We have spent much of the fall season feeling humbled by bearing witness to God’s hand in the life of 18-year-old Estifanos Tariku (nicknamed “Steve” by his American missionary friends). His story has the feel of being too good to be true, but it is true, because God is good.
Steve was raised by his mother, Messay, who grew up with an alcoholic father and a brother full of rage. One day, her brother beat their mother so severely that she spent a year in a coma, and beat Messay to the point of breaking her neck. She fled to Debre Zeyit to escape the violence and danger.
Messay’s life took another tragic turn when she lost the ability to walk right at the time Steve turned two years old. She had to rely on neighbors to help care for her young son and she continued to live in fear that her brother would find her.
When Steve was 10, his life was changed when his mother received a wheelchair from the BCI ministry. Although he was initially timid to push his mother in her wheelchair through the busy streets of Debre Zeyit, this blessing opened up a new world of possibilities for Steve and Messay. It was at this time that a BCI missionary noticed Steve and took a shine to him. Steve displayed great maturity and intellect and the missionary took him under his wing and not only provided for his basic needs through monthly sponsorship, he went above and beyond in visiting Steve, writing to him, and guiding him as he grew into his teen years.
Steve excels in academics and is a driven student with lofty goals. In fact, he has long stated his intention to become a doctor. Of course, this is a common childhood career aspiration that is difficult to achieve in any case, let alone when you’re growing up in a rural neighborhood in Ethiopia with no financial resources.
Steve took his grade 12 national exam in June, and when the results came in during the summer, we received our first indication that his dream may have legs. His scores were exceptional and he easily secured university placement.
Shortly after this, Steve indicated that he intended to enroll at a private medical school in the capital city of Addis Ababa. The school is part of a Christian teaching hospital and comes with a price tag of more than $5,000 USD in annual tuition. In a country where the GDP is $570 USD, this surely seemed to be a whimsical dream.
It wasn’t long before we received word that Steve was not only accepted to his dream school, he was offered discounted tuition due to his excellent scores and financial need. Although this was wonderful news, Steve was forced to decline and notify the university that he would be unable to pay anything to attend the school.
Leave it to God to clear the way and move the university to extend Steve a full-ride scholarship, which he immediately accepted. It was a whirlwind of events that started with receipt of his national exam score, and by the end of August, he had moved to Addis Ababa and started classes as a first-year medical student.
Everything felt like it happened so quickly, but in reality, it did not happen overnight. It happened when God drew Messay to the town of Debre Zeyit. It happened when He led a missionary to discover a gifted 10-year-old boy who needed a little support and encouragement to rise above his circumstances. It happened day-in and day-out as Steve grew, applied himself to his studies at the BCI Academy, and continued to hope and dream. And it happened when God fueled this hope by regularly bringing compassionate missionaries into contact with Steve.
As Corrie ten Boom famously said, “never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” There were so many things that could have derailed Steve’s journey to becoming BCI’s first-ever medical student, but God knew all along the plans He had for Steve, and Lord willing, we will one day introduce him as Dr. Steve Tariku.