledged church plant and I was brought up in that. So I grew up in a home where I had two parents who love Jesus. I had two parents who really gave their all to the work of the Lord and to the church along with figuring out life in a whole other country.
The problem of course, was I lacked identity, I lacked purpose. I felt homeless, because what do you do with a kid who didn’t have a chance to grow up in Ethiopia, who immediately had to migrate with his family? I’m growing up in a two culture home, like many immigrant households, with kids who are trying to figure themselves out, and you’re thrust into a new land where, okay, it’s one culture out there and it’s a whole other culture here. It’s one language out there, it’s one language out here. That threw me for a spin. It really brought a lot of confusion, I would have to say, especially in my adolescence, and preteen years, and especially teen years, for which my parents didn’t have a lot of answers for or a lot of guidance for.
[My parents] knew how to do church, but they knew how to do church like they did back in Ethiopia. They knew how to bring ministry, but it was a ministry that catered to their people and the way that spoke to them. They did not know how to bring ministry to these up and coming kids that were growing up in the States, that were going to be largely, in many ways American, if you will, who just happen to be Ethiopian by way of origin. So that was a struggle, and it tore our home, it divided our home.
I did not know Jesus. I knew the world. I knew sin, I knew what this western world had to offer me and all that was put in front of me, day in and day out. It’s what I gravitated toward, and unfortunately, my parents couldn’t slow me down enough before the world got a hold of me. I was lost and I was in that way and nothing changed until I finally hit rock bottom. And it took God! Not a Sunday school class, not not a Bible study, not a family worship, not any of that. Although all of those things were in my background. But at the end of the day, it really took God getting a hold of me.
What I mean by that was, I’m in college, I’m 20, relationships failed, money failed me, business opportunities failed me, school failed me, friends failed me, and all of that sort of converged. I even had a roommate who took his life, hanging himself. All of this just sort of came to a head, all in the same season, that I did not have the capacity to be able to handle. So what do you do in this situation? Well, there was a tendency to want to commit suicide. That didn’t happen, thank God.
I moved back to my parents house. Just imagine. You have to understand what that meant, because the way I left. I left with ego, I left with pride. I left to conquer the world. I left with, “I don’t need anybody’s help.” I left with, “You don’t have to worry, I’m never coming back.” And now I have to come back with my tail between my legs. It was a very humbling season of my life, where everything around me communicated my helplessness, my weakness, the fact that I don’t have it all together. I think that fed into my posture and my ability to see, because I think the condition and the posture of our hearts is determinative of what of God we see. You know, “Blessed are the poor and spirit.” Right? It never says, “Blessed are the rich and spirit.”
So here I am, I come back in that condition. I’m a mess. I’m rock bottom. There’s no way to go but up. At this point, you can’t get lower and I asked my dad, “Hey, can I borrow your Bible?” And I’m sure he’s thinking, What? Our son? The one I have been having overnight prayer meetings for along with the few others in our community, we have concerns for? He couldn’t believe it. He just simply pointed. I took the Bible into the room that they had given me. I didn’t want to see anybody.
For a whole week I’m in this room. I only come out for the restroom or a few other things. I’m basically just hiding myself away. I’m not responding to phone calls and all I have in that room is the bed and whatever else and this Bible. I can’t say I know what I’m reading. I’m just thumbing through the Bible because apparently they say, this is The Book, and this is how you’re supposed to do it. I see everybody else using it and getting something out of it. So I thought, Why not? I have no other option. Everything else has failed me. People have failed me. Women have failed me. Guys have failed me. Money has failed me. Potential business opportunities have failed me. School has failed me. So let me give this thing a shot.
I’m almost like Jacob, alone with this Man who’s now wrestling with me. That’s what it is. It’s a wrestling moment in that bedroom and I’m not budging. It was a wrestling match and it went for days. It went for days, so much so, I don’t know, by the fourth or fifth day, apparently, they tell me, it got loud. So much so that my mom is saying to my dad, “Well, are you going to go and check on him?” He says, “No. Leave him alone. It’s his time.” My dad knew. My dad deals with this, he’s a minister. He deals with all sorts of people who come forward, interventions, prayers and deliverance. So he knows. It’s like, no, no, the hip is gradually coming out of socket. You know, it’s coming out of socket.
I’ve had family worship, I’ve had Sunday school, I’ve had let’s all have the children come forward and let’s pray for them before they’re dismissed. I’ve had, you know, conferences, I’ve had church potlucks I’ve had, you know, I’ve had religion, I’ve had, you know, the environment. I’ve had it all, all the components, if you will. But I hadn’t had an encounter for myself with God. I haven’t had a relationship for myself. And this was that one moment I wasn’t ripping and running. I just said, “God, that’s it, I’m done. I give it all to You. I lay it all right here. This may end up turning out to be nothing, but God, I have nothing else. I have nowhere else to turn. I give You my life. I surrender it all right here.”
It was just me, the prodigal son in the far country, squandering his father’s inheritance. And as it says of him, “so he came to his senses,” God met me where I was. God did a miracle in my life, not only by being born again, and experiencing the Lord, but He also did a miracle by calling me to the ministry, to be able to lead. Because it was one, like Jonah, I had run away from. I think that’s one of the ways you can know, it’s the last thing I wanted to be doing and yet, God, God had to bring a series of events about in order to bring me to that place.
My whole life has been about reaching the generations. It’s returning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers. And I think that’s what’s needed because there’s a divide. We see that in our nation, we see that in our world, but we also see it in church. I think the church is supposed to lead the way, but the only way that the church could lead the way is if the church is first healed. If the church is healed, the church can show the way. But if the church is not healed, the church will never be able to show the way because it’s in the same condition as the culture at large.
I just praise God, that He’s done a mending work in my own heart and He’s brought me to Him so that I can now know God as Father, because Jesus knows Him as Father. And what does Paul say in Ephesians, arise? Arise, and Christ shall give you light. He wants to shine forth. I think one of the ways He shines forth is by helping us see not religion, but God as Father. In doing so, we are able to be a light of hope, a beacon of hope, to a world lost and dying.
The Gospel is powerful. It’s powerful. The same voice that said, “Lazarus, come forth.” and Lazarus had nothing else that he could do but come forth, it’s that same voice that is calling sons and daughters to come forth.