Flight to Freedom: One Immigrant’s Story

Post a Comment » Written on March 31st, 2006     
Filed under: News
MERCER ISLAND, WA (March 31, 2006) – Ruta Gebrekidan doesn’t remember her pregnant mother’s trek north across three countries to escape the murders, kidnappings and rapes in Ethiopia. She doesn’t recall the relative safety of a refugee camp in Sudan. And she cannot remember leaving Africa as a toddler to immigrate to the United States – destination unknown.

Yet when Gebrekidan told her story to 223 women from eight Christian congregations during a recent World Day of Prayer event at Covenant Shores Retirement Community, every woman in the room could sense the fear and anxiety as well as the determination and strength that accompanied the journey. The lone testimony in the one-hour event, Gebrekidan’s words captured both the theme of the day and the hearts of attendees.

World Day of Prayer The women at Covenant Shores joined women from 170 countries during the worldwide World Day of Prayer event on March 3. Together with the World Day of Prayer Committee of South Africa, they prayed for understanding and support in redressing the consequences of 40 years of apartheid. They also prayed for a social and economic transformation that is being impeded by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Planned in just three weeks at the suggestion of a Covenant Shores resident, the Covenant Shores event began with prayers offered in four languages by staff members from the United States, Philippines, Guatemala, and Ethiopia.

Speaking in the third person, 20-year-old Gebrekidan, a dining room hostess at Covenant Shores, chronicled the journey of a mother and her three children from Africa to a host family in Seattle. She explained how the mother of that white family accepted the young black daughter as her own granddaughter, helping her excel in school and become strong in her Christian faith.

She explained how the girl had gone on to win a full scholarship from the Gates Millennium Scholars program and will pursue a psychology degree at Seattle Central Community College. Then she stunned the predominantly white, upper class assembly with a simple question. “What if I told you, I am that girl?”

“I wanted to capture their attention with a picture,” Gebrekidan explains. “All I wanted was to open just one person’s eyes to living outside the U.S. If they could just wear someone else’s clothing, see who they are.

“We worry too much about the present and ourselves,” she continued. “There are so many things outside of Seattle, outside of Washington State, outside the U.S. that we should pray for.”

Following Gebrekidan’s testimony, facilitators from the retirement community gathered around 42 tables to discuss potential worldwide and personal prayer intentions, how to ask for God’s leadership and assistance, and how to listen for and recognize a reply.

“In planning the event, we tried to stay focused on the issue raised by the WDP Committee of South Africa,” explains Anne Arakaki-Lock, campus administrator of Covenant Shores. “We concentrated on world issues – genocide, bigotry, political and religious persecution – rather than the microcosm of our needs.”

One of the ways the planners worked to retain that focus was to select presenters reflecting a rainbow of ethnicities. The selection reinforced the diversity initiative of the community’s corporate parent, Covenant Retirement Communities, which is to help employees and residents connect across class and racial boundaries.

An unprecedented ecumenical outreach to the 22,000 Mercer Island residents, the event far exceeded its planners’ expectations. “You couldn’t hide from Christ that day,” recalls William Swearingen, Covenant Shores marketing director and event organizer. “We saw fellow Christians with a single purpose. It has started a fervor on our campus, with people asking questions about prayer and asking for leadership in intercessory prayer.”

Attendees said they want to make the day of prayer an annual event. The Covenant Shores team also is discussing possible events that would include men.

(Editor’s note: Pictured in the accompanying photo are, from right: Ruta Gebrekidan, her adopted grandmother Ellen Bossart, and Gebrekidan’s mother, Elsa Tewoldmedin, as they encourage prayer for social and economic transformation in South Africa during a World Day of Prayer event at Covenant Shores Retirement Community.)

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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