Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Berhanu Hirpa - A Testimony for a Wonderful Man of God

Berhanu was a friend of mine. He grew up in refugee camps in Ethiopia. Through Christ leading he came to the United States and worked as a Pharmacy Tech at the hospital where I worked. He always had a smile on his face. He wanted more than anything else to be a United States citizen. He was to sick to go to the ceremony in which he would become a citizen. He died a couple of days later. This message by his friend Bill Hatcher was preached at his memorial service at Centennial Medical Center. It touched me greatly.

In Memory Of Berhanu

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The scriptures give these nine virtues a singular name; the fruit of the Spirit. What does that mean? It means simply that a Christian should be recognized by these attributes and that this fruit should bear witness to a living relationship with Jesus.

To every Christian, God has deposited the fruit of the Spirit, but that does not mean we suddenly awake to find these virtues active in our daily lives. Growing in Christ like character is a life long process and in order to bear fruit, you must stay close to the Vine.

You see, the greater our vertical relationship is with God, the greater our love grows for others (the horizontal). The two greatest commandments are after all, paraphrasing, to love God and to love others. Berhanu Hirpa understood this well and devoted his life to these principles. Berhanu was a man of deep faith and because of this, his relationship with God was genuine so therefore his love for others was real. He cultivated the vertical and horizontal relationships in life and by doing so, those intersecting lines create a visual of the cross. When our lives are shaped by the cross, others will see Jesus. Berhanu lived his life reflecting the cross and in the process others came to know his Savior.

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel, use words if necessary.” Berhanu understood that being a Christian is not something you do, it is quite simply who you are. In a genuine relationship with God we are so filled with His character and attributes that His love pours out of us into all other relationships we have. Berhanu, although fallible and imperfect like each of us, lived his life in such a way that he made a positive impact in the lives of others who knew him. My life is better because of Berhanu, and I imagine you would say the same.

When a person leaves behind a legacy what exactly does that mean? I believe it is more than just the wisdom they shared in their aptly spoken counsel, or the benevolence they displayed through acts of kindness and charity. I believe a true legacy inspires us to a higher place. Integrity found in their daily life speaks to us in such a way that we take note of our own lives and in doing so we are compelled to better ourselves. We are challenged to set our standard higher, to raise the bar, and in the process, make a positive impact in the life of others.

I believe in Berhanu’s short time here, he has done this. He has called you and me to take inventory of our very character and to evaluate its worth. Even now Berhanu calls us to stop, give pause, and reflect on what matters most. At the end of our lives here, as with Berhanu, it will not be the exterior, but the interior that will be remembered. At times like this we realize it is not the fancy home we live in, the expensive car we drive, or the money we have accumulated in our back accounts that really matter. In the end what people will remember most about us is the kind of person we were – our character. Did we show love to others? Was our lives filled with joy? Were we peacemakers? Did we show patience? Were we kind? Was there goodness in our lives? Were we faithful in all respects? Did we have a gentle spirit? Did we use restraint and self-control when necessary? In other words, did the fruit of the Spirit live in us and flow through us in our daily lives? For Berhanu Hirpa, I believe the answer would be a resounding, yes.

Berhanu did not make it back to Ethiopia and was unable to become a U.S. citizen, but what is more important to realize is that as a Christian, his real citizenship and home were never here, they were in heaven. Berhanu may have missed celebrating Christmas here, but what is most important to understand is that while we sang carols and celebrated the birth of our Savior here, Berhanu celebrated his first Christmas in heaven, with Jesus Himself. Reflecting on these things bring me great healing and comfort. I pray they will do the same for each of you.

The Apostle Paul wrote that, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” To the Christian we realize the best part of our life is what waits for us after this one. For Berhanu, the wait is over and all Heaven rejoices in his homecoming. We may grieve Berhanu’s loss, but we can find hope in knowing where he is. He no longer suffers from cancer or sickness of any kind. He is completely healed and better than we ever knew him here. Berhanu walks on streets of pure gold. His home is a mansion. The beauty in everything he sees, smells, touches, or hears is beyond our imagination to describe. But the greatest of all these things is Berhanu now lives forever in the very place where God dwells, surrounded by the Heavenly hosts and all the saints who have went before him. This, my friends is heaven; this is the ultimate reward of God’s grace – and this is where Berhanu now lives.

May Berhanu’s life continue to inspire you. May God’s peace be with of you and may His comfort surround you. And may you come to know and experience the deep love of God in your life daily. Pray with me.

Rev. Bill Hatcher


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