Demeke Getahun, pastor of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church, and Wegayhu Ketema, a registered nurse, will return to their homeland to assess the cost and feasibility of building a medical clinic and drilling a well for fresh water.

By Joan Kern |

The Rev. Demeke Getahun and his wife, Wegayhu Ketema, came to this country 27 years ago as refugees from Eastern Ethiopia.

“Thinking back, I’m overwhelmed,” Wegayhu Ketema says. “I came with two suitcases filled with second-hand clothing.”

Next month Demeke Getahun, pastor of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church, 175 Church St., Landisville, PA and Wegayhu Ketema, a registered nurse, will return to their homeland to assess the cost and feasibility of building a medical clinic and drilling a well for fresh water.

Their suitcases, again, will be filled with used clothing — this time to give away, along with over-the-counter medicines.

“They have no medicine, no hospital, no clinic,” Wegayhu Ketema says. “An aspirin will be life-saving for someone with a stroke. Tylenol helps arthritic pain. They don’t have access to that.”

There’s a drought now,” says Demeke Getahun. “People are dying. They have no food, no water.”

Siloam Ministry, a non-profit organization raising funds for the clinic and well, will hold a dinner, by donation, of authentic Ethiopian food from 4 to 7 tonight. Donations of over-the-counter medicines and medical equipment are welcome. Those who cannot attend the dinner but wish to make a donation can call 669-0960 or email

Almaz Mola, a member of the church who will accompany the pastor and his wife on the trip, donated 10 acres of land she inherited for the clinic and well.

“It was an amazing coincidence,” Wegayhu Ketema says. “It blew our minds. The Lord provided.”

The church, with about 60 worshippers, shares its building with the Church of the Word International.

“We own the building, but we feel it belongs to the Lord,” says Wegayhu Ketema.

Ethiopian Evangelical Church worships at 10:30 a.m. Sundays, with children’s church at 11 a.m.

Wegayhu Ketema was born in Harar, close to the area the trio will visit. After training as a registered nurse in India, she moved to Djibouti, where she met her husband at a church.

Beaten by soldiers

Demeke Getahun was born in Addis Ababa. As a student, he rebelled against a cruel military government.

“Many, many people were dying and in prison,” he says.

He was captured and imprisoned at age 17.

“They hit me with rifles, threw me in a car.”

He was crammed into a cell the size of an average bedroom with about 75 other prisoners for 16 months.

“The government was suspicious of everybody,” says Wegayhu Ketema, who described how her husband was tortured: “They rubbed metal on his skin until it took off his skin. They beat him upside down.”

“They would bend you like a boat,” Demeke Getahun says. “They torture you to tell them your friends. I didn’t say anything. I’d rather die than tell them my friends’ names.”

They let him go to make room in the cell for another prisoner who might be more likely to talk. Demeke Getahun fled to Djibouti, a Muslim country where, Wegayhu Ketema says, he met the Lord.

“The Lord spoke to his heart,” she says. “He used to drink and smoke.”

“I just didn’t want to live,” he says. “I was so young. My life was full of troubles and suffering. I didn’t know my dad. I was raised by my mother. We didn’t have anything. We were poor people. Thank God, Jesus found me.”

Local connection

In Djibouti, Demeke Getahun and some friends started a church supported by the Living Word Church, in York, led by fellow Ethiopian the Rev. Melese Wogu, who also leads Ethiopian Outreach Ministry. The ministry serves Ethiopian churches, fellowships and ministries around the world. Melese Wogu arranged for the couple to move here.

“The church sponsored us and found us jobs,” Wegayhu Ketema says. “Without (Melese Wogu), we are nobody.”

Wegayhu Ketema worked for 10 years as a nurse at Willow Valley Communities before moving recently to the Helen Simpson Rehabilitation Center in Harrisburg to get hands-on experience to prepare for working in the clinic in Ethiopia. She plans to assemble a medical team to visit the clinic twice a year.

She described her work not as a job, but a ministry.

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