Helping children shine the light of Jesus amidst persecution
For one family in remote Ethiopia, Christmas is an opportunity to show God’s love to and practice radical hospitality to their extremist neighbours. After many years, their persecutors have become their friends. Meet Ermias*, and his children, twins Fasil and Ezana*, who are being raised to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.
Where a Christian is No Better than a Corpse
Ermias, a dedicated evangelist, knew the challenges of religious persecution from a young age. He had experienced firsthand the hostilities that came with openly sharing his faith. For years he has witnessed the community’s disdain for their church.
“From their point of view, an evangelical Christian is as good as a dead and rotting person.
“The youth in the church were chased by the community; they used to make us feel scared in our time of worship,” Ermias recalled.
Such acts of persecution weigh heavily, not only on Ermias, but also on his twin sons, Fasil and Ezana.
School Doesn’t Feel Safe
The pressures extended to the children’s education as well. “Because of the persecution, we were in a difficult situation,” Ermias explained. “Even in the schools our children used to go to, there were pressures… even if our children are among the smart children, they would refuse to give them their deserved grades—they would lower our children’s test scores.”
Ermias desperately wished to provide a safe environment for Fasil and Ezana – one where they could receive an education without fear of persecution. But the cost of a private school was beyond his means. It seemed like a dead end until a glimmer of hope appeared, thanks to Open Doors’ local partners and supporters like you.
A School for All—In Jesus’ Name
Open Doors supported a unique initiative in Ethiopia known as a “bridging” project, aimed at creating a connection between the Christian community and the surrounding neighbourhood. In Fasil and Ezana’s town, this project took the form of a school—a school that wasn’t explicitly Christian but was owned by the local church and served as a sanctuary for Christian children to receive an education.
“The school is in the church’s compound; it’s a familiar place for the children, it’s a place we consider our own,” Ermias explained. The school’s presence had numerous benefits, not least of which was providing a secure and nurturing environment for Christian children to learn freely.
Changing Perceptions Through Love
The impact of the school extended beyond the realm of education. While most of the school’s staff weren’t evangelical Christians, it transformed the perception of the small group of believers in the village. “It has created a platform for us to show Jesus is a Saviour,” Ermias rejoiced. “Parents of the children and the staff [have a good impression of] us and for the church. I hope they will one day join us in being God’s children—that makes me happy.”
As time passed, the village began to acknowledge the school, and the hostility gradually waned. The provision of free education for the less fortunate children endeared the church to the community. Even those who had once opposed them began to send their children to the school, and a sense of belonging replaced the previous animosity.
Making Christmas About Love
During the Christmas season, Ermias teaches Fasil and Ezana to reach out to their neighbours, sharing with them the hope offered by Jesus’ birth.
“Some of our neighbours were extremists, so we would only send holiday bread to their home because they wouldn’t come to our house for the holidays; but now it’s like our home is theirs. The holiday season is one of our platforms for showing Christ.”
*Names changed for security purposes.