Joseph Amanuel from Eritrea escaped addiction, had an argument with God, became a Christian, came to England and embarked on a Jesus Army training year.
“ONE day, when I was asleep, my brother came and prayed for me. He said: ‘God, show Joseph the right way and change His life!’ I woke up, swore and shouted, ‘Get out of here; I don’t want your prayers!’”
Joseph thought his brother had gone crazy when he became a Christian.
“At some point he became a good person,” said Joseph, “It wasn’t normal! He told us, ‘I’m going to be a pastor and evangelist.’”
With three other brothers, three sisters and his parents, Joseph was born and brought up in Eritrea. His mother was from a Muslim background and his father was a Christian.
“When I was a teenager, I started smoking cigarettes and chewing khat,” said Joseph, “I soon became addicted to khat and continually chewed and smoked it.”
Life became “miserable”: anger bubbled up inside Joseph and he swore a lot and at everyone. The addiction grew stronger, eating into his life. When he didn’t chew khat, he couldn’t sleep; it also made him aggressive and gave him terrible nightmares.
“My younger brother was a khat addict too and he especially liked fighting,” recalls Joseph. But his brother managed to break out of the cycle that they were both trapped in. This was when he tried to intervene and pray for his older brother.
A while later, one of Joseph’s sisters came from abroad to visit the rest of the family. She saw how much her brother had changed and decided to go to church with him.
“I wanted to be with my sister and, out of politeness too, went to church with them,” said Joseph. “I used to chew khat three times a day. That day at church I didn’t feel the need to chew khat. I couldn’t believe it! It was amazing!”
Joseph: Front row, second from right
“I felt ‘light’. Later I went to sleep with no chewing. I was happy, giggling and thought, ‘what is going on?’”
Joseph decided to stop chewing khat, smoking and drinking and he managed for a week. Then his sister left and shortly after some of his girlfriends called and bought him some khat.
“I said, ‘I don’t want any,’ but they pushed me. I chewed the khat and got high. Then I went to the shop, bought some cigarettes and lit the first one; this time it tasted disgusting. I dropped my cigarette and broke it. After that, I never smoked, drank alcohol or chewed khat again. It was a miracle!”
Following this, Joseph made friends with his brother again and began going to church. One day, the pastor was praying and talking about the Holy Spirit. He called people forward to receive prayer to know the Holy Spirit more in their lives. Joseph felt like he had missed out:
“I began an argument with God. ‘You haven’t forgiven me!’ I began trying to find God more in my life and prayed a lot. I also began finding Christian friends. Then one day I was praying alone and had an experience of the Holy Spirit. I said ‘sorry’ to God and told Him, ‘If You have forgiven me, I’ll give You my life.’
“Now I started following Jesus. Our mum used to be a Muslim; she wanted me to be a Muslim imam. She loved my new good behaviour – but she didn’t want me to be a Christian. Then one day I called her – and found she had given her heart to Jesus.”
When Joseph came to Europe he joined a church for the Habesha people for a while. He joined the choir and the pastor wanted him to lead the youth ministry. It felt like too much for him and he left.
In 2013 a friend invited him to ‘Cornerstone’, a Jesus Fellowship community house near Birmingham.
“I was amazed, astonished. Previously I’d asked questions like: ‘Why don’t Christians live together and share together?’ Now I couldn’t say anything! – They were doing it.
Church life for him was ‘a sermon and then goodbye’. Now it is all about living together for Christ.
“I’d been very isolated since I left my ethnic church and I decided I could train at Cornerstone; I thought this would help me become more effective in my vision.”
Joseph began his training year in November 2013. It’s not always easy – “There are valleys and mountains” - but he’s really enjoying it. 25 people live at Cornerstone, but no other Eritreans yet.
“I have many mentors: Mick, Chris and some of the women in the house. I share my heart; we sit and talk; they share their experience; I go for a walk with Mick; Mick is like a father to me. I go evangelising with Chris, and Mhairi is like my mum.”
Spiritual family of this kind was new to Joseph. Previously, church life for him was “a sermon and then goodbye”. Now it is all about living together for Christ.
Catha edulis (khat) is a flowering plant found in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. In these parts of the world, people have chewed khat leaves for thousands of years; khat is also smoked and drunk. The UK government at present has plans to classify khat as a class C drug.