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Damtew Demelash
1965 to 2002
Full Gospel Believers Church
Ethiopia

Damtaw Demelash, a pastoral leader in the Full Gospel Believers Church, was a martyr for the cause of Christ. Damtew Demelash was born in 1965 in the small urban centre of Dangila, some 150 kilometers southwest of the regional capital city of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. His father's name was Demelash Kassa and his mother's name was Mulu Jember Adela. Damtew's parents were of Amhara stock, members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC), most recently residing in Bahir Dar, 550 kilometers north of Addis Ababa. Damtew completed his elementary education and senior high school in Dangila. After completing his teacher training education at the Gondar Teachers Training Institute in 1982, he was assigned to teach in a secondary school in Bale Region of southeastern Ethiopia. He married Tsegai Battu Bayou in 1983. Two sons, Dawit and Zelalem, were born to them.

In 1991 Damtew was transferred to the town of Merawi, some 500 kilometers north of Addis Ababa and forty kilometers south of Bahir Dar, to teach biology in the government secondary school. During his time at Merawi he became a believer in 1999 through the witness and ministry of brothers and sisters from the Full Gospel Believers Church. This church is one of the newer independent churches of Ethiopia in the charismatic evangelical tradition.

The Merawi church began around 1990, when two Christian sisters began proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus with some others. The Orthodox Church community of Merawi attempted to snuff out this "new Pente religion" as they pejoratively called it. An organized gang was paid to persecute that small handful of believers. In 1991 an accusation was made against the Full Gospel followers by the Orthodox leaders, "The Pentes have stolen the Ark of the Covenant (tabot) from our church." This accusation was proven false in the local Merawi court.

Another factor that sparked resentment against the non-Orthodox believers was that in 1991 a blind woman from Merawi town miraculously received her sight when she arrived in Addis Ababa for treatment. Before she visited the Black Lion Hospital, her brother took her to a Full Gospel Believers prayer service where she was healed. When the two returned to Merawi, her miraculous healing became public news in the town. This prompted a false accusation against the believers and caused a public interrogation in front of the Merawi skeptical community for no valid reason. The once blind woman who now could see was evidence enough of God's miraculous power. The Full Gospel Believers were allowed peace and freedom to worship for a time.

For a decade the Full Gospel members continued to grow in numbers. Their rented facilities soon became too small for their worship service. Damtew, now a zealous follower of Jesus, began to negotiate for a plot of land in order to erect a small Full Gospel Church in the urban centre of Merawi with a population of some 20,000. The problem of renting a house for the purpose of worship in this section of Ethiopia, which is strongly Ethiopian Orthodox, is a challenge. Obtaining a plot of land to build a church or acquiring a burial plot are both nearly impossible, especially if one is known as a non-Orthodox believer or "Pente." But Damtew was undeterred and diligently pursued the church land matter with various individuals in the Merawi municipality. He eventually succeeded in obtaining land in the name of the Full Gospel Believers Church.

But this land issue sparked sharp antagonism from the Orthodox Church leadership in Merawi. On July 17, 2002, a gang of masked hooligans who were hired by the religious leaders disturbed the town of Merawi. The hooligans' intention was to tear down the newly erected fence around the Full Gospel Believers' acquired property and to inflict harm on the Full Gospel members. The howling crowd, led by one blowing a trumpet, went to the homes of all the known believers and dragged them out to beat and torture them. The local police and urban officials were helpless in their attempt to curb the angry crowd's violent rampaging which lasted all night and well into the next morning.

The hooligans were armed with an array of spears, hammers, axes, bludgeons, and rocks. Heads were cracked, arms and legs were broken, and eyes damaged by thrown rocks. Personal effects from the believers' houses were looted. The believers were purposely left to bleed the entire night and no one was allowed to bind up their wounds and rescue them from torture. The cries of the believers could be compared to that of the parents in Ramah (Matt. 3:18). Police reinforcements eventually came from Bahir Dar, the Federal Regional capital, to put an end to this destructive behavior.

When Tsegai came home early the next morning she found her husband lying unconscious in a pool of blood. Her two sons had hidden under their bed the entire night listening to the groans of their dying father. An Isuzu truck was hired to carry the maimed and beaten to the Bahir Dar hospital. Damtew died enroute. Of all the Merawi believers who were severely wounded, only Damtew lost his life.

Other Merawi believers escaped to Bahir Dar and remained there in a temporary shelter for about a month until legal action was taken against the perpetrators of the crime.

A new Full Gospel Believers Church now stands proudly on the land that cost Damtew his life (2004). These believers now worship in relative freedom. Although the Merawi community perpetrated this act of violence in ignorance, as their fathers did in ages past, the believers throughout Ethiopia beg their God for their forgiveness. And with Damtew's son Dawit they say, "May God forgive them and we sincerely wish them salvation." This indeed was Jesus' model. Maranatha!!! Amen. Come now, Lord Jesus! [1]

Teshome Negash



Notes:

1. In 2004, at the time of this writing, Tsegai, Damtew's wife, is still living in Merawi with her two teenage sons and serving as a teacher in the Merawi School where her husband once taught. Though still grieving her husband's death, Tsegai has accepted this reality, knowing she will eventually meet him at Jesus' feet in glory. The Lord had prepared her for this tragedy because, a few days earlier she had received several messages from individuals unknown to her about Damtew's impending death. This helped her to accept the situation when it did occur. Tsegai's sons, Dawit and Zelalem, are continuing their education and Tsegai is in the process of upgrading her teaching skills and credentials.

Bibliography:

Tegegnework Amare (ed.), Pergamum (Special edition written on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Merawi Full Gospel Believers Church, June 12, 2004).
Tsegai Battu, telephone interview on August 7, 2004 by Teshome Negash.



This biography was researched and written in 2004 by Ato Teshome Negash, student at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST), a DACB participating institution. Dr. Paul and Mrs. Lila Balisky, who serve with SIM and at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, are the DACB liaison coordinators at EGST. They are also members of the DACB Advisory Council.