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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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.

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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:

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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)

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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.
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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.” 

The Joy of Being Number 2

We all love a winner!

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We hold parades, parties, all kinds of celebrations when our team becomes state champion.  Coming in second in a state-wide contest leaves people feeling so dejected.  They seem to forget that being second means they have beat out many other teams.

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In the Olympics, athletics say they are going for the gold.  You don’t win silver, you lose gold.

This desire to be number 1 is not necessarily a bad thing.  To try to do your best, to succeed, to take pride in what you achieve, to have a healthy self-esteem are all good qualities.

But when that desire to be number 1 becomes so important that it leads us to step on others to reach the top, to despair when we do not achieve first place or to be overly prideful when we do, it has become a negative influence in our life.

For years I struggled with being number 2.  As a pastor’s wife, I worked right alongside my husband.  I visited women who were in the hospital, counseled those who were struggling with issues of life.  I taught Bible classes, played the piano and led the Christian Education department in the churches where my husband was pastor.  My youngest daughter and I went to the Philippines with my husband as missionaries.  While there we also taught classes and worked with churches.  Many Sundays, we each went to a different church to speak.  My daughter conducted a Kids Klub and the children in the neighborhood called her “Tita” or “aunt.”  I conducted a Bible class for a group of professional women and taught leadership classes to one church’s leadership board.

Yet when we returned to the states and visited the churches who had supported us to give a report of our work, they always introduced my husband and talked about the work he had done there.  It was usually

We are glad to have Pastor Paul and his family with us today.  Pastor Paul recently returned from the Philippines where he……..

A few times my daughter asked me “Were we there too?  Did we do anything?”

But slowly God helped me to see that my motive in working for God must always be to do His will and not to expect or even desire recognition for my efforts.

And it was through reading about Barnabas “the Encourager” in the Bible that I found  my role model for all I do.

We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4 where we are told his real name is Joses.  But the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas “Son of Encouragement.”

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And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

I love that thought.  To be a person that so encourages others that he becomes known not by his real name but by the nickname of “The Encourager.”  That has been my prayer – that I would be someone who encourages, builds up, strengthens others.

The next time we meet Barnabas the gospel has been received in Antioch.  When news of the new group of Christians there reached the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to meet with the Christians there.  And there again he encouraged.

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.   When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.   He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

We see Barnabas having success in the work at Antioch.  So what did he do?  He headed off to Tarsus to find Saul (who became known as Paul, the writer of much of the New Testament). 

Barnabas had been Saul’s friend when he first became a Christian.  The church at Jerusalem was afraid of Saul because they knew how he had persecuted the Christians.  But Barnabas, stepped in and told them Saul was a new man. 

When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

Barnabas brought Paul back to Antioch where the two of them worked together sharing the gospel with the new church there.  As you read the story in the book of Acts, you see for quite a while it is “Barnabas and Paul.”  Later in the story it becomes “Paul and Barnabas.”

This is the joy of being willing to be number 2.  Barnabas brought Paul from basically exile in Tarsus and encouraged him to become a main leader in the early church.

Barnabas and Paul

The church writes, speaks, quotes Paul a lot.  There are churches all over the world named after him.

But it was Barnabas, “the Encourager” who no doubt encouraged Paul to follow the calling of God on his life.  We know God had called Paul to the work of bringing the gospel to the Gentiles so he would obviously do that because God is in control.  But I like to think that God used Barnabas to help Paul step up and fulfill the call of God on his life.

Finally we see the heart of Barnabas when later in his ministry with Paul, the young man John Mark wanted to go with them on their second missionary journey.  Paul refused to take John Mark with them because he had left them halfway through their first missionary journey.  Paul was not willing to give him a second chance.  But Barnabas’ heart was that of an encourager.  He insisted John Mark be given a second chance.

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them,  but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.  They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,  but Paul chose Silas and left,

Most Bible scholars believe this John Mark was the one who wrote the Gospel of Mark.  So again Barnabas was instrumental in helping another young man fulfill the work of God in his life.

That’s what I have asked God to help me be.  That one that encourages others to follow the call of God on their life.

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When we get to heaven, I imagine the lines will be long for those wanting to speak to Paul.  That’s okay.  But I’m going to look up Barnabas and tell him how he was my role model in life.

 

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.          1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

The Best Thanksgiving Turkey

It was 1991 and my husband and youngest daughter were spending our first Thanksgiving on the mission field.  Homesickness was filling my heart as I remembered all the Thanksgivings of the past spent with family and friends.  A table loaded with turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, biscuits and all the other goodies we enjoyed that time of year.  Visions of pumpkin pie, pecan pie and my mother’s delicious chocolate pie danced through my head.

But the thing I was missing most was  the loved ones that gathered around that table.  This year would be the first Thanksgiving for my youngest granddaughter.  How I longed to see her taste that pumpkin pie for the first time, to hold her on my lap and rock her to sleep.

At first we thought we would try to duplicate the American thanksgiving dinner.  However, it soon became clear that it would be difficult to find many of the ingredients for that meal on the island of Panay.  That did not mean our Thanksgiving meal would not be good – just not the usual menu.

As the holiday grew near one of the members of a Bible class my husband taught every week excitedly told us he had a turkey for us for Thanksgiving.  He knew it was an American tradition and he was so happy to surprise us with this gift.

How exciting for us!  A real turkey for our Thanksgiving.  The day before the holiday he arrived with our turkey.  For us crazy Americans we had expected a nice fat frozen turkey.  Imagine our surprise when we opened the gate and there he stood with a real, live turkey!

Questions immediately went through my mind:

  • how would we kill this thing?
  • who would kill this thing?

When I was a little girl my mother had raised chickens.  She would chop their heads off and then my sister and I would help pluck the feathers.  Mother would then cut the birds up and our freezer would be stocked with chicken for the winter.  However, I was not about to chop that turkey’s head off and one look at my husband told me he was not going to do it either.

  • how would we fix it if we even were able to kill it?

We had no oven, certainly no deep fryer.  Our kitchen consisted of two burners on a small stove with a propane tank for fuel.

Finally, the turkey looked like it had been on a strict diet.  It was the skinniest bird I had ever seen.  Even if we somehow managed to kill it and find a way to fix it I was certain it would be a tough old bird.

What to do?  We could not refuse the gift that this man was so clearly excited about giving us.  To do so would have not only been rude and hurtful, but would damage our relationship with the community.

We took the bird and said thank you.  After he left we held a family council.  What do you do with a turkey you can’t use?

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Our daughter leading the kids on our street in a song

Then the problem was solved.  The kids on our street were always in and out of our house.  That morning one of the young boys came by and when he saw our turkey, his eyes lit up.  You could tell he thought we were so lucky to have a turkey.  His family’s meal would consist of a small bowl of rice – just like they had every day.  To him this skinny old turkey looked like a gift from heaven.  So we asked his mother if she would like a turkey for Thanksgiving.

How excited she was!  I have no idea how she cooked the turkey but she assured me she could do it.

So we gave her the turkey and we fixed tuna fish steaks with rice topped off with mangoes and the most delicious watermelon I ever tasted.

I have often thought back to that Thanksgiving as I once again enjoy a table loaded with all the goodies we associate with this holiday.  I think of that family that rejoiced and enjoyed a turkey that we as Americans felt was not good enough for us.  Although I have had many delicious meals with turkey before and since then, I realize that was the best turkey I ever had.  Because it was given to us out of love and gratitude from a man who had so little to give.  Given to us who in comparison had so much.

My prayer this holiday is:

Lord, forgive me for taking my blessings at being born in this country for granted.  Forgive me for thinking more of myself and spending so much money on me while others in the world go to bed hungry every night.  Help me to reach out and help the homeless here in my own country and reach out to help the hungry around the world.  I cannot do much – but I can do something.  I cannot save every hungry child, but I can help one or two.  Help me to be truly thankful!

 

Daddy Will Carry It For Me!

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My daughter recently spent several weeks in Sierra Leone tutoring the child of a missionary family that was returning to the states for a year and wanted to make sure their daughter was prepared for school in the USA.  My six-year-old granddaughter accompanied her mother on this trip.

It was a great opportunity for my young granddaughter to experience another culture, to try new foods and see how life is so different in other countries.  Hopefully, it has given her a better appreciation for the blessing of being born in the USA.

When she returns to school this fall and the teacher asks everyone what they did this summer, I doubt anyone will be able to top her story.  “I spent weeks in Africa.”  While there she kept a journal and my husband and I have enjoyed listening to her as she showed us the pictures she drew and read to us the comments she made in the journal.  Some of her comments we can read and some have to be “interpreted” as her spelling and printing are still in a “learning” process.

While she did well during her stay in Africa, as she and her mother began the journey back home, her excitement at the thought of seeing her daddy grew with each passing hour on the flight.  Because they were limited in the amount of luggage they could take, my granddaughter had her backpack filled to the brim with necessary items such as sunscreen and insect repellant but also with those items we Americans count as necessary such as an iPad.   The backpack became heavy as she carried it through the airport at each of their layovers.  But my granddaughter knew relief was in sight.  When they left Africa and she put the backpack on she told her mother with great confidence:

When I get home, Daddy will carry it for me.

After I calmed down from the excitement of knowing my daughter and granddaughter were back home safe and sound, I looked at the picture of my granddaughter with her daddy riding down the escalator at the airport.  My son-in-love had her backpack on his back and she was walking free of any burden.  Just as she knew, her daddy was carrying the load for her.

I began thinking of the confidence she had in her daddy.  How did she know he would carry the backpack for her?  Clearly in her six years of life she has found her daddy to be a faithful father.  He has always been there to pick her up when she fell as she learned to walk.  He has always been there to pick her up and swing her over his head and then safely put her down.  He has always been there to sooth her tears when something upset her.  He has always been there taking her to the zoo, to the park, playing games with her.  He has proven to her that he loves her, that he will take care of her and she has confidence in his ability to do just that.

Then I thought of my heavenly father.  How many times has He carried my load for me when it became too much for me?  When my earthly father deserted me, He was there.  When my first husband was accidentally killed, He was there.  When I was told that my cancer was very advanced and very aggressive and “the odds were not in my favor” He was there.  And just in the day-to-day cares of this life, He has always been there.

So I have to ask myself why is it when stressful times come, that I sometimes forget that? How sad it would have been if my granddaughter thought when she saw her daddy that he would refuse to carry her backpack but leave her to continue carrying the burden although she was exhausted from jet lag.

I keep looking at this picture of the two of them as they ride down the escalator with my granddaughter free of the load just comfortably riding down as her daddy manages the suit cases and has the backpack on his back.  He is not ashamed to wear a “My Pony” backpack.  He is not worried about someone laughing at a grown man with a child’s backpack.  His only thought is to help his daughter and to relieve her of her burden.

So Jesus went to the cross for me.  He was not afraid to bear the shame of the crucifixion.  His only thought was to help me (and the whole world) and relieve me of the burden of my sin.

So when problems come in the future, I will go back to this picture and I will say:

My Daddy will carry it for me!