Being a Christian in Eritrea

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Eritrea is the most restricted nation for religious freedom on the African continent.  Rebels, inspired by the Chinese Communist Revolution, led a bloody revolution for 30 years (from 1960’s to 1991) leading to the country’s independence from Ethiopia.

The independent nation fought again with Ethiopia in one of the bloodiest conflicts in Africa’s history.  On July 8 of this year there was a formal end to the war.

Eritrea was Africa’s largest single source of refugees to Europe from 2014 to 2016. Over the past decade so many people have left that Eritrea has been called the world’s fastest-emptying nation. It has been likened to Cuba and the former East Germany.

The sole legal political party, People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, has isolated the nation.  All media is state-run and there is no provision of freedom of speech, press or religion making the country ranked just behind North Korea for press freedom.   The Human Rights Watch indicates that the Eritrean government’s human rights record is among the worst in the world.  In the middle of this political conflict, thousands of Christians are subjected to treatment and conditions that would be considered criminal in the U.S. if used just on livestock.

Christians have been locked in metal shipping containers in the unrelenting desert sun.  The containers sometimes contain so many people that there is no room for them to sit down.  Provided little food or water they are also subjected to emotional and physical abuse.  Just for sharing their faith in Jesus or refusing to deny Him.

Their president, Isaias Afwerki, has failed to ratify the nation’s constitution, canceled presidential elections, outlawed other political parties and has embraced atheism.

One father is now raising his four children alone in a fugitive camp in Ethiopia after his wife died in prison because she refused to deny Jesus.  After his wife’s death he realized there was a strong chance he would be imprisoned and there would be no one to take care of his children.  To reach the fugitive camps in Ethiopia he and his children traveled by night trying to avoid the Eritrean guards.  If caught, his older boys would be forced into the military while the younger children would probably, with him, be sent to prison.

Miraculously they made it safely to Ethiopia.  While life in the camp is not the best of circumstances, at least they are safe from prison and can worship God in freedom.

When asked about his family’s experience with being a Christian in Eritrean, he replied.

“The Bible taught us that we should take up our cross.  We have to lose our life for Christ, and it happened to my wife.  This is the history of Christianity.  It is not strange, it is not something new.”

While not new in history or in many other countries, it certainly is not the gospel that is preached today in many churches.

Will you today take a moment to thank God for your freedom to worship (or not to worship) as you choose?

Will you today take a moment to pray for the Christians, not only in Eritrean, but around the world who do not have that freedom?

 

 

 

The Day I was Mad at God

I remember the moment I held my daughter in my arms.  It was overwhelming to realize I was a mother, personally responsible for this tiny baby.  Looking at her, I whispered that we were going to be the best of friends.  I shared with her my hopes and dreams of the hours we would spend reading, playing in the park and listening to music.  Four years later I once again held another daughter in my arms.  How happy I was – two beautiful daughters!

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My girls were my world.  As a mother, there was nothing I would not do to make them happy.  As time passed, my oldest daughter and her husband gave me the joy of being a grandmother.  Robert was born and his first year was filled with precious memories watching him beginning to walk and say his first words.  One year later a beautiful granddaughter was born.  As I walked into the room where my daughter lay holding this new grandchild, my heart skipped a beat when she held the baby out to me and said, “Mother, meet Barbara Rose!”  She was named Barbara after me!

In the midst of this joy, my heart was torn.  In just a few short weeks I would have the honor of dedicating this little child to God.  However, a few days after the dedication I would get on an airplane with my husband and youngest daughter and fly to the other side of the world to serve as a missionary in the Philippines.

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Several months before Rebekah had become pregnant with Barbara, God had opened a door for my husband and me to work in the Philippines for a couple of years teaching in a Bible College.  At the time I felt everything would be okay because by the time we left Robert would be over a year old and Rebekah and Rob would do fine as new parents with this little boy.  While I would miss Robert, I would have had that first year to share and treasure while we were gone.  But now my daughter, who had married very young, had not one, but two children less than twelve months apart.  She and her husband were both college students.

As I looked at them struggling to keep up with their home, their studies and two little babies, I wondered how can this young couple make it.  Holding Barbara Rose on dedication day, my heart ached as I realized I would not be there to see her sit up, take her first steps, and say her first words.  When I came back, she and her brother would not know who I was.

Yet, I knew God had called us to go.  I thought of the verse in the Bible that speaks of loving God so that in comparison it may seem we hate our family.

Rebekah and Rob went with us in the airport as far as they could go before security barred their way.  The last look I had was the two of them standing there, each with a baby in their arms, and the saddest, forlorn look on their faces.  I felt my heart would break.  I was deserting them when they really needed me.

We settled in the Philippines and while my heart still ached, I became busy in the work and prayed the time would pass fast for them.  A couple of months later, we had a call from my daughter.  Our little granddaughter was having digestive issues and it looked as if she might have to have surgery.  How I longed to go home, but we had just arrived and our budget did not really include money to make a trip home.  Rebekah assured me they would be fine and did not need us, but I could hear in her voice the longing for her mother.

Hanging up the phone, I went into my bedroom, laid on the bed and told God how mad I was at Him.  I said, “I sold everything I had, gave up my time with my grandchildren to obey You.  The least you could do is take care of them.  I feel as if I am turning my back on my daughter.”

God did not strike me with lightning for speaking that way.  That’s the beauty of a relationship with God.  He knows our hearts, He understands our pain and He loves us.  I have never understood those who feel we cannot be totally honest with God – as if He does not already know our very thoughts.  He understood the love of a mother for her children.  He loved me in spite of my hurt and anger.

But quietly I felt that “still small voice” of God speaking to me.  He said, “I turned my back on my Son for you.”

For the first time in my life I got a little idea of how much God really loved me when He sent His Son to die on that cross.  John 3:16 took on new meaning for me.

And the end of the story – Robert and Barbara quickly developed a love for Grandma and our relationship is very close.  God also has given me many more grandchildren and I believe the example we set putting God first in our lives has had a tremendous influence on my children.  Putting God first is sometime hard, but always in the end, brings great blessings.

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Pray to God….sometimes it helps

My little seven-year-old granddaughter spent the night with me.  She has a stuffed character from Dr. Seuss that always joins us for games.  When she was very little we bought this character for her.  I named him Willie, gave him a voice and she began interacting with him.

As time has passed Willie has become a part of the family.  He goes with us to the movies, colors with us (I, of course, have to use his hands to help him color) and we have some great conversations between the three of us (Willie, my granddaughter and me).

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In the afternoon we started to play a game and she wanted Willie to join us.  Although we searched all over the house we could not find him.  It was hard to believe we could not locate him since we have packed up most of the “stuff” in our house in preparation for moving and there is not a lot of places he could be.

After a few minutes of searching my granddaughter stopped right in the middle of the living room and said,

“I’m going to pray to God.  Sometimes it helps.”

She then proceeded to pray a simple prayer.

“God, help us find Willie.  Amen.”

After the prayer I turned around and immediately saw Willie.  He was sitting behind my recliner.  We had walked around that chair several times and had not seen him.  But there he was.

I had to laugh to myself at her comment….”sometimes it helps.”

I thought of how much we probably all need to take that attitude.  When problems arrive, too often I try to figure out what I can do, I talk to family and friends for solutions, and I even “google” it.

Not that those things are wrong but what if I first said,

“I’m going to pray to God.  Sometimes it helps.”

 

View from the Parsonage – Frustration – Laughter – Joy

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When I first started my blog I said I was going to share some funny stories about the joys (and trials) of being a pastor’s wife.  I shared a few stories but then thought perhaps I should just keep my funny tales to myself.  Here are the few I shared if you want a good laugh.

 View from the Parsonage

I Didn’t Recognize You With Your Clothes On!

She Was Available!

Recently I was thinking about the life of a pastor and his family and the frustrations, the laughter and the joy that life brings.  Three different stories came to mind that illustrate all three scenarios.

The Frustrations

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One Sunday morning as my husband was greeting the church members after service, one man stopped him and said, “Pastor, you know what is wrong with this church?”  Smiling while thinking “I didn’t know anything was wrong – and who asked you,” my husband asked him what he thought was wrong.  His response:  “You are too organized.”

Continuing to shake hands with the other members, a woman stopped him and said, “Pastor, you know what is wrong with this church?”  Now my husband took a deep breath, smiled and said “What is wrong?”  Her response:  “You are not organized enough”

The Laughter

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There was a woman in one of our churches that bounced from church to church throughout the community.  She was a little slow mentally and when she came to our church we tried our best to make her feel welcome.

One Sunday my husband told the congregation that we would be out-of-town the following weekend as we were going to visit relatives in North Carolina.  He was encouraging everyone to please attend as members often stay home if the pastor is not going to be there.

This woman raised her hand and when my husband asked her what she wanted she asked him:  “Is Barbara going with you?”  Of course I was going and my husband replied in the affirmative.

The entire congregation tried so hard not to laugh when she said, “Well, if she can’t go with you, I can.”

The Joy

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One morning as my husband and I headed across the parking lot from the parsonage to the church office a car pulled into the driveway and a young woman got out to talk to us.  She was looking for the church that was administering the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) nutrition program.  We gave her directions to the local church that had the program.

She lingered after we gave her the information and seemed as if she was troubled and wanted to talk.  We invited her into the office and she began to share how she was pregnant and wanted to keep the baby but her boyfriend told her it was either him or the baby.  If she did not abort the child, he was kicking her out of their apartment and breaking off their relationship. She clearly did not want to abort the child but was unsure if she could raise a child by herself.

We spend time with her discussing her options.

  • She could obtain an abortion and keep her home and relationship with her boyfriend.
  • She could seek help from others, give birth to the baby and then put it up for adoption.
  • She could seek help from others and raise the child herself.

While we tried not to judge her or her boyfriend we naturally advocated for the life of the child.  It was clear she really wanted that, but just needed some help in not only making that decision but being able to have resources so she could keep that choice.

I made a list of phone numbers of various resources that would help her including the local Pregnancy Resource Center.  We also gave her our phone number and told her we would do anything we could to help her with doctor visits, baby supplies, etc.

After prayer with her, she left saying she did not know what she would do but she would keep in mind our offer of help and the list of resources I had given her.

Weeks, months went by and we never heard from her again.  I agonized over whether we had not made it clear enough that we and our church were willing to help her.

Almost 3 years later we had a district meeting at our church.  Several other churches in the area were in attendance.   A young woman walked up to me with a beautiful little girl  in her arms.  She asked:  “Do you recognize me?”

I did not know who she was.  Tears of joy quickly came to my eyes as she identified herself as the young woman who we had counseled and prayed with over the decision of abortion.  Although she had never called us back she had gone to the Pregnancy Resource Center.  They helped her with doctor visits and baby clothes and gave her the friendship she needed to carry though with the birth of that little girl.

She thanked me that we had taken the time to help her walk through the options she had and offered resources to help her in her choice of life.

So – you add it up.  The joys and the laughs far outweigh the frustrations.

The frustrations are gone, but the funny things still bring a laugh and the joys still make it all seem worthwhile.

 

Living in Limbo

I’m not here…I’m not there…I’m living in limbo.

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Limbo – “an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition.”

My husband and I recently made a decision to sell our house and move from northern Illinois to Michigan.  Our real estate agent told us our house would sell better if we did not have a lot of “clutter” or “personal stuff” in the home.

So we took down most of our pictures on the walls, boxed up a lot of books, decorations and all our “stuff” storing the boxes in our garage.  We even packed away most of our movies and my music collection leaving only a few to enjoy while we wait for a buyer for our home.

We are now living with much of what made our house our home packed away.  Some of the projects I was working on are in those boxes and I am now limited in what I can do.

I’m not here!

Because we anticipate a fairly quick sale based on current market conditions in our community, I have lost interest in a lot of what is happening here.

  • Knowing I would be leaving in a few weeks/months I gave up writing the newsletter for our church so that they could find someone else who could take over that task.
  • I have said goodbye to friends in a bible study I have attended faithfully for several years.  The study has taken a break for the summer and since I do not believe I will still be here by fall, I no longer am involved in plans for the fall study.
  • I, of course, am keeping my house clean and ready to be shown by the realtor with only a few hours notice.  However, since I have packed so much away there really is not much to do by way of housekeeping.  Also, I have no interest in any projects to paint or decorate or do anything extra to the house.
  • It’s hard to stay motivated and interested in any future plans in my church or community since I do not believe I will be here to take part in them.
  • I have gone through the grieving process of saying goodbye to friends, my home and this community.

I’m ready to move on!

But I’m not there!

But, until our house sells I cannot really begin the new adventure in Michigan.

  • We have gone to the community there to find our new home.
  • We have attended the church where we will be a member.
  • We have already found a great Irish pub with wonderful food.
  • We have located our favorite stores:  Barnes & Noble, Lowes, Costco.
  • We have located our favorite restaurants:  Appleby’s, Olive Garden

I’m all ready to start again with new church, new friends, new community.  But I cannot really do that until our house sells and we can move to Michigan.

So I’m in this place of not belonging here, not belonging there.  Just waiting!

Thinking about this feeling of being ready to say goodbye and not able to yet say hello, of so wanting our house to sell so I can move on to the new adventure, I thought of my own walk with God.

If I truly believe that Jesus Christ will return one day to earth to make all things new, should I not be living with that same “uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition.”

Should my thoughts all be consumed with what is here – with no thought of what is there?

I know the old saying that some people are “so heavenly minded they are no earthly good” and I totally agree that while we are here we should be doing all we can to make this earth and our community a better place.  We need to be focused on what we can do to help our environment and those in need all around us.  In fact, Jesus indicated our future depends in part on how we care for others in need about us.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

He also plainly told us:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

So just as I try to stay focused on my present location – keeping my house clean, continuing to interact with friends here – I also do all I can to get ready for my new home – researching information on the homes for rent/sale, reading about the community and the stores, parks and other resources I will utilize when I move there, making some friends there via email and FB.

In my walk with Jesus Christ I need to maintain that same balance.  I need to be concerned about doing all I can to make earth a better place.  But I need to also remember that old gospel song:

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21

This “living in limbo” has made me realize I need to recognize that while I am “here” now I need to make sure that I do not get so involved in “here” that I forget the “there” that is to come.

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)

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Seven Reasons to Ban the Lord’s Prayer

In 2015 the church in England had an advertisement which featured the Lord’s Prayer set to run before a Star Wars movie.  The cinemas banned the ad because they said it might be offensive to some.

In response Bishop Steven Croft wrote an article saying “from the perspective of the spirits of the age, there are very good reasons to ban the Lord’s Prayer from cinemas and culture and public life.”

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Here are Bishop Croft’s reasons:

  1.  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”   –  It opposes the myth that we are random specks of matter floating through space and time….We are created and loved and called into friendship with God who is our father and into community with our fellow human being who are therefore our sisters and brothers.
  2. “Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  –  The world is not as it was meant to be.  It is distorted from its true purpose.  But God is at work to redeem and transform this world, to establish His kingdom.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us not to retreat from the world in fear and pain, to anaesthetise or indulge ourselves.  It invites us to join the struggle to see justice and peace prevail.
  3. “Give us this day our daily bread.” – This is not a prayer for more.  This is a prayer for only what we need.  It teaches contentment.  This one restrains our greed.
  4. “Forgive us our sins.” – This teaches me to live with my imperfections and the imperfections of others.  The Lord’s Prayer acknowledges human imperfection and sin, daily.  It offers a pathway to forgiveness, daily.  The way of forgiveness cannot be bought.  It is a gift.  Grace.
  5. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” – We are not meant to live in feud or hostity or rivalry.  We are meant to forgive and be forgiven, to be reconciled to each other.
  6. “Lead us not into temptation.” – When we say this prayer we remind ourselves that we are not living in a Disney fairy tale.  We are living in a real world of cancer and violence and difficulty, where bad things happen for no clear reason.  We live in that world confident in God’s love and goodness and help even in the most challenging moments of our lives.  We may not have the answers but we know that God dwells with us and in us.
  7. “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.  Amen.” – The prayer returns as it begins to the praise and glory of the living God.  our hearts return to their origin and source, the one who created us.  Our lives are to be lived to God’s praise and glory, not to satisfy our own small desires.  We are beings with a higher calling and a greater purpose.

There are only 63 words in the Lord’s Prayer.  It takes less than a minute to say them.

Yet these words shape our identity, give purpose to our lives, check our greed, reminds us of our imperfections, offer a way of reconciliation, built resience in our spirits and call us to live to the glory of our creator.

No wonder many want to ban them from our consumer culture.

To Speak or Not to Speak

When I was a child I was very shy, found it difficult to engage in conversation except with family and very close friends.  While I had my own opinions, I was reluctant to ever state them or enter into any discussion where people were debating different viewpoints.

Somewhere along the line I changed.   Looking back on my life I think the change came when I moved into a community in  southeast Missouri and found a group of people who had recently become believers in Jesus Christ and were trying to organize a church in their community.  They had been reading their Bibles and searching for truth and came to an understanding of faith in Jesus Christ.

Not sure what to call their experience, one of the members found a book by Billy Graham called “How to Be Born Again.”  After reading the book, they concluded that they had been “born again” and wanted to establish a church where they could learn more about the Bible and grow in their faith.

Unfortunately, there was a woman in that group who was very domineering and did not want an organized church.  She saw herself as some kind of “Savior” and wanted complete control of the group.  She reminded me of persons like Jim Jones or David Koresh who created a cult following.  It was clear if allowed she would lead these new believers down a road of falsehood.

So – shy, scared and certainly not what I would choose for myself, my husband and I quickly took a stand against her and advocated for contacting a legitimate Christian organization that could offer us candidates for a pastor and assist us in organizing a church that would be based on solid evangelical beliefs.

Thankfully the truth won out and today there is a strong evangelical church in that community reaching out and helping others in their walk with Jesus Christ.  I long ago moved from that community but I rejoice in having the courage to speak out.

So – now I find it easy to speak out and give my opinion.  But somemtimes I struggle wondering if I have become too vocal.

I see all kinds of words of wisdom about the importance of not speaking:

Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”   Mahatma Gandhi

It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”   Maurice Switzer

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”   Mother Teresa

“I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.”      Xenocrates

Sometimes friends who are not as verbal as me make me feel like I am somehow not as wise or loving or kind as they are because I do speak out so much.

But then……I read these words of wisdom about the importance of speaking out:

“To say nothing is saying something. You must denounce things you are against or one might believe that you support things you really do not.”    Germany Kent

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”    Martin Luther King Jr

“Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.”   Mahatma Gandhi

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”    William Faulkner

As a Christian, I look to the Bible for direction.  And I find:

 

But then there is this:

So – what’s the answer?  Do I speak or not speak?

Guess the answer is to ask myself the motive behind my speaking?

Is it to correct a wrong?  Help someone from following in a wrong direction?  Am I speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves?  Am I speaking up against false doctrine – for the truth?

OR

Is is because I just think I’m right?  Just being a busybody.

My prayer is that I will always speak up against wrong but also know when to keep silent and always remember that God’s Word has said:

“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.”   Matthew 12:36