27 October 2022

Andrew DeCort

Today I was humbled to share an extended interview with Dr. Fasika Amdeslasie Gebrekirkos. Dr. Fasika serves as a surgeon at Ayder Referral Hospital in Mekele, Tigray’s capital city in northern Ethiopia.

Dr. Fasika has given the last two years of his life to caring for victims of Ethiopia’s devastating civil war. The horrors he has witnessed are overwhelming. I want to begin by honoring his tireless, courageous service to so many suffering people, whom he sees as God’s image.

Tigray has been largely cut off from the world for the last two years due to the Ethiopian government’s blockade and blackout of communication networks. I hope this conversation gives you windows into the very real, very painful, and very courageous lives that ordinary Tigrayans like Dr. Fasika are living.

In this conversation, we touch on faith, family, ethnic identity, how the war is affecting children’s attitudes, the hospital, starvation, sexual violence, the relationship of Tigray and Ethiopia, Ethiopia’s peace talks, and what is truly important in life. Dr. Fasika’s views are his own, but I deeply appreciated the spirit of love, trust, and hope that so powerfully comes through in his words.

I hope you read the full interview. But if you read nothing else, this is what Dr. Fasika said he wants the world to know about what is happening in Tigray today:

“Tigray is one of the most unfortunate regions in the world. Innocent children are dying hungry and sick. The leftover food people are throwing in their garbage can save a kid from dying a painful death here in Tigray. Tigray is a place where the egos and greed of leaders is making innocents perish in hundreds of thousands. It has become a land where a person can just die, just like a fly dies.

Please give attention to what is happening. Not attention in the sense that you give attention to a zoo or a museum or a show or some evening news but as a place on earth where a person created in the image of God is suffering helplessly.”

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Here is the full interview:

AD: Selam, Dr. Fasika. Have you returned to Mekele from visiting other clinics? I continue to pray for you.

Dr. Fasika: Yes dear. I need your prayer, every prayer of a brother in Christ. Since last Friday, there was the rumor that Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers were coming in to Mekele.

AD: Peace of Christ, grace of Christ, mercy of Christ be with you, behind you, in front of you, above and beneath you, inside and all around you.

Dr. Fasika: Amen. A lot of relatives and families were worried. They were suggesting that I should hide or that my kids should stay in hiding. I was vocal about the suffering of patients.

AD: This is so hard, brother.

Dr. Fasika: Yeah it is. I am praying constantly. It is a terrible time. Now I am okay, though there is still the possibility [of military occupation].

AD: You are not forgotten or alone.

Dr. Fasika: I believe that God is always in control and no single thing happens without him allowing it to happen. That keeps me going. I repented and asked God’s forgiveness; I spent a lot of time shouting to the world. That shout should have been directed to God. I gave the world the shout it does not deserve.

AD: God understands our shout. We hear lots of shouts in the Psalms. Jesus prayed, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” You are not alone.

Dr. Fasika: Yeah, I have read the shouts in the Psalms, including David’s curses against his enemies. Being from Tigray is making us so vulnerable.

I don’t believe in ethnicity or race. I don’t think there is a place reserved for Tegaru or Amhara or anything in heaven. We will all be one big family with Jesus. And that family is supposed to start while we’re here on earth.

AD: I hear you, dear brother. Yes.

Dr. Fasika: Those of us in Tigray and Amahara were supposed to be Christians. We are supposed to believe in the holy trinity. But we are killing each other, hating each other.

AD: The hate is deep and intense. It requires a lot of healing.

Dr. Fasika: So we need prayer. Christians in the world should pray for us. Only the devil is profiting from Tigray’s war; he is collecting unsaved souls and taking them to hell.

AD: Yes, prayer is a huge part of how the healing can happen.

What is happening at the hospital now? What are you seeing?

Dr. Fasika: It is empty. Not much [is happening]. Patients have stopped coming. It was decreasing gradually, now it is almost zero, except for few emergency cases.

AD: Is that because there is no supplies?

Dr. Fasika: Yeah, supplies are zero. Many patients were returned back for the last 17 months. I am assuming they have understood that they will not get help by coming to Ayder. Transport is the other potential cause for patients not to come.

AD: I’m sorry, brother. This must be extremely painful for you as a physician.

Tell me about the starvation happening in the region. What are you seeing?

Dr. Fasika: You see a lot of well-dressed people begging in the city. Most people have lost weight as they are cutting meals. I think the worst is in rural Tigray, which I did not get the chance to visit and see. If people go and see in rural Tigray, I assume it will be very bad.

AD: This is so hard to see. Is your family getting enough food, brother?

Dr. Fasika: Yeah, I and my family are good. We have food. We were worried few months back, but God provided. Friends and family sent me money.

AD: I’m so grateful to hear it. Do you know how close Ethiopian and Eritrean troops are to Mekele? What are you hearing?

Dr. Fasika: They are in Adwa and Axum. I have found this map to be accurate compared with what I am hearing: https://en.wikipedia.org/…/Template:Ethiopian_wars_and_insu…

AD: Do you think most Tigrayans want to stay with Ethiopia or leave the federation?

Dr. Fasika: This is a difficult question to answer. But hear me out. First, this needs a research and opinion poll. Most of the people around me are emotional, and they feel betrayed by the Ethiopian government and Amhara. They even cite historical “evidences” that for hundreds of years the Amhara have come and acted cruelly in Tigray, that they have invited foreign forces to subdue Tigray. They argue there is a deep hatred and injustice against Tegaru for hundreds of years.

So talking about Ethiopia as motherland amongst Tegaru in the cities and universities is considered a taboo. But 70 percent of Tegaru are found in the rural part. I don’t think their opinions ever mattered in Ethiopian politics. In the Tigray Defense Force, I have heard that almost every TDF member believes Tigray needs to be a country. I think the TPLF is Ethiopianist; however, the new parties are for independent Tigray. So I think the elite thinks, I assume, we Tigray should be a country.

But there are people who are afraid to voice that there should not be any such thing called Tigray as a country – like people born from both Amhara and Tigray parents, people whose marriage partner is Amhara. I have friends whose family is on the verge of disruption. They cannot discuss genuinely. A husband and a wife from different ethnicities avoid genuine discussion about the progress of the war.

I believe Tegaru and Amhara are the closest kin on the face of the earth – in terms of skin color, culture, language. Ethnicity is a stupid thing. It is one of the hurdles God has instituted for us. We are supposed to jump above it, not be affected by it, just like sex, drink, or other fleshly indulgences. We are supposed to outgrow that tendency to be identified and biased by skin color or eye color or language.

Alas, many fail this test. And look, Ethiopians fail the most.

AD: It’s very difficult. Much has been destroyed — lives, communities, trust, the social fabric. What do you hope for moving forward?

Dr. Fasika: Only coming to the LORD will solve the war. Anything short of God will not solve it. Otherwise, [I see] total destruction, until both people are destroyed and they realize it was not worth it. The devil is profiting. The hatred is not of this world. It is irrational.

My nine-year-old daughter yesterday suggested that I undergo plastic surgery. She said, “When the Amhara come, they will not identify you.” It is even spilling over to our children. I am praying for God to protect our children’s hearts.

AD: Oh brother, that is painful. Very dangerous.

Dr. Fasika: Yeah, very.

AD: What are you hearing in churches? What sermons are being preached at this time?

Dr. Fasika: The Orthodox church has more singing and prayer. There is no good teaching. What is remarkable is the prayer of mothers and their fasting.

AD: What are the mothers saying in their prayers?

Dr. Fasika: It is called mhla. It has crying, worshiping and lamenting. They pray for God to save their children, for God to bring mercy.

AD: I join them in this prayer for mercy and God to save the children.

Dr. Fasika: Amen.

AD: What is the inner voice in your heart saying to you at this time?

Dr. Fasika: I am not that much developed with regard to the inner voice thing. I am a person with logic predominating in my life. My heart is blunted, for very long, long before this war, long before I came to Christ. I am always praying for God to change my heart, make it less stony and fleshy. I think God is working on my heart. I sense some changes. But he’s not started talking to me.

AD: Let us keep listening together. I pray for us to have a soft heart of flesh instead of the hard heart of stone. But you are in a very painful place where it is extremely difficult to be soft-hearted.

What are you telling your wife and children at this time?

Dr. Fasika: I have given my life to God. I have decided to do only his will. I have not still understood fully what God’s will for me is in this life. I have not fully determined what my role is in this war. So that puts me in a situation of uncertainty.

The only thing that keeps me going and not break is my faith that God is a good God, and he will not let me be tempted more than my capacity. So I tell my wife this always. Whatever God has willed will happen. And he is a good God.

She does not find that practical for bringing immediate solutions. In this war, women are very hurt. I think it is because of the widespread rape. They feel they are raped themselves even if they were not. That triggers very strong emotions.

I tell my kids to pray and only to pray. I tell my wife whatever God has willed will happen, even if we may not like it.

AD: The pain is so acute and overwhelming. When Jesus was crucified, I am amazed by his response. The first is forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” The second is hope: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The third is trust: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” May God give us forgiveness, hope, and trust.

Dr. Fasika: Amen.

AD: Are your parents alive?

Dr. Fasika: Both are alive and outside Tigray.

AD: I’m glad they’re in a safe place. Are you able to communicate with them?

Dr. Fasika: Yeah, today my friend took her cellphone to my parents home and I met them, for example.

AD: I’m sure they are very worried for you but also very proud of you.

Dr. Fasika: My mother is very worried, worried especially if and when the Ethiopian National Defense Force and Eritrean Defense Force are coming. All the doctors in Tigray have not come out boldly. Only me and my colleague are vocal. There is fear. That worries her.

AD: You have been a voice of courage. May God comfort her and comfort you.

What are the beautiful things you have seen during this war? Maybe acts of kindness or courage or generosity?

Dr. Fasika: I have seen a lot of kind people, just like the poor woman Jesus commended [for giving the tiny amount of money she had]. The poorer the person, the kinder I have found in some people.

I have seen that Tegaru are resilient and have metal-like strength – unbending and resilient as a people. I did not know that before.

I have learned that many of the things I considered important are not important after all. Having a car, a house, good food have become less important. Other luxury things which I considered basic have become unimportant.

Now food, health, and peace have stood out as basic. Family used to be very important; it has not changed its place. Most importantly God: God is the single most important thing in life.

AD: This is a very profound clarification. I have a friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer. He said almost exactly what you have just said. When we face our mortality, things can become clearer.

What do you want the world to know about Tigray?

Dr. Fasika: Tigray is one of the most unfortunate regions in the world. Innocent children are dying hungry and sick. The leftover food people are throwing in their garbage can save a kid from dying a painful death here in Tigray. Tigray is a place where the egos and greed of leaders is making innocents perish in hundreds of thousands. It has become a land where a person can just die, just like a fly dies.

Please give attention to what is happening. Not attention in the sense that you give attention to a zoo or a museum or a show or some evening news but as a place on earth where a person created in the image of God is suffering helplessly.

AD: Thank you for sharing your heart. Do you have hope that the peace talks in South Africa will actually bring peace?

Dr. Fasika: If God wills. Only if he wills it. I don’t think human contraptions can solve the complicated problems of the Tigray war.

AD: May God remind us of Jesus’s declaration: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Dr. Fasika: Amen.

AD: Thank you, dear brother. I am humbled that you would share your heart so openly with me. I have tears in my eyes right now. I am filled with grief, sorrow, and hope in God’s mercy.

Dr. Fasika: Thank you dear brother for giving me your time. God bless you more.

Source: Andrew DeCort Facebook account

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