This edition of Interfaith Voices reflecting on the month’s theme of ’empowerment and faith’ has been written by Fasika. In her blog she considers her relationship with God throughout her life and how she’s found empowerment from different sources.
To make more sense on how I have become to accept my (lack of) belief in a higher being, I should tell you quite a lot about my childhood. I was born in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Ethiopia, along with Armenia, was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, and the Orthodox Church is still to this day a source of national pride for many of my fellow Ethiopians. My parents were extremely Orthodox and I was named after the biggest event of the Ethiopian calendar: Easter. Unfortunately, as often is case with Ethiopia, my parents suffered from a variety of health problems and passed away when I was four years old, leaving me and my siblings alone. So, we found ourselves in an orphanage where we stayed for two years until a nice family from Finland offered a home for me and my brother. I don’t remember much from my time in Ethiopia but this I do remember: I have a brother who is two years older than me and a sister few years older than him. But it was only me and my brother who were given a new opportunity in life, since my sister was “too old” for adoption. So, she stayed behind and to this day I do not know what happened to her. And when I was leaving for Finland, I remember thinking: how could God, the higher being my parents were so dedicated to, be this cruel to a child; leaving her parentless and without a future? But I still kept my faith, since it was the only thing I knew, and it was the only comfort I had during the years I spent in the orphanage. I cannot say that I felt particularly empowered by my faith, but maybe for a child any form of comfort is better than no comfort at all.
Flash forward to Finland and the new people that I have become accustomed to call my mom and dad. Neither of them believe in God, but since Finland has Evangelical-Lutheran as a state religion, I was baptized again, although I still felt Orthodox in my heart. My parents told me about this one event (I don’t remember this myself) where my brother and I saw Muslims on the TV and we spat on the TV, and our explanation for this was that we were raised to hate Muslims. Thinking back to this, I am still amazed that little kids, barely 6 and 8 years old, would act this way. As years went by, my brother and I lost our faith, since we were surrounded by unbelievers. Furthermore, I was heavily bullied as a child (my brother and I were the only black people in the town we lived in), which did not help the anger that I felt toward God. I felt as though I had suffered enough, and I did not understand why He would keep punishing me in this way; so I abandoned my faith, both Orthodox and Evangelical-Lutheran.
At the age of fifteen, anyone who is a member of the Finnish Church has an opportunity to spend a week in a summer camp organized by the Church. All my friends were planning to go, so I decided to join them. This week became one of the many events that have shaped my faith. After spending a week of intense studying of the Bible and having heartfelt conversations with the priest about suffering and justice, once again I declared my love for God and forgave Him for His actions. I understood that it was not my place to question God and my dedication to God was stronger than when I was a child in Ethiopia, because this time it was my own decision to do so. But this new-found love shattered once again when I started my BA studies at KCL, where all I did was study religion. Once again, I found myself feeling betrayed by God, and I became a firm believer that life without God is much easier for me. I could see how it empowered others, but for me, no matter how hard I tried, putting my faith in God seemed to always backfire against me.
I am currently finishing my MA in Religion in Global Politics and I have, once again, changed my view on faith. I’ve spent the last year studying my native faith, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and I have come to the realisation that no matter how hard I try to deny it, there is a part of me that keeps believing in God and this seems to show in so many actions of mine. Although I have numerous reasons not to do so, I find myself carrying the Orthodox cross on my neck. I find myself talking to God about my life while telling Him that I don’t believe in Him. I find myself feeling comfort on the idea of God, whilst feeling the lack of faith. I know this doesn’t make much sense, believe me I don’t know how to explain this to myself either.
A friend of mine told me that it is amazing how life has taken me from an orphanage to Finland, and from Finland to London. Whether or not this was God’s plan all along, I do not know. But what I do know is that this roller coaster of faith that I have had in my life has shaped my identity in ways that I will probably never completely understand. I may not always have felt empowered by putting my faith in God, but I have found other ways to cope with life, and for me that’s really all that matters. I am proud of myself for being the person I am today, and I know I will be able to conquer any obstacles that I encounter. Whether I will do all this with God by my side or not doesn’t matter, I don’t think it will make much of a difference.
Fasika Tuomela is currently studying for a MA in Religion in Global Politics at SOAS and holds a BA in Religion, Politics & Society from KCL. Her dissertation will be on the power of religion in raising national resistance in the context of Ethiopian resistance to colonialism. After graduation, she hopes to find work that accommodates her areas of interest.