In Amharic “Berhan” means “light”.
The sun was only beginning to rise – lighting up the streets of Addis Ababa – as our white van with the 2 forengis and 7 Ethiopian women began its’ journey. As we drove away, we left behind a city that had held four of these women captive in a hopeless cycle of abuse, shame, disease and poverty- characteristics of the life of girls and women who work as prostitutes here, servicing men for as little as fifty cents to a dollar.
These girls didn’t choose this life. Their stories are similar – many were orphaned and came to the city hoping to find a job and a way to care for themselves. It broke my heart to know that one of these women, upon arriving in the city as an orphaned teenager, had found work at a small grocery store, making pennies. A week later, when she broke a flask in the shop, she was forced to pay for it and given only one option for how to do that. Her innocence – her life- was traded away for the price of a shattered flask. And now she has HIV-Aids as a souvenir of her “profession”. How little these women are valued.
As the van drove away from the city, I closed my eyes and listened to the women sing in Amharic.
“The Lord who made me escape from death. I put Him as Lord and King over my life.”
As our doulas had braided our young mother’s hair the night before in preparation for the new life that awaited her, they had sung this song and she had told them,
“This is our song – for me and Berhan (her daughter). When I was 5 months pregnant I went to an abortion clinic and waited in line all day. The line was so long that I was never seen. That night a friend told me that they would crush the baby in my womb if I had the abortion. I couldn’t do it so I never went back. This is our song. Berhan escaped death. I escaped the death of losing her. I escaped prostitution and the death it brings. I put the Lord over our lives.”
“God choose the weak things of this world to shame the strong.” I Corinthians 1:27.
As we drove away from their life of hopelessness I pondered how God had used this baby, Berhan, to deliver four women out of prostitution. He had chosen the weakest one of all to restore these women to life. A month ago, when Berhan was only a few days old, a woman had brought her to one of our doulas and asked if she knew of anyone who would “adopt” the child so that the mother could go back to work. She had kept Berhan’s mother for 2 months already and could do so no longer. When our director heard Berhan’s story, she insisted that we speak to her mother and find out if she wanted to give her away. “No, I don’t want to give away my baby,” her mother had said. “If there is any way to keep her I want to but I don’t know how I can”.
At that moment their lives changed directions. Our doula took Berhan and her mother into her home. Together with our DHI team, she cared for them both, shared the gospel with her, and taught her how to care for her baby. She kept them in her small mud brick one room home (along with her 2 children and husband) until we could figure out a long time solution. While we worked on our solution, three other women came forward, asking if we could help them as well.
God does hear the cries of the oppressed. These four women are proof of that. He uses babies. He uses doulas. He uses white forengi women in white vans. He uses the ordinary – the weak – to shame the strong.
“The account of his intervention will be recorded for future generations; people yet to be born will praise the Lord. For he will look down from his sanctuary above; from heaven the Lord will look toward earth, in order to hear the painful cries of the prisoners, and to set free those condemned to die” (Ps. 102: 18-20).
This is Berhan’s legacy. Through her, God’s light has overcome the darkness, and I believe her story will be told to generations to come.