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?

 

 

 

Two Views of Dealing With Our Enemies

I recently watched a pastor of a mega church on television (which I don’t do on a regular basis) and was amazed at his message.

He started off speaking of all the parts of our culture that Christians do not agree with.

  • He spoke about the damage pornography does to our society.  (I said Amen!)
  • He spoke about the many lives that have been killed through abortion.  (I said Amen!)
  • He spoke about the anti-Christian attitude in Hollywood portraying Christians as idiots or bigots or worse.  (I said Amen!)
  • He spoke about the terror from Islamic extremists.  (I said Amen!)

But then he lost me!

He said our duty as Christians is to “identify these people and RUN THEM OUT OF HERE!”

Now I am not sure what he meant about “running them out of here.”  Maybe he just meant we need to stand up for our beliefs and not let them scare us from speaking out.

If so, I say Amen!

But the body language and the attitude he displayed when making that statement I found so offensive and so not like Jesus Christ.

Later that week I went to a conference where I heard a different viewpoint on our response to those who take a stand against our Christians beliefs.

It was a Voice of the Martyrs conference where I heard stories of Christians being persecuted around the world.

I saw pictures of young men badly beaten for refusing to deny Christ.

Marks of Christ

This young man lost his right eye and was brutally disfigured

I saw pictures of churches destroyed by bombs or fire.

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This was the communion set retrieved by the congregation after their church was burned

Then I listened to their response to how they treated their enemies.

Over and over those who had been persecuted asked that we not only pray for them, but pray for those who persecuted them.

Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs said:

“It was in prison that we found the hope of salvation for the Communists. It was there that we developed a sense of responsibility toward them. It was in being tortured by them that we learned to love them.”

“I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold–and praying with fervor for the Communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts.”

Martin Luther King, Jr said it so well:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

But the best voice of all for loving your enemies is Jesus Christ who said:

enemies

Maybe if we prayed more for those who take a stand against Christian principles their hearts would be changed.

Will you join me in praying for those who you disagree with?

 

 

 

 

 

Two Kinds of Christians

there are two kinds of Christians: those who sincerely believe in God and those who, just as sincerely, believe that they believe. You can tell them apart by their actions in decisive moments.”     Pastor Richard Wurmbrand

Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs was born in Bucharest, Romania. Highly intellectual, Richard was fluent in nine languages.  A couple of years after marrying Sabina Oster, they were led to a faith in Jesus Christ in 1938 and Richard was ordained as an Anglican, and later Lutheran, minister.

During World War II, they tried to share Jesus with the occupying German forces. Preaching in bomb shelters they were arrested and beaten multiple times.

When the Romanian Communists seized power in 1945 Christians there soon realized they had only traded one oppressor for another.  Russian troops poured into the country.

The communists scheduled a Congress of Cults.  At that conference many religious leaders praised communism and swore allegience to the new regime.  While listening to the high praise from religious leaders, Pastor Wurmbrand later reported that his wife, Sabina, challenged him to “stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ!” When he responded that to do so would mean she would lose her husband, she said “I don’t wish to have a coward as a husband.”  (Tortured for Christ…Richard Wurmbrand)

Wurmburd

After being kidnapped by the secret police, Richard spent several years in prison.  The police also placed his wife in a workers camp where she had to endure unspeakable hardships.  This left their nine-year old son on his own.  Christian friends did take him into their homes risking imprisonment also.

After 14 years in prison Pastor Wurmbrand and his wife were able to leave Romania.  They founded an organization to help those who are in prison for their faith and their families.

 

I have written about this organization and the persecuted Christians around the world before but I feel so strongly that they are a neglected group of people. Christians in America feel they are persecuted when someone makes fun of their belief or a show portrays Christians in a less than favorable light.  But we really have no idea what real persecution is.  
I love some of the quotes by Pastor Wurmbrand.  They reveal his strong faith in Jesus Christ.  These quotes are all taken from his book Tortured for Christ.
tortured

Joy in sharing the gospel

It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists’ ] terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.” 

Caring about the here and now

“churches assert their wish to save men from a future hell. Then they should prove their love toward men by helping save the world from today’s hell of illiteracy, hunger, misery, tyranny, exploitation, and war.” 

Concern for Western Christians

 “I tremble because of the sufferings of those persecuted in different lands. I tremble thinking about the eternal destiny of their torturers. I tremble for Western Christians who don’t help their persecuted brethren. In the depth of my heart, I would like to keep the beauty of my own vineyard and not be involved in such a huge fight. I would like so much to be somewhere in quietness and rest. But it is not possible… The quietness and rest for which I long would be an escape from reality and dangerous for my soul… The West sleeps and must be awakened to see the plight of the captive nations.” 

When a Flood Comes

Feeling overwhelmed?  Stressed out?  Facing a flood of sorrow, pain, economic problems?

flood

We all have those times in life.  Times when we may even question if God cares.  If God even exists.

When we are struggling through a difficult time we do not need a “Pollyanna” quoting scripture or telling us “it will be alright.”

pollyanna

While I certainly do not want to be guilty of that, I have been thinking of some of my friends who are currently going through tough times.  Remembering tough times that I have experienced.

Natural floods are terrible events, destroying homes, lives, communities.  For anyone who has been through such an event, I cannot begin to imagine how you must feel.  But in reading about floods, I have discovered that not everything about a flood is destructive.  There are good things that come from a flood.

Wetlands provide nutrient-rich sediments that give support to plant and animal life.  These wetlands, in return, affect air quality for humans and support healthy fisheries.

wetlands

Floods also deposit river sediments and these sediments replenish nutrients in topsoil.  These distribution of river sediments make farmland more fertile.  Think of the ancient civilizations that flourish along the floodplains of the Nile, the Tigris and the Yellow rivers.

Flood waters also absorb into the ground and recharge underground aquifers.  This brings fresh water to natural springs, wells, rivers and lakes.  Many populations depend upon ground water and this replenishes these sources of fresh water.

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As in the natural world, so in the spiritual.  Tough times are – well – tough.  No one would choose to go through those floods.  But when they come – and they do – it helps to know there are also blessings to be gained if we will remain steadfast in our faith in the Lord.

In my tough times I have found one of the best, if not the best, antidote to despair, depression, or giving up is the Word of God.

W. Phillip Keller said it best:

“For all of us there are bound to be formidable “floods” in the stream of life.  Just as Joshua and Israel faced a raging river that overflowed its banks and inundated its flood plain, so will we.  God does not try to hold us back from the          rampaging currents of life.  He does not ask us to retreat or withdraw from that threat which would seem to engulf us.  He does not urge us to try and find some way around the apparently impossible barriers before us.  Rather He asks us to believe quietly that:

* It is He who brought us here.

* It is He who will keep and preserve us here.

* It is He who will take us on from here.

This is faith in action.  This is the private, positive response of the person whose confidence reposes in Christ.”

I love this portion of scripture in 1 Corinthians.  If you are struggling right now, I hope it will encourage you.

“And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.”

 

 

To Be Blessed of God!

I recently wrote on the thought of being blessed.

Are You Blessed?

god bless

Our idea of being blessed of God often only looks at the physical or material aspects.  A nice home, a good marriage, a great job.  While these ARE blessings of God for which we should be thankful, the Bible is clear these kind of blessings are temporary.  The real blessings of God are those that will last throughout eternity.

And receiving those blessings require more than just a “God bless you” that we share with each other in passing.

Just a few thoughts on God’s blessings and how to obtain them.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither…..Psalm 1

It appears that receiving God’s blessings requires us to be careful whose advice we take and how much time we spend thinking of His Word.

God's word

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed…..1 Peter 3:14

Whoa!  Blessings from God might include suffering?  

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Wait a minute here!  Blessings from God might require trials?  And the blessing is not a promotion at work but eternal life.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God…..Matthew 5:9

Come on now!!!  When I seek to bring peace to others rather than pushing for my own agenda I will be blessed?  And the blessing is the privilege of being called a son of God?

peace

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Again, it seems God’s blessings are somehow connected to knowing His word – and obeying it.

God's word 2

I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea.  We Americans count blessings from God almost as a right rather than a privilege.  When we do not get that promotion at work, when we get that diagnosis of cancer, when someone makes fun of us for being a Christian, we are so quick to complain or feel like somehow God has failed us.

If God’s blessings are so tied to material things, how do we explain the Christians who live in a third world country and often wonder where their meal is coming from?  Who are persecuted, put in prison, even killed for their faith in Jesus Christ?

God is much more than a genie in a lamp.  He does love us, He does want to bless us (yes, even in material things) but more than that, He desires a real relationship with Him.  One that loves Him for who He is more than for what He does.

May God truly, really bless you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings – Chairein – Joy to You

Jesus laughing

I love this picture of Jesus laughing!  I think too often we vision Him as somber, even stern.  But He talked about giving us joy.  At His birth, the angels proclaimed “Joy to the world.”

Studying the book of James this week I again realized how much we miss when the Bible is translated from the languages of Hebrew and Greek into English.  James begins his letter by saying what is translated in most of our English version as “Greetings.”

To me I have just thought James was basically saying hello.  Just the kind of start to a letter we often would use (in the days when we really wrote letters instead of texting or posting on Facebook).

Hi!  How are you?  I am fine.

As I began to take a more serious look at this word, I find it has much more meaning than just “hi”.

The word James used is “chariein” and it means basically “to rejoice exceedingly” or “to be well.”  Used as a greeting James was essentially saying “joy to you.”

“Joy to you” seems a great way to start a letter to friends.  Hey, I’m wishing you joy, happiness, that you do well.  We do this for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas.

joy

 

joy baby

 

 

 

On continuing to read this letter it is clear that James is not just being friendly in wishing his readers joy.  After saying “joy to you” he immediately speaks of times of difficulty, trials, tests.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.

Hold on there a minute James!

You just wished joy and well-being to your readers and then you talk about troubles.  What gives?

James was writing to the Jewish people who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah but who were now experiencing difficulties because of their belief.  He indicated difficult times can be opportunities not just for joy – but great joy.

Hold on there a minute James!

Difficult times bring joy?  Trials, tests bring joy?  What are you – some kind of Pollyanna?

James is not suggesting to his readers that they thank God when a loved one dies, when they get cancer or lose a job.  (These are the things we think of as trials.  The people James was writing to were probably experiencing more severe trials such as real persecution because of their stand for the Messiah, not just experiencing the normal cares of life that we characterize as trials.)  Rather he was telling them they should recognize that these difficult times, while not in themselves something to take joy in, would bring about a real change in them – and that would be something to rejoice about.

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.

Hey James, I think you are right.  As I look back at times of real trials (like becoming a widow with two young girls at 33 or getting aggressive and advanced cancer at 53) I realize that those times brought me much closer to God and gave me a strength I would never have had without those difficult times.  While I will never thank God for the death of my precious husband, for seeing my body deformed after surgical removal of a breast or for the effects I still suffer in my body because of chemo and radiation, I am thankful for the growth I gained because of those trials.  I am thankful that I have truly discovered what Jesus was talking about when He spoke of the joy and peace He was giving us.  

Finally, James not only tells his friends to find joy in difficult times, he lets them know how they can do that.

And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him

You make it sound simple James!  But life is not simple!

Oh I get it!  That’s the beauty of the gospel.  It is simple.  Trust and obey.  I sometimes make it so hard.  My mind doesn’t want to just trust.  I want detailed answers to my questions.  I want to know the end before I take that step of faith God is asking me to take.

Peter sums it up pretty good in his letter to the church.

And though you have never seen him, yet I know that you love him. At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express and which has in it a hint of the glories of Heaven; and all the time you are receiving the result of your faith in him—the salvation of your own souls.

Yes that it is.  It is a joy that words cannot express.  Joy unspeakable and full of glory!  To all my friends who follow me on my blog, chairein!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling Persecuted?

It’s that time of year again!!!!

Temperatures are dropping as the leaves on the trees also fall to earth.  Clocks have been set back an hour and the evenings get dark so much earlier than before.  In the stores some are already putting up Christmas decorations, even playing Christmas music.  Many of my friends love this time and think it is never too early to begin playing Christmas music.  Others feel we should at least get through Thanksgiving before playing the carols.

And the annual debate begins again!

Is it:

mc

OR is it:

thCAGYR1QJ

NO – this post is not about that.  

I have written plenty about that in the past.  Let’s not beat a dead horse.  If you really want to know what I think about that debate you can visit my earlier posts on the subject.

Do we “Keep Christ in Christmas” or “Keep Christmas in Christ?”

But every year as I hear how Christians in America are being persecuted I hear things like:

  • People are saying “Happy Holidays” to me instead of  “Merry Christmas.”
  • They have taken prayer out of the schools (I think the Bible is clear prayer belongs in the home and I always wonder if those complaining about no prayer in the schools actually pray with their children at home).
  • They want to take “In God we trust” off our money.  Is your trust in God based on  having that on your money?  (And who uses money anyway these days.)

But is this really persecution?

Let me share some real persecution that is happening around the world.

  • There are reports from North Korea of forced starvation of Christians and forced abortion. Some Christians have been hung on crosses over fire, and others have been crushed by steamrollers. Protestants and Catholics are ranked among those least sympathetic to the state, which limits their access to food, education, and health care. Christianity is linked with American influence, and Christians are executed as spies.
  • In Sudan, the government’s pursuit of an extremist Islamist agenda led to orders to tear down Christian churches. Christians are arrested for alleged proselytism, and women face fines for wearing “obscene” or immodest dress. The government stripped citizenship rights of people with origins outside Sudan, leading many to leave for their ancestral homelands in South Sudan. Many had lived in their homes for three decades or more.
  • In Pakistan, banned fundamentalist cells pose a great threat to Christians, but some charge that the government’s failure to crack down on these groups worsens the problem of violence. On Easter Sunday 2016 as many as 24 Christians were killed in targeted violence in Lahore. A faction of the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • Christians in Egypt suffered a major suicide bombing attack in December 2016 and again on Palm Sunday in April 2017. Dozens were killed and more injured in both attacks, for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
Marks of Christ

Here’s what real persecution looks like!

If you want to know the story of this smiling young man check out my post from last year:

“Miracle Boy”

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.

Still feeling persecuted?

As we enter into the holiday season and begin decorating our homes, buying presents, planning parties and family events and baking dozens and dozens of cookies, I want to challenge you to spent some time thinking of those who are really being persecuted for their faith.  Let’s follow the apostle Paul’s admonition and

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

My prayer is that all my readers will have a great Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and friends enjoying all the blessings we have as Christians in the United States, but that you will also take some time to remember those who are really being persecuted for Christ.