What Happened When Alex Looked Up
Missionary to America Alex Mammo
Sometimes it feels like there is no way out. Like Isaac tied to a sacrificial altar by Father Abraham, or Joseph sweating it out in Potiphar’s prison, or three witnesses facing a fiery grave for not forsaking their faith. Alemayehu (Alex) Mammo was taken prisoner in a bloody civil war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. High barbed wire fences and soldiers with rifles fenced him in. It seemed like there was no way out. Alex’s life journey had brought him to a place that looked very much like a dead end.
Alex grew up in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, but in the “suburbs.”
In those days the suburbs were past the edge of the city, cut out of a forest, with few modern comforts. He lived in a single room house with his single mother and a brother. His mother lived in that house for over fifty years. The living room, the kitchen, the bedroom were all part of that one room. But Alex was smart. He excelled in school and had plans for life as a professional, maybe in medicine – then the war began, Eritrean rebels fought to separate from Ethiopia. Family fights can be the most vicious.
The seventeen year old joined the Ethiopian Navy as a medical corpsman. Stationed at the port of Massawa his base was set upon by rebel fighters. During the attack two thirds of the Ethiopian navy was destroyed, thousands were taken prisoner. Even when Eritrean victors shared their food with the prisoners there was never enough for the prisoners to eat to keep the diseases at bay. Jaundice, malaria and hepatitis held many hostage. Alex expected to die in the camp.
Desperate, afraid, one day he walked into the middle of the prison compound and looked up and thought to himself, “As the psalmist (David) said ‘There is but an inch between me and death.’ I understood what he said. There was no hope from north, or south or east or west. I understood one thing – there was only one opening from which nobody can stop you, to see up to heaven. So I started praying.” When Alex looked up he saw freedom: he saw his salvation. Alex looked up and saw salvation.
Alex prayed. When he opened his eyes he saw others nearby he knew were Christians. He went to them and talked to them about God. One of the prisoners could play the guitar; they left the courtyard to go inside to sing hymns. Singing and praising God a sense of freedom overcame Alex and he began to weep. He left to be alone, and fell apart, or was it together? At the end, after crying himself out, he swore to the Lord he would give his life to Him. You can hear the rest of the story from Alex himself by clicking the links below.
When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but thy will be done,” the disciples could not have imagined what would come next – an arrest, jail, condemnation at trial, then death? Those who fought against Him (chief priests, elders and scribes) said, “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God deliver Him.”(Matthew 27) When Jesus looked up from his cross He said, “Into Your hands O Lord I commend myself.” And later a grave opened.
Whatever dead end you are facing, whatever fantasized final option, whatever prison real, concrete or self-made, even if there is but an inch between you and death, Look up.