In a desk in an Addis Ababa office sits a 23-year-old letter that changed lives.
The letter belongs to Wakshuma Terefe, and he unfolded it recently and told his story to TWR Ministry Relations Director Joe Fort, who was visiting Ethiopia on business. Today, Wakshuma is head of electronic media for the Ethiopian Evangelical Church’s communication service – a partner of TWR – and the letter is partly responsible for that fact.
Wakshuma grew up in a family that worshipped evil spirits, witchcraft and magic. In 1989, he was 20 years old and the communists governed Ethiopia during that period.
“It was strictly forbidden for the young people to even talk about God, let alone worship,” Wakshuma said. “There was bitter persecution on the followers of Jesus Christ, and as a result, many believers were imprisoned, tortured and murdered.”
Wakshuma met secretly with other believers to pray. Often they were caught by the authorities and beaten. He came across a radio program that had spilled over to Africa even though it was broadcast to India from TWR’s Guam transmission site.
He recalled the worst instance of persecution he suffered: “They forced me to walk, on my knees, over rough gravel. My knees were cut and bleeding, and I was in tears. But I went home and listened to the TWR programs and was encouraged.”
Seeking advice and encouragement for the group of believers, he sent a letter to the address in Hong Kong, 5,000 miles away.
Forwarded another 2,100 miles to Guam, the letter was eventually answered by TWR missionary Joan Zensen. She encouraged him to remain faithful to the Lord and to make the Bible essential reading, and she suggested he take TWR’s free Bible correspondence course.
“I firmly believe from what I know of God’s Word, as well as from my own experience, that God will not forget your commitment to him,” Joan wrote. “He will lead you and guide you until at least you recognize that He has indeed given you your heart’s desire.”
To Wakshuma, the letter was more than just a polite response: It was nothing less than an instrument of the Holy Spirit.
“I had received no instructions concerning how to walk in the new life except through reading the Bible,” he said. “Therefore, the letters of Joan Zensen came to me full of such instructions. It encouraged me to stay with the station [tuned in to TWR] and also gave orientation about how I should continue growing in my Christian life… In general, he letters have changed the course of my life.”
The correspondence continued for a time, and in 1996 Wakshuma went into full-time Christian service with a personal mission to change even more lives.
When Joe Fort asked if he would like to send a message to Joan, no semiretired in Elkhart, Indiana, Wakshuma jumped at the chance. Joan, though, is quick to point out that it was God who, “used my work in such a remarkable way” and that she was one of the many required to broadcast the Gospel over the airwaves.
“His recorded ‘thank you’ was a huge blessing to me,” Joan said. “Just to hear the love in his voice was an experience I will never forget!”