Let me start this open letter by first thanking God for it is through His will that all things are possible. There are no mountains too big nor difficulties too great that we can’t overcome if we have faith and let love be our moral compass. I know we are facing challenging times as a community; tribulations seem to multiply on a daily basis as our beloved homeland is buckling under the pressure of internal divisions and external influences.
In times like this, it is easy to hide behind the comforting netela of anger, divisiveness and bitterness. It is human nature, after all, to seek vengeance when wronged and to be resentful when injustice knocks at our doors. Yet these emotions of rage and passions of antagonism are self-defeating; instead of healing your pains, anger only magnify your troubles. There is only one way out of the abyss; you can’t fight darkness with fire, the pathway to redemption is to be the light at all times.
Sadly, there are too many among us who peddle grievance and factionalism; instead of encouraging a temperament of unity, demagogues on all side are offering the snake oil of hatred. This fever of cynicism and acrimony has gripped our nation and threatens to unravel our country; a nation that stood united for more than 3,000 years is slowly being weakened by forces of separatism and tribalism. A few who will gain at the expense of Ethiopia are conditioning the vast majority who suffer to seek self-interest at all cost.
It is easy to give our hands to wrath and pettiness during times of adversity, but I beseech you and plead to all who are willing to listen to walk away from this spirit of animus that is infecting our society and turning neighbor against neighbor. Prosperity will never be gained by wishing ill on others; besides it’s not as you think, no matter how much some try to convince you that only you and your kin bore the injury of exclusion and prejudice, the truth is that all of us—irrespective of our differences—have suffered.
I don’t write about these pressing issues from a place of theory nor is my aim to be pious, I know first-hand about the dangers that await when we let our hearts be infected with retribution, proving points and wrath. I make no secrets of my travels over the past four years and really over my lifetime; after being forced from Ethiopia at the age of seven in order to escape the horrors of the Derg government, I attained the American dream. Though I experienced plenty of adversities growing up in the United States and my soul was burdened with the sorrows of missing my birthplace, I nonetheless earned all the trappings of success.
Despite the degrees, professional accomplishments and accolades, I could never find true happiness. What I missed the most was my connection to Ethiopia as my heart ached from the feeling of being an outsider among my own community. In 2008, determined to change this predicament, I joined Ethiopians for Obama in the hopes of filling the void in my heart that was created the last time I boarded a plane in Bole Airport and left my once home in 1982.
What started off with humility morphed into arrogance; my aim of organizing Ethiopians in America was scuttled at every turn because I insisted on responding in kind to every slight. Each time someone attacked me or insulted my character, instead of giving things to God and letting Him be the judge, I insisted on paying back malice with spite. Though I am a jovial person by default, there is a part of me that enjoys putting “trolls in their place”. I used to brag about this counterattacking skill of mine, “come at me with a bullet”, I would say, “and I will send scud missiles your way”.
What I did not realize was that each time I responded to darkness with darkness, I was killing the light of love in my heart. This came to a head in 2015 as my life got turned upside down; the need to prove myself at all turns and my insistence on getting the last word led me to make some bad personal and business decisions. One second living in a luxury condominium, the next second I was out on the streets. All I had and all that I worked hard to accumulate disappeared in a flash as I found myself looking up at the stars while sleeping on concretes in Greenville, South Carolina.
My initial response was fury; I wanted to vindicated above all else and I wished misery upon my adversaries. Instead of trying to figure out how to put my life back together again, I spent every waking minute plotting the big payback. This hope of mine to get the last laugh led me into a hopeless journey filled with loneliness and depression. The apex of my sadness arrived in June of 2015 when my knee got infected and I faced the very real prospect of losing my leg. Alone in the hospital reading the bible, tears soaked the pages as I flipped to the story of Jonah.
I realized at that exact moment the folly of my way; my pride was my biggest enemy. The same way that Jonah was sitting under a reed and cursing the heavens that Nineveh was not destroyed by God, I too was seeking the destruction of my foes only to nearly destroy myself. There is a reason why Eyesus counseled his followers to forgive their enemies at all times, absolution is more for the person dispensing it than the person who is receiving it. It was not until I put away my vengeance and sought God’s grace that my life turned around.
When I finally made the decision to stop proving points and turned my hand quickly to Egziabher’s love, the advice that a Rabbi gave me the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and Bataan Street in DC on a cold February evening, right as my life was falling apart, finally made sense. I told Rabbi Dov the full scope of what happened to me and how I became homeless. After listening to what I told him, he paused and said “I have every faith that you will come out of this hardship a better man, if you give your worries to God and trust Him, what man took from you, God will give you back seven fold”.
I did not believe Rabbi Dov at the time, I was too caught up in the emotion of anger and plotting retaliation to understand nor take in the wise advice he was giving me. In hindsight, everything he said was true and then some. Once I trusted God and gave my worries to Him, I was blessed. In fact, Rabbi Dov underestimated God’s returns; what was taken from me, God gave me back seven times seventy-seven fold. Far from homelessness, I am now making more than I was when I was in 2014 as a high priced Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton. But it is not the money that restored me, my redemption was complete and I learned to believe in my last name again when God had mercy on me and gave me the treasure of a wife and the blessings of a child.
I convey this story for a reason; the same way that Rabbi Dov told me to give my worries to God and trust Him, I likewise impress upon you, my fellow Ethiopians, to give your worries to God and Trust him. Where some insult you, do not pay them back in kind but jealously guard your heart from the sickness of revenge. Where some turn to the spirit of tribalism and try to diminish your community, do not respond with vitriol but be love. Where some try to inject your heart with pettiness and rancor, defy their antics by being compassionate. After all, most of the people who are slinging arrows your way are hurting, what will you gain by throwing rocks at people who are suffering.
My favorite Psalm in the bible is 68:31 because it hits close to my heart. Disconnected from Ethiopia by time and distance, I nonetheless feel tremendous burdens and the responsibility to help my people who are suffering. When I see children sleeping barefoot in the streets of Addis Abeba or observe the poverty that is indenturing tens of millions of Ethiopians into a life of hopelessness and anxieties, it weighs on my heart. But I am comforted by this one fact, God loves Ethiopia and I know that in time we will be restored and our children will hurt no more.
“Princes will come out of Egypt, Ethiopia shall quickly turn her hand back to God”. ~ Psalm 68:31
You see, Egypt was the prison that kept Hebrews enslaved and the princes who will come out of bondage all of God’s children the minute we turn our hands back to God. The only way that Ethiopia can escape from this tailspin of tribalism and mass-poverty is not through politics but through spiritual connection. Irrespective of our divergent faiths, Ethiopia is a land that believes in an awesome God. Let us turn our hands back to Him and rebuke those who come into our midst offering the toxic elixir of indifference or hatred.Be love for it is love that will win out in the end. #Ethiopia #FikerYashenifal:: Click To Tweet
“Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.” ~ Isaiah 61:7
This is a testimony of sorts, a video I put together that is at once a message to Ethiopians and a message of hope to all who need it, present circumstances to do not define us nor do they confine us.
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the Chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. He is the direct descendant of Atse Tewodros II, the once Emperor of Ethiopia who united a fractured nation during Zemene Mesafint (age of princes) and imbued Ethiopia with a sense of togetherness that enabled them to eventually defeat Italy at the battle of Adwa. Lij Teodrose was born in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia but grew up in America. He has a Bachelor of Arts from George Mason University and an Masters of Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. Lij Teodrose believes in one Ethiopia and that a nation can only be judged by the wellness of the least among us.