Rahiel Tesfamariam: Resistance, Freedom, Rebirth

Rahiel Tesfamariam

Rahiel Tesfamariam ’09 M.Div. was born in Eritrea in 1981 during its long war with Ethiopia. At age 5, while traveling with her mother to visit siblings who had sought political asylum in the U.S., she came to live in New York. Themes of rebellion and liberation have always focused her work as a student, journalist, and community organizer. Through Yale and other venues, her travels – Vietnam, India, Haiti, China, Sudan, Brazil, and elsewhere – have deepened her commitment to ministry and activism. At YDS, she was the first William Sloane Coffin Jr. Scholar for Peace and Justice. 

Institutions Vs. Movements

I’ve done grassroots mobilization work and international service work, but i wrestle with the dichotomies between institutions versus movements and individual transformation versus systemic change. it seems that those fighting for justice often choose one or the other, but I’m continuously in search of a hybrid. my current focus is on the intersection of black urban culture, progressive ideology, and christian faith. Where do those things converge? Where are the tensions and why? How do they shape identity and how might they lead to action? i’m exploring the role that multimedia plays and hope to forge a socio-cultural movement that inspires my generation (and ones to come) to live into those identities in ways that create a transformative ripple effect. I’m in the process of establishing my own institutions to further that work. 

Christianity and Culture

Today’s American youth are plagued with information saturation; the world comes to their phones with few filters. this comes at a tremendous price – human connectivity. they now turn to twitter rather than their parents for insight and are more likely to be influenced by reality TV than the bible. i would like to see Christianity engage this cultural landscape head on, inspiring this generation to apply their faith as a lifestyle rather than as a brand. i so deeply want youth to define their destinies for themselves and to understand and live out what it means to be the beloved of God. 

The Birth of Freedom

While undeniable progress has been made, the Christian church is still governed like a male-dominated empire. I worry about what goes unsaid in all those sermons women hear preached by men. What sources of inspiration do women have yet to tap into? While at Yale, I once heard Gloria Steinem speak, and someone asked her how will we know when women have “arrived.” Her answer: when they can birth themselves before they birth children. that statement still grips me. When women learn the importance of giving birth to their own voices and dreams – when those things matter as much as childbirth – then we will know that freedom is near.