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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...



Connections: Hanfere Aligaz

Finding Freedom in America

Hanfere Aligaz and his wife, Yetnayet Haile Aligaz, are natives of Ethiopia who immigrated to the United States with their four children. Hanfere, a former airline pilot who became a Christian in 1977, pioneered International Ethiopian Evangelical Church in Washington, D.C., which started with five people in 1981. The megachurch joined the Assemblies of God in March after Aligaz became ordained with the Fellowship. Aligaz, 62, recently spoke with News Editor John W. Kennedy.

evangel: How did you begin your spiritual journey?
ALIGAZ:
My father was a Coptic Christian, my mother followed Islam, and my wife was Catholic. I didn’t know where to go. Ultimately, I decided Islam must be the true religion because they are devoted. They pray five times a day; their fasting is difficult; and what they do is really sincere. So I became [a Muslim] in 1970.

evangel: Tell me about how you decided to convert to Christianity.
ALIGAZ:
[When I became a Muslim] I heard a voice in English that continuously and loudly asked, “What about Jesus?” I figured others also heard it, but they hadn’t. I asked my Islam teacher who Jesus is, and he said, “A prophet who had been born without a father.” He never said Jesus was the Son of God.

A few days later, I was walking around midnight and declared that I believed there is a God who is in heaven and who created the sun and the moon and the stars. From that day on I decided I would not be [a Muslim] or any other religion until God revealed himself to me. I promised that if I found the real God, I would serve Him. Seven years later, a Christian witnessed to me and read John 3:16 to me. At that moment I heard God’s voice in my heart saying, This is the truth you have been looking for. I became a Christian.

evangel: How were you discipled?
ALIGAZ:
I had some friends who answered my questions about Jesus. I prayed for an hour in the morning every day at 5 o’clock, and then I read the Bible all day. I asked the Lord to reveal many things.

evangel: Why did you decide to leave Ethiopia?
ALIGAZ:
While flying a plane in 1981, God reminded me that I had promised to serve Him. He said, I want you to serve Me now. I want to send you to America. I said OK. I was very excited.

But by that evening, I did not want to go. Everything was good for me in Ethiopia. I loved to fly. My wife had a lucrative business. We had just moved into a new house. So I wanted God to give me a sign that it was really Him.

Then the airline decided to send me to America for flight training. They had never done that before, and I had flown with them for eight years. I came to America with the maximum amount the communist government would allow me to leave with, just $140. Miraculously, the communist government allowed two of my children to leave with me, and then allowed my wife and my other two children to join us a few months later.

evangel: How did you get established in the United States?
ALIGAZ:
A friend of mine took me to a Bible study with 12 white lawyers. I was the only black. I knew by their faces they didn’t want me there, but I obeyed the Lord. They were not Pentecostals, but they all loved Jesus. Every Thursday I kept going in obedience to Christ.

Finally the leader said, “This guy has been coming here for two months, and we don’t even know his name.” I told them who I was and how the Lord had called me to this country. One of them said, “I will find a church where you can meet.” Another said he would make sure it was legal. Another told me he would help with immigration issues. Another said he would talk to his pastor about helping me with financial support. They all did what they said they would do. That is how we got started.

First, we met in a hotel, then a high school auditorium and even outdoors. We kept growing, moving from one place to another, until the Lord gave us a beautiful synagogue, where we meet now. It’s a miracle how we bought this great building when we only had a $50,000 down payment.

evangel: And now it’s the largest Ethiopian church in the country?
ALIGAZ:
Actually the largest Ethiopian church outside Ethiopia. We have 3,000 members.

evangel: What does freedom in Christ mean to you?
ALIGAZ:
Galatians 5:1 tells us the Lord has made us free. We have many freedoms, especially in America. Back home under the communist government, Christians could be persecuted, and no one openly said they were Christian. When we came to America, we experienced real freedom to preach, to worship, to witness, to do everything.

evangel: Do you want to reach out beyond an Ethiopian population?
ALIGAZ:
Yes we do. We want to reach English-speaking people. We had a crusade in which people came from all languages and nationalities. Our goal is to reach America. We have a prayer warrior group that prays for America all night. We have a witnessing group also that passes out tracts in English.

evangel: Why did you affiliate with the Assemblies of God?
ALIGAZ:
Because we have the same doctrine. We believe in the work of the Holy Spirit. We speak in tongues. We don’t want to be exclusive. We are part of the body of Christ. This is a joy for us to be affiliated with the Assemblies of God.

Editor’s note: International Ethiopian Evangelical Church (eecdc.org) is located at 7930 Eastern Avenue Northwest in Washington, D.C. Sunday morning prayer is held from 6 to 8:30, with two-hour services at 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

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