Prisoners for Christ in Ethiopia: The rest of the story
Bill determined to visit Ethiopian church leaders in prison, pray for them and seek their release. They had been beaten, tortured and incarcerated for their faith. That is all that Bill remembered or heard of the story - until 32 years later.
By Bill and Grace Harding, former workers in Ethiopia,
Harding with the former prisoners.
Thirty-two years ago Grace and Bill, young zealous missionaries in their second year in remote southern Ethiopia, were between the anvil and the hammer of the ruthless, dominating Marxist-Leninist government — all for the sake of the gospel.
Bill had heard that church leaders were put in prison in a community called Molicha, which was located on a distant mountain. In anger and some sense of justice, Bill determined to visit them, pray for them and seek their release. These church leaders had been beaten, tortured and incarcerated for their faith. That is all that Bill remembered.
Fast-forward 32 years later. On a recent trip to the area, Bill heard from a young man named Berhanu, who was a young boy in Molicha at that time and was now a church leader overseeing 241 churches in the district. He told Bill that the Molicha Church has waited 32 years to celebrate what transpired shortly after Bill left many years ago.
Now, for the rest of the story
In late 2017, after much preparation, the Molicha local church invited Bill and his guests, John and Deb Tornfelt, to come. They arrived to witness hundreds of people inside and hundreds outside the church singing with great jubilation – greeting the Hardings and Tornfelts with a welcome only deserved by a king. With a welcome banner on the front of the church, the cadence of clapping resonated until they were seated.
The leading elder, with tears of joy, began to tell what had happened after Bill had left the mountain that day. Bill had not heard or known anything during all these years.
The elder and former prisoner told this story: "We were charged by young Communist cadres flexing their Marxist-Leninist ideology and intimidating us with AK-47 weapons for worshipping a ‘white man's religion’ instead of the ideology they were propagating. After beating us, they threw us in prison, ridiculing and cursing us. We had heard the guards say, ‘No white guy has ever been in here, and none will ever come here, especially a capitalist.’
“Then one day this young white man [Bill] showed up tired, covered in mud and soaked from rain, using a walking stick to navigate the slippery mountainous terrain. He did nothing except lift his arms and pray out loud to God Almighty for His grace and for our release. He then left, going back down the mountain. We have not seen Bill again until today!”
Another detail Bill had never heard was that the vicious guards were shocked and speechless by Bill's presence after holding the believers prisoner for 19 days.
“When the guards looked at us, they saw us as dressed in white, like angels,” said the church leaders. “They were so ashamed of what they had done and released all of us after Bill left. We have waited 32 years for Bill to come back to us to celebrate what God did — setting the captives free through the power of prayer and a brave demonstration of love."
The celebration went on for four hours with intense worship in singing, dancing, testimonies of those elders who were incarcerated for their faith, as well as a drama put on by the young people. The service was a message passed on to the next generation!
John Tornfelt said, "It was the fastest four hours of worship that he has ever participated in!"
The elders had made some candles out of beeswax shaped as a three and two to symbolize the 32 years between the believers’ release from prison and finally meeting Bill again. As the congregation clapped and sang, they invited Bill to come forward and light the two candles celebrating and acknowledging the act of God's deliverance and testimony to his saving power. Praise be to the One who sets the captives free!
None of us may ever know what God has done through us until we get to Glory. Sometimes, we get a glimpse of this as I did that Sunday in Molicha, southern Ethiopia. Thank you Lord, for this precious gift!