From Prime Minister to Missionary

Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Tamrat Layne recently testified in a town hall meeting at Calvin Theological Seminary about how God changed him from a communist who denied God’s existence to a disciple of Jesus Christ.

“Freedom comes through the gospel,” proclaimed Layne.

For 15 years Layne lived in the mountains as a guerilla fighter, hoping to overthrow Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. In 1991 his army of almost 200,000 soldiers defeated government forces. He became prime minister, serving from 1991 to 1995, and then was deputy prime minister and defense minister until 1996, when he was imprisoned on corruption charges and put in solitary confinement.

Five years into his 12-year imprisonment, a nurse gave Layne a pocket Bible. With only the Holy Spirit to teach him, he avidly read the Bible, and in the solitude of his prison cell, as he says, “Jesus found me.” When he wrote his wife, who had fled Ethiopia for Kenya, and told her how and when Jesus had found him, she wrote back to tell him that Jesus had found her on the same day.

“I learned about God’s omnipresence, not through books or a teacher, but from God’s presence with us at the same time in different countries,” Tamrat says.

Released in 2008, Layne publicly confessed his sins of violence and visited those who had thrown him into prison. “I still love you,” he told them. Having known him as vengeful, his former political allies were aghast, asking, “Are you the same person?” He replied, “I am the same physical person, but I am not the same inside.”

Soon after Layne’s release, he received a visa to the U.S., where he lives with his wife and two children. He hopes to return to East Africa to help transform African society and its leaders by the power of the gospel. He is forming a ministry dedicated to this goal. His motto used to be, “Freedom comes out of the barrel of a gun.” Now his slogan is, “Freedom comes through the gospel.”  n

—Richard Sytsma is dean of students and international student adviser at Calvin Theological Seminary.

About the Author

Richard Sytsma is dean of students and international student adviser at Calvin Theological Seminary.