by Joy Casey
*Awel was a student of the Quran for six years, devouring every teaching of the faith he and his family held dear. He became a prayer leader at the mosque, singing and leading prayers five times a day at the prescribed times. Awel was engaged to be married and the families were planning their wedding; his future looked secure and promising.
Visiting a nearby town, he knelt under a tree to pray at the prescribed time not noticing the Christian church nestled behind the tree. The joyful singing of the church choir interrupted his prayers and he could not help but listen to the message being sung declaring that Jesus Christ is alive, giving life to everyone who believes. At first he was shocked to hear women singing in the choir with men, but the music was compelling and touched his very soul and he began to weep. Even after the choir stopped singing, the words of the song lingered, and to his bewilderment and consternation he could not stop crying. Ethiopian men do not sit publically under a tree and cry, and he entertained the idea that maybe he was losing his mind.
He was shaken to the core of his being, but eventually gained his composure and headed back to his village and career, but the songs never left him and he gradually became dissatisfied and unfulfilled in his ritual prayers. As hard as he tried to dismiss the words to the songs, they continued to haunt him and piqued his desire to know more about Isa (Jesus). He contemplated leaving his position as a prayer leader at the mosque, knowing that quitting would jeopardize his marriage plans and could even threaten his personal well-being. Being unable to shake the message in the songs, Awel made the decision to go back to the town where he heard the singing and ask someone to tell him more about this life with Jesus. The Christians knew he was a mosque leader and thought his queries were a trap to get close to the church in order to do harm and initially they would not talk to him. However, later a few men from the Christian fellowship came to him and taught him and it was not long before he became a confirmed believer in Jesus Christ.
When his fiance’s father learned about his conversion he was very angry and forbid his daughter to marry him. His own father went before the mosque leadership and said that since his son became kafir he should die. Two men from the mosque came to Awel to confirm that he had turned from the faith of his fathers and to try and talk some sense to him, but after Awel shared with them about his new life in Jesus Christ, they, too, became believers!
There was strong persecution against him and he was forced to leave his family and town. Against her father’s wishes, his fiancé followed him and they were married in a Christian church. Awel felt a definite call on his life to share the gospel but knew he needed mentoring and Bible education. God ordained a divine appointment for him to meet Pastor Zerihun who took him under his wing and discipled him and nurtured the gifts God placed in Awel.
Pastor Zerihun trains and leads the evangelists who work alongside YWAM and Watch & Pray (a ministry partner) to bring hope to areas of Ethiopia that have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. After spending years under the tutelage of Pastor Zerihun and pastoring several church plants, Awel, his wife and three children feel God is leading them back to their roots to share with their family and friends the amazing grace that Jesus freely gives. This particular area of Ethiopia is an unreached group of people, and with Awel’s help we are laying a strong foundation for future evangelism there.
Meeting Awel and listening to his story significantly impacted me, as have other evangelists I have come to know working in this very difficult mission field. I was particularly intrigued by how God used music to penetrate Awel’s heart and mind. At the end of our time together, Awel stood and lifted his hands to God and sang a beautiful song of praise to his Lord and Savior. I could not understand the words of the song, but its haunting melody and the spirit of the singer drew me into the arms of Jesus. All I could think of was how wonderful it will be in heaven when we can sing together with one mind, one spirit, and one language. I am certain that Awel’s impromptu song of praise offered in the company of a few insignificant people, brought intense joy to the heart of God.
*names have been changed