Eshetu Gebre is a senior member of the Berhane Wengel Church of Ethiopia.
Eshetu Gebre was born on October 13, 1940 in Dire Dawa town. His father was Gebre Tachbelie and his mother, Zenebech Wolde Giorgis. As a young boy he first joined the traditional Orthodox Church (priest) School to study reading and writing and then went to a formal government elementary school and completed eighth grade in 1956 in Dire Dawa.
He joined the Air Force in the summer of 1956 and continued his education until 1958, though he did not finish the entire program. Rather, he went to work in the Wonji Sugar Factory for two and half years. After this he worked in the Akaki Textile Corporation (end of 1960 to July 1972)and in the Gulele New Brick Factory (August 1972 to May 1974). Because of the Dergue Revolution in Ethiopia, he lost this factory job in June 1974 and was jobless until October 1976. Then he got a job in the Debre Berhan Wool and Blanket Factory where he worked until August 1980. After that he worked at the Adey Abeba Cotton Factory in Addis Ababa for the next ten years (September 1980 to July 1990).
During all these years he was always furthering his education both in the secular and spiritual fields. Between 1971 and 1974 he studied for a diploma in drafting at the Technical (Tegbare Ed) School. He received a certificate from the Air Force in network planning. He took a two-month training course at Addis Ababa University to become a technical trainer. He attended the Geja Kale Heywot Bible School between 1983 and 1988 and obtained a diploma.
When Eshetu began his work as a technician at the Akaki Textile Factory, he met a young lady, seventeen years old, named Alemtsehay Wolde Senbet, who also worked there. They loved each other and married two years later, on June 17, 1962. They led a humble life and had their first baby a year later. At this time Alemtsehay’s eyes began to fail her and she was forced to stop working. Between 1963 and 1964 she progressively became blind, a development which devastated both husband and wife and their families. Their second child was born at that time.
At this point, Eshetu decided he wanted to donate one of his eyes to his wife because he had heard that this was possible in the U.S.A. if they could afford it. But because of the financial barrier, he kept it a secret from his wife. In the meantime, he requested a grant from Emperor Haile Sellassie for the operation. Upon receiving this request, the emperor first wanted to his German ophthalmologists to evaluate the condition of Alemtsehay’s eyes.
Their diagnosis was that her eyes were damaged beyond repair. The doctors even decided to remove one of her eyes because it was a danger to her brain. Therefore Eshetu’s hope and dream of giving partial sight to his wife by giving her one of his eyes was gone for ever. Nevertheless he was more determined than ever to live the rest of his life with her because he loved her so much. Therefore, he decided to show his commitment to her by taking the Orthodox vow of no divorce by taking communion in the Orthodox Church. In this way, they lovingly continued their life together and had nine children, of which only six lived.
The names of the children born before Eshetu and Alemtsehay knew Christ as their Savior are Nebiyu, Misrak (who died at a year old), Hunegnaw (who died aged 32), Fremnatos, Emkedme-Alem and Melteda (Menderin). Those born after the couple became Christians are Nathnael (who died at age 20), Menna Eyesus (meaning “the manna that Jesus gave”) and Muluwongel (meaning “full gospel”).
In June 1974 another crisis hit the family. Eshetu was now working in the Gulele New Brick Factory in Addis Ababa when the Ethiopian Revolution began. Because of the fear that came over factory owners or administrators, many employees were let go and Eshetu was one of those who lost his job. Slowly the family began to struggle to make ends meet and they were forced to sell property. Even after their house and car were sold to feed the children, they faced more serious problems. In the middle of all this, however, the couple’s love grew ever stronger. God was watching over this family although they did not know him because His good will was to win these precious souls for Himself.
Alemtsehay remembers how ready their hearts were to serve God as Orthodox Christians. She also remembers her husband’s prayers in the middle of the night as he stood on one leg as the Orthodox saints did out of reverence for God. Every sixteenth day of the month he slept on the floor instead of in his bed. She felt that this was the best way to serve God. But on September 6, 1974 Eshetu received Christ as his Savior after visiting an evangelical church with a relative and came home totally changed. His sudden conversion put a strain on the marriage which would soon either make it or break it. He praised God and sang so much that his wife thought he was losing his mind. When she asked him what was going on he told her about Jesus. She was so angry that she told him to stop speaking to her and she refused to either sleep or eat with him anymore. Their life was seriously disrupted for a period of three months because of his conversion. But God intervened and Eshetu got a good job in Debre Berhan about a hundred kilometers away.
After he had left and Alemtsehay was alone, a relative who had previously taken Eshetu to an evangelical church also came to see her and told her about Jesus. What he told her was wonderful and she, too, believed in Jesus. He took her to Full Gospel Church and everything became beautiful to her. Then she understood the happiness that her husband had experienced. When Eshetu came back from Debre Berhan to visit her some time later, he found her changed too, regenerated by her new faith in Jesus. And so, their relationship that had begun to wither away was renewed again. They were interviewed on the anniversary of their thirty-fourth year of marriage by Kale Heywet Journal where their love was beautifully described in an article entitled “Marriage that was not Darkened by Darkness.”
During Eshetu’s work at the Debre Berhan Wool and Blanket Factory (1976-1980), Alemtsehay was trained to read and write in Braille and finished the course with an excellent grade.
In 1990 Eshetu received his pension and joined the Wongel Amagnoch Hibret (Evangelical Believers Association) in October 1991 where he worked until May 1994. He then went to Tokkie, near Ambo town as the director of the Berhane Wongel Bible School and served there for seven years until May 2002.
Ato Eshetu Gebre has been active as a member of the Berhane Wongel Church either as a part time or as a full time employee, giving unreserved service and love to all. In an interview in December 2003, he said he is staying home reading, praying, teaching small Bible study groups conducted in homes, writing out his teachings by hand, and distributing photocopies for free. At the beginning of January 2004 he was offered a new job, working as director of the Berhane Wongel Training Center. Being a senior member of the Berhane Wongel (Baptist) Church, he has always been involved teaching, preaching, and baptizing new members joining the church.
Wondiye Ali, “Marriage that was not Darkened by Darkness,” (translated by the author) Kale Hiywet (Amharic) Magazine, 1995 (1987 EC), #10, pp. 6-9.
Eshetu Gebre, interview by author, 2004.
This biography was researched and written in 2004 by Dr. Dirshaye Menberu, retired professor from Addis Ababa University and graduate of the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology. The liaison coordinators are Dr. Paul and Mrs. Lila Balisky, serving with SIM and at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology.