Rescuing Africa’s Vulnerable in Jesus’ Name—Part 2
Story by Margot Bass, Rachel Ayele, and Jessica Russell
Photos Courtesy of ESMAfrica
This is Part 2 of a two-part story on Ebenezer Shepherding Ministries of Africa (ESMAfrica). Part 1 focused on the ministry’s outreach to orphans and impoverished families. Calvary Chapel Magazine first reported on this ministry in 2013, Issue 57.
Argaw and Rachel Ayele are on mission—to provide hope to the helpless and vulnerable in south-central Ethiopia—through their ministry, Ebenezer Shepherding Ministries of Africa (ESMAfrica) in Hawassa, Ethiopia. “Sometimes all we can see is darkness. But the darkness is what gives hope a possibility,” Rachel observed.
ESMAfrica is a non-profit organization sharing the love of Christ with the people of Africa by providing housing, food, education, spiritual encouragement, and love for orphans and vulnerable children. It also helps poverty-stricken families and individuals become self-supporting.
Argaw Ayele (far left) prays for ESMAfrica’s first baptism ceremony in October 2019 when 16 kids in the ministry, as well as the three oldest of Aragaw and Rachel’s biological children, were baptized. Shaun Havelaar (second left), their partner now serving in the U.S., was able to join them for the event.
The Seeds of Ministry
Argaw and Rachel met at Calvary Chapel Bible College Europe (in Hungary) in 2005, marrying just six months later. Argaw was born and raised in Ethiopia, Rachel in Indiana. At age 15, Rachel had dreamed of living in Ethiopia, as a missionary surrounded by sick and abandoned children. Although that dream had cooled over the years, it was rekindled in Bible college.
Argaw led a vastly different life in Yirgalem, south of Hawassa. During a war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, two of Argaw’s brothers serving in the military were wounded—yet received no help from the government. So, in the year 2000, he fled to Europe. While in a refugee camp, Argaw became a Christian after learning about Jesus Christ from Calvary Chapel missionaries from Budapest, Hungary. As he grew in his faith, the church later sent him to the Bible college, where Argaw began to feel that God was preparing to use him to reach his Ethiopian homeland with His love.
But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13b-14
Before they married, after he graduated from the internship program, Argaw and Rachel made immediate plans to move to Ethiopia as missionaries. In 2010, they opened their first orphanage, Ebenezer Grace Children’s Home (EGCH). Today there are two more homes, one for those in dire need of specialized care and another for older boys, many of whom are HIV-positive. Together, the three currently house 85 children.
Rachel Ayele, Argaw’s wife, receives Valentine’s Day cards from the children in Ebenezer Grace Children’s Homes. Rachel met Argaw at the CC Bible College in Hungary.
Residents of Ebenezer’s homes gather for weekly worship services; Argaw teaches the Bible and the groups sing praise songs. Families from the community are also invited, although those numbers have shrunk since the COVID-19 pandemic began. “EGCH isn’t only an orphanage; it’s a means for the community to prevail,” Argaw stated. “We support families with no income. Families are often run by widowed grandmothers whose children are dead.” A sponsorship program supports families and individuals throughout Hawassa. “We counsel the participants, pray with them, and help them support their families,” Argaw added. Other support includes medical and educational assistance and microfinance capital for small businesses.
Through practical ministry, ESMAfrica shares God’s love with people having wide-ranging needs, including a father diagnosed with HIV trying to raise his children, and a woman, Abebech, who had a large, painful facial tumor on her face. “In 2014, Abebech was able to have a much-needed surgery with God’s provision for her through Ebenezer,” Rachel revealed.
Drought and famine in recent years opened the door for the ministry to initiate a public-school feeding program in southern Ethiopia in. Collaborating with several food suppliers and facilitators, they fed school lunches to 31,700 children in the southern region in 2016-2017, Rachel shared.
Argaw tickles a child with cerebral palsy at an Ethiopian New Year’s party at Lantu’s home.
Facing New Challenges
Although the COVID-19 pandemic affected the operation of ESMAfrica’s children’s homes, God has been faithful. Of the nearly 150 adults and children involved in the ministry and tested for the virus, only four tested positive and remained asymptomatic during quarantine, Rachel said. Government officials asked the homes to isolate as best they could, not allow the children to leave the premises, and even limit the traffic in and out for staff. “During COVID, we’ve seen a huge increase in prices for food and transportation. Also, our ’mamas’ (caretakers) have stayed for over two weeks at a time so that there is less risk of COVID entering each day,” Rachel reported. As of late October 2020, two of the houses had been taken off lockdown.
They initially worried about the finances during these months. “However, the Lord has surprised us and raised enough funds to continue caring for all the kids, as well as for the community,”—enough for food donations, sanitation products and face masks, and ministry rent payments, Rachel expressed gratefully. “In the midst of a pandemic, God provided even more than in previous months.” Although the pandemic interrupted their family travel plans to the U.S, she admitted, “We are quite happy to be here at this time and feel that the Lord has reminded us over and over again that He is our rest.”
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19
In addition, the rented house the Ayeles lived in, away from the children’s homes, was recently flooded, requiring them to move into a new rental home. “This year we’ve seen it rain way more than normal. But, through all of that, we’ve felt the Lord’s hand holding us up through people praying for, encouraging, and helping us financially to provide for our needs,” Rachel shared. They hope to build a new home, with a guesthouse on top of family living quarters, on a piece of land they purchased in 2006. A partnering church in England has raised $28,000 this year, 17% of the cost of building. “We’re stepping out in faith that the Lord will provide the rest of the money as He sees fit,” Rachel said.
Although their longtime partners and friends from Bible college, Shaun and Megan Havelaar, have returned to the States, they continue to support ESMAfrica from a distance. “They will always be considered the “uncle” and “aunt” of this ministry. The Lord miraculously strengthened Argaw and me to cover the work that the Havelaars were doing on the ground with joy in our hearts,” Rachel affirmed.
Rachel (center) prays with the “mamas” (caretakers) at Ebenezer Grace for one of the girls who was very sick.
A Healing from Abortion
A young woman, Adanech, had planned to have an abortion. After Argaw talked with her, she chose to give her baby life. Today, she and her daughter, nearly a year old, live at Lantu’s Home. For Argaw, that interaction was personal, Rachel related. “Argaw used to assist doctors in performing abortions before he rededicated his life to Christ. It was one of the things that had hindered him the most, even while in Bible college, from drawing closer to the Lord and forgetting his past sins. He felt so guilty with the blood on his hands.”
The late George Markey Sr., a veteran missionary, encouraged him to look at the life of Apostle Paul, who had murdered Christians. With God’s help, Argaw moved past the events of his past and strove for what was ahead. Rachel described what happened next: “Argaw felt like scales had fallen from his eyes and he was free from the guilt and pain he had lived with for so many years. So, for him to have an influence over a young girl who was going to kill her baby, he feels like the redemption of the Lord has come full circle. He felt God’s grace in a new, amazing way.”
Rachel snuggles the newest child at Lantu’s Home.
Rachel admitted that when they moved to Hawassa, many didn’t believe they could handle the work or that they would last long there. “To be honest, we didn’t believe it either. And they were right. We didn’t—but God could. Through His Word and His Holy Spirit encouraging and comforting and protecting us, He got us through the hardest times.” She stressed that she and Argaw are living proof of Matthew 19:26: But Jesus looked at [His disciples] and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Rachel marveled, “We are uneducated in the world’s eyes … the most unqualified people for the positions the Lord has us in. And yet, here we are, getting our ‘PhD’s’ through experience because God is so good. Sometimes things don’t work out, a total flop. But nothing has been wasted. God has used all these experiences, all our trials and errors, to teach us how to go about doing this ministry.”
To read Part 1 of this story, click here. ESMAfrica is the 501(c)(3) in the States that sends support to the ministry. In Ethiopia, the ministry is called Ebenezer Supporting and Development Association (ESDA).
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.