Send Network “sticks together” with Ethiopian church planter separated from family for 11 years due to persecution

Samnas sits beside his wife, Tenaye, as they ride away from the airport. More than 150 people came to the airport to see Samnas reunite with his family after they were separated for 11 years.

Samnas Alemu thought he was saying goodbye to his family for one week. In 2013, persecution forced him to flee his home country of Ethiopia to seek asylum in the United States, and he was hoping to reunite with his family soon. But a week turned into months, and months into years, as Samnas waited for a hearing before a judge for his asylum case.

“I resolved to serve the Lord, even if my family cannot join me. I said to myself, ‘If I live in the States and die by myself, I will continue to serve God, ’” Samnas recalls. “So I decided to serve God through church planting.”

Like his parents and siblings, Samnas grew up attending and serving in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. At 17, one of his high school teachers asked him if he would like to read the Bible together, and he agreed.

“He was showing me the true way of God in the Bible,” Samnas says, “And that salvation is through one way, only through Jesus.”

Accepting Christ came at a high cost for Samnas. He was abandoned by his family and community and began living with Christian friends. Eventually, persecution led him to flee Ethiopia in 2013.

After settling in Maryland, Samnas longed to continue winning people to Christ, just as he did in his home country. He took his search for a church planting organization online and found Send Network.

“Since then, I’ve gotten a lot of knowledge and understanding about church planting that I never knew before. I was in ministry for many years, just without training,” he says. “So I got a lot of training from them and many friends to encourage and be with me.”

In 2019, Samnas planted Image of Christ Church in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area to reach the largest Ethiopian community outside of Africa. Even while the church met through Zoom during the pandemic, Samnas witnessed an entire family come to Christ. When the church reopened, he met this family in person for the first time and baptized them.

“We see changes in many people’s lives,” Samnas says. “We focus on teaching the Scripture, and many people are saying now ‘I didn’t know the Bible before, but since I started attending this church, I’ve started loving the Word of God in my life.’”

In 2013, when persecution forced Samnas to flee his home country of Ethiopia to seek asylum in the United States, he thought he was saying goodbye to his family for one week. 11 years later, they were finally able to reunite at the airport.

But building up the family of God while being separated from his own family proved to be the greatest trial Samnas had ever faced. “This was the hardest part of my life: living away from my family and serving God,” he says. “I believed in God, I read the Bible and I prayed, but still I had moments I asked, ‘Where is God in my life?’”

Samnas and his family often spent hours on video calls, sharing their lives and supporting each other despite the miles in between. When his family would go to sleep, Samnas poured his time and energy into advancing his theological education by taking seminary classes online.

After 11 years of seeing his family only through screens, all while working through the asylum process, Samnas reunited with his wife and two teenage children this March. More than 150 people from Samnas’ community accompanied him to the airport to help welcome his family.

“God rewrote the story,” Samnas says, “Before, I had a hard time showing excited emotions, but now I’m a different person. I’m happy and excited…. At last, my family has come.”


Published April 25, 2024

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