A Young Man Finds Courage Under the Wings of His Savior

Never have I seen hope in hard places embodied in one person more strongly than in Gedion, a fearless young man from Ethiopia.

BY BONNIE WELLENSIEK, CHILD CHAMPION, U.S.A. | PHOTOS BY BONNIE WELLENSIEK AND DONNA ATOLA


Gedion with his kirar.

Never have I seen hope in hard places embodied in one person more strongly than in Gedion, a fearless young man from Ethiopia.

I met Gedion at the end of a long day filled with stories at a Hope Center in the capital city of Addis Ababa.

During that day I’d stood in a doorway listening to the melody of praise rising and falling from a handful of teens who had gathered around a keyboard for an impromptu worship service. And I’d learned that most of the worship leaders at the local church were youths from this Hope Center.

I had balanced a cup of strong coffee and a thick slice of bread on my knees while jotting down notes about the hopes and dreams of so many young people impacted by the ministry of the Kebena Hope Center that my heart was full and my writing hand exhausted.

Still, I was told, I really must meet Gedion.

Child of the Hard Places

Gedion is a young man with a neatly trimmed beard and a gentle voice. We sit with an interpreter in a small office at the Hope Center, but Gedion’s English is so good that the interpreter is hardly needed. I’m grateful, because I can hear the intensity and gratitude in Gedion’s words firsthand.

Gedion is 24 years old, and the Kebena Hope Center has been a part of his life since he was 8. He received many forms of help there. But Gedion is eager to tell me about the one thing that matters most to him.

“The minute I came here, I was able to study the Bible!” says Gedion. And when he was 13, Gedion received Jesus as his personal Savior.

He also tells me about the guidance and support he received from his Child Champion, the Hope Center Director Wondemagesne, affectionately known as “Wonday.”

“He has been helping me through many things,” says Gedion.

Hope Center director Wondemagesne spends time teaching teens.

And Gedion is no stranger to hardship.

He grew up an only child in a home that was impoverished and broken. His father abandoned the family while Gedion was still a baby. Years later, his mother remarried and started a new life. At 16, Gedion found himself on his own. You might say he has made his own way ever since.

But that’s not how Gedion sees it.

God never let me go, God never let me hunger,” Gedion says. “God saved me from things I could not pass through by myself.”

Breaking Stones and Fixing TVs

Gedion moved in with some friends, and they managed to get by together, sharing the little money they could earn. With help from his Hope Center, Gedion was able to finish high school, all while working to cover his daily expenses.

Child Champions at Kebena Hope Center invest in young adults.

Gedion laughs, recalling his first job.

Seeing a construction site, he approached the manager and asked if there were any jobs he could do.

“Yeah, you can start as a laborer,” the man replied.

Gedion readily accepted the work. The manager showed him to a big pile of stones, handed him a hammer and told him to start breaking them.

“It was very funny,” says Gedion. “I was 16 and very skinny. I’m still skinny.”

But he gave it his best. “I started doing that, and it hurt sooo bad!”

He went to the manager and told him he couldn’t do the job. So the manager sent him to mix cement, but after a week of trying, that also proved beyond the strength of the slender boy.

His earnest attempts must have impressed the manager, who didn’t give up on him. Finally, Gedion was taught to paint and clean up the job site.

Through the years, Gedion worked several other jobs, including waiting tables and repairing electronics.

“I’ve been able to learn how to fix the satellite dish, how to maintain televisions, receivers, DVDs — any electrical equipment — I’ve been able to fix them,” he says.

But electronics repair was only a job, not a calling.

A New Song

Along the way, Gedion also taught himself to play several musical instruments, and music would open a new door for him.

“I got access to an instrument,” he recalls. “I saw other players when they play, and I started doing what they were doing.”

Gedion mastered the keyboard, guitar, and kirar, a traditional Ethiopian instrument.
At 17, Gedion applied to college and was admitted to study music.

While in college, he also started serving as a Child Champion at the Hope Center he had once attended, teaching the children music, choir, and choreography as well as Bible studies and games, something he still does.

Going to college brought more stability into Gedion’s life. He was still working hard to pay his tuition, but he could count on a dorm room and food.

Then, three years into his four-year degree, Gedion became seriously ill. He had to leave school, and he was unable to work.

The Best Hard Times

Gedion stayed with a friend, and after a few weeks he was able to get the surgery he needed. After the surgery, Gedion quickly recovered and went back to work.

“At that time, I was doing electrical work, so it didn’t take as much muscle,” he says.

But it took him a year of work to be able to return to college.

Such a painful detour so close to finishing school might have left him bitter. But not Gedion. His focus, as always, was on Jesus.

“When I got sick and [had to leave] school, I couldn’t work … I couldn’t study. That was very challenging,” says Gedion. “But I have never felt down. He lifts my heart.”

“I love those times. I love them very much. Those were the biggest lessons I have ever learned in my life. Nobody [could have taught] me big lessons [like that].”

Now Gedion is healthy and finishing his last year in college. And he uses the lessons he learned about trusting God to minister to others.

“Those are my references to teach someone who feels like he’s down, or like God doesn’t see him,” he says.

The Most Important Thing

When Gedion isn’t in class or serving at the Hope Center, he works as a music teacher.

“I love training,” he tells me. “I love sharing what I have.”

I reply that it’s nice he can make a living doing something he loves.

That’s when Gedion leans in and tells me about his real passion.

“That’s not my final goal, to be a musician,” Gedion says, with beautiful intensity. “The gospel is my burden.”

Gedion says that when he completes his degree in music, he plans to go on to Bible college and become a pastor.

“What’s your vision for the people you want to reach?” I ask.

When he tells me, his words vibrate with love for God and people.

Many people don’t know Jesus,” Gedion says. “I want them to know Him through me — through my teaching, my prayers, my life.”

Gedion is already working in ministry, by serving in his local church.

“Through my service in the church I have been able to reach many people,” he tells me. “I’ve been able to teach many younger people. When I see their life get changed in some way, that’s satisfaction!”

Connecting People With God

Intrigued by this musician with a pastor’s heart, I ask Gedion what he would tell someone who was trying to discover the will of God.

Gedion reflects for a moment.

“To know the will of God,” he says, “the Bible is first — to know the Bible, to study it. The Bible speaks so loudly. I would teach you the Bible.”

He adds that if God gave him a scripture, a song, or a message for the person seeking God’s will, he would be sure to share it. But his ultimate goal is for others to grow in a personal relationship with God.

“I don’t want to be a bridge from someone to Christ,” Gedion says. “I want to be a puller.”

Gedion explains that he wants people to experience Jesus for themselves, rather than second hand.

“You know, … to pull someone to Jesus. I want to connect him to Jesus. To know Him. I don’t want to tell him Jesus is this and that. I want him to feel it, I want him to know it. I want him to experience it.”

Under His Wings

Moved by the faith and zeal of this young man, I ask how I can pray for him. And I’m not surprised at his response.

“My biggest desire is, I want to know more about God, more of faith,” says Gedion.

“I want you to pray for me to get access to join a good Bible college. It would be very nice if I get a scholarship, if that’s God’s will. I want to serve through music, through choirs, through young people, through praying, through teaching. And I want to know more. That’s my dream.”

Gedion’s prayer request is not for health or security because he has learned to face hardships with courage born of faith. Experience has shown Gedion that God will always be there to protect him.

In that time when many problems were around me,” he says, “I was hid under His wings.”