Written by Alyssa Esparaz

What hearing this powerful story of conversion and persecution taught me

Sitting in a quiet home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I find myself gripping my notebook and recorder tightly as I lean in to make sure I am hearing everything correctly.

It’s hard to reconcile Abas—the easy-going pastor sitting in front of me—with the violent and turbulent story he tells of his life.

He grew up living in poverty, in a small town where Christians were the persecuted minority. When he was five-years-old, he was registered in the Compassion program at his local church. “I remember immediately being shown love like I had never experienced before,” he recalls. But it would take 10 years before he would choose to respond to that love.

In those intervening years, Abas and his friends became known as local troublemakers. One day, they stole from the church office. Abraham, the director of the Compassion centre, found out.

“Abraham told me that he knew what we did,” Abas shares. It’s here that the story takes a dark turn. Afraid that Abraham would go to the police, Abas made a plan to kill him. One night, he waited outside the church with a weapon—but he never got to go through with his plan. Something that can only be explained as miraculous intervened. “I know that Abraham left the church that night, but despite my vigilant stakeout, I never saw him.” Abas says. It’s a stark illustration to me that God is always working in our lives, even when we don’t recognize it. He is protecting us, saving us for His greater plans.

That soon became evident in Abas’ life. One day, Jesus appeared to him in a vision. I’m amazed by this, and eagerly ask to know more. “So many of us will follow Him for our whole lives, and not ever have a moment like that in our faith,” I say, “What was it like?”

He tells me that Jesus’ body was full of light, and he heard His voice say, “I am Jesus.” Abas tells me that Jesus appeared how he imagined Him in his mind. “Maybe it’s because Jesus wanted me to be sure,” Abas says, “Like He knew if He came in a different image, I might not accept Him.” It’s another vivid illustration to me of grace—that Jesus meets us where we are and reveals Himself in ways that we can understand.

Abas gave his life to Christ. “I remember feeling two things,” he says. “I was joyful—amazed that Jesus would come and approach me full of love! And I was scared—afraid of what would happen to me, since Christians are a minority in my community.”

At first, people thought he had gone crazy. Even the church members refused to believe this troublemaker’s transformation. Only one person did believe him: Abraham. “This man whom I had once planned to kill, shared in my joy,” Abas says. “He gave me advice, prayed for me and taught me the word of God.”

Abraham recognized leadership potential in Abas and had him lead a sports ministry for youth. Through this, youth began giving their lives to Christ.

It was then that the persecution began. A mob formed to stone Abas. He ran to the forest to hide—where he ended up living for a month.

“I ate fruit from the trees, slept on a rock and spent my time reading Scripture and praying. Oddly enough, I was extremely happy—it was a joy that came from knowing Jesus was with me.” It’s something I can’t even begin to relate to—but the part of me that longs for such a radical faith soaks in the way he retells his story with such peace.

After hearing God call him back, Abas returned to the community to continue his ministry. Miraculously, no one came after him again.

Today, Abas is a husband, father, pastor and church planter. “My passion is to fight poverty, preach to people and bring them into God’s kingdom,” Abas says.

Abas’ story is a sobering reminder of what I take for granted, living in a place where I don’t experience persecution. And it’s a beautiful picture of how Jesus meets us in such diverse ways and cuts through everything from violence to exile to transform lives. It’s this relentless love that has me continually leaning in to hear more of these remarkable stories.

To learn more about how you can be part of stories like these, visit compassion.ca.