The chance to serve is a blessing

Archdeacon Dawit Gebreyohannes Woldetsadik on moving from Ethiopia to a new life in London

My name is Archdeacon Dawit Gebreyohannes Woldetsadik. I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and my parents and family were devoted and strict adherents to the Ethiopian Orthodox church.

In Ethiopia the Menber Sebhate Holy Trinity Church of Shermodea, was my main church and very close to my home - less than five minutes by foot. As a result, I spent most of my life serving and learning in my local church.

By the Grace of God, in 1990 I arrived in London and made immediate contact with the head administrator of the church, Archimandrite Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel, the late Archbishop of Europe. From the beginning until he sadly departed from us, he was very kind in offering fatherly advice and support. He would go beyond the usual requirement in order to reassure myself and others, especially as he knew I was young, away from home and in a new environment. He opened the door of the church, allowing me to work closely with himself, members of the clergy, the church council and the congregation.

From then on, my service to the church grew rapidly. I was appointed to serve as archdeacon and elected as a member of the parishes council, taking charge of the church's Sunday School programmes. These new responsibilities gave me greater happiness, spiritual satisfaction and many experiences that I will always treasure.

The influence of Archimandrite Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel, also known as Abbune Yohannes, did not only stop in the UK. With him I was fortunate to travel to the Holy Land, Jerusalem, Europe, the USA and the Caribbean. I also moved around, helping to establish parishes in Holland, Belgium, France and USA.

There are a few events in my career with the church that stand out. The first was when Like Tiguhan Teklemariam - the previous administrator of the St. Mary of Tserha Tsion – and I tried to get a tablet (Ark of the Covenant), or Tabot, returned to Ethiopia.

The Tablet had been stolen from Ethiopia in 1848, brought to Edinburgh and kept in an episcopal church for more than 130 years. By the grace of God, in February 2002 myself, Like Tighuan, His Excellency Fissha Aduga, the former Ambassador of the Ethiopian Embassy in London, and others helped in negotiating its return.

Part of my role was accompanying the Ark on its journey from the UK to Addis Ababa. Since then Like and I have continued to seek ways to assist the return of many other church artefacts.

Another important event has been the issue of our church building. In 2005 I was assigned with responsibility for arranging various events, along with other current and past committee members, to raise funds. Now, finally, we've managed to raise the money to buy both the church and a vicarage. We still have a long way to go to clear the substantial outstanding balance but with prayer and by the Grace of God we may be able to accomplish our dream in the near future.

For Ethiopian Orthodox believers, prayer is the most sublime experience of the human soul, and worship is the most profound activity of the people of God. "There is no life without prayer. Without prayer there is only madness and horror. The soul of Orthodoxy consists in the gift of prayer."

I owe my life, praise, thanks, glories and everything to God for granting me the opportunities to grow up in the church and to serve it. Both in Ethiopia and abroad, this has indeed been a great blessing.

Arch Deacon Dawit Gebreyohannes Woldetsadik, moved to London from Ethiopia as a young man. He writes in the faith column about the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
Garry Knight via Creative Commons
Show Hide image

Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.