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?

 

 

 

When is Enough Enough?

I recently read a book recommended by one of my daughters, “Affluence with Abundance,” by  James Suzman.  The author did an intensive study of the vanishing world of the bushmen in southern Africa.

Viewed by the western world as a society lacking all the great benefits of our modern culture, the author notes:

“...hunters-gatherers appeared to be content – in fact, to thrive…with a limited material culture.  Their approach to well-being…was based on having few material wants, and those few wants were easily met with limited technologies and not too much effort. “

So unlike our western culture where we seem to want more and more,

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he noted that

“…hunter-gatherers were content by the simple expedient of not desiring more than they already had….they were content because they did not hold themselves hostage to unattainable aspirations.”

What an idea!  To be content by not desiring more than we already have.  That seems to be a totally foreign idea to most of us.   Instead of not being held hostage by desiring things we really cannot afford, we use that magical plastic that gives us now what will take months, maybe years to pay for.  Many items we purchase on credit are out of fashion or used up before they are even paid for.

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As my husband and I have downsized in preparation to moving to a smaller home for our retirement years, I realize how much I have been guilty of that “more and more” mentality.  As I have given things away to family and friends and sold much on the web, I keep asking myself “why did I think I needed that?”

And, of course, for much of my “stuff” the answer is I did not “need” it, I just “wanted” it.

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While there is certainly nothing wrong with buying something just because I want it, I do think I went way over board in many areas.

I do ask myself what if I had bought less of what I wanted but did not need and gave that money to missions, to the local food pantry, to helping others about me more in need.

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”   Matthew 19:19-21

Looking at my home, my possessions, my credit card statement, my check book I have to ask myself:

Where is my treaure?

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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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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

 

 

 

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall!

Remember the fairy tale where the wicked stepmother would ask:

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Last Sunday in church the speaker taught from the book of James where James wrote:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

As I reflected on these words from James, I thought how often I look in the mirror.  In the morning I look to see that my hair is in place.  I use the mirror to help me as I put on face lotion and makeup.  Depending on what my day brings, I may go back to the mirror to adjust my hair, put on lipstick or, if my husband and I are going on a date, to put on some earrings or other jewelry.

When I view myself in the mirror, if I see some hair sticking out-of-place, I get a comb and correct it.  Or, when putting on makeup if I notice that I have put on too much eye shadow I get a tissue and make corrections.  Fixing a scarf or a piece of jewelry I will use the mirror to make sure I get it just right.

In other words, I use the mirror to make sure I look my best before I venture out in the world – and make any corrections I feel are needed so that I do look my best.  (Of course the older I get, I less I really like to look in the mirror.  Seeing my reflection, I sometimes wonder :

 

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James, I believe is telling us that God’s Word should work like a mirror for us in our spiritual life.  As we read God’s Word if we see areas in our life that need a spiritual adjustment, we should make that correction.  Just as we would not look in the mirror, see our hair was a mess and walk away without fixing it, so we need to let God’s Word show us those areas where we need to draw closer to Him.

I think our question should not be:

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Rather, it should be:

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Say Yes or Say No –

A few years ago my husband and I took our granddaughter to a park by the Mississippi River near our house to feed the ducks.  Although she was only four years old she quickly realized we were only a few blocks from the John Deere Pavilion.  She loves this place with all the many tractors and farm implements

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After feeding the ducks, we headed back to the parking lot and she asked me if we would take her to see the tractors.  I told her to ask her Papa.

When she asked him, he replied he needed to think about it for a minute.  After only 30-45 seconds, she looked up at him and said,

“Say yes or yes no.”

After pausing to laugh he told her we would go see the tractors.  After all, does Papa ever say no to this little girl?

Reflecting back on this day, I thought how quickly she wanted an answer.  Whether it would be the answer she wanted or not, she wanted an answer.  She would not be content with Papa not making a decision.  The opportunity to go to the Pavilion was there – but Papa needed to give an answer, not keep her in suspense wondering if she would get her request.

My thought then turned to times when God has asked me to make a commitment to something.  To follow Him down a road that I do not really want to go.

To love someone I feel has really hurt me.

To give up my own time to minister to someone.

To sacrifice my own finances to help someone less fortunate than me.

To simply obey and do what His word directs me to do.

How many times do I waver between doing what He is asking of me and what I want to do?

I wonder how many times He is patiently saying

Say yes or say no!

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Jesus told us:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

Yet how often do I say “yes” to God but then not follow through in obedience when it conflicts with my own desires or wishes. God’s Word reminds me that I must:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

I cannot say yes with my mouth but no with my actions.  It’s either yes or no.

That old saying is true:

If you straddle the fence at some point you will come to a fence post and have to get off on one side or the other.

Say yes to God and no to sin!

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Wept

I posted this back in 2015 but think it is so appropriate today as serving God seems to have become to many more a hobby than a real conviction and calling….so I’m sharing it again.

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Then Jesus took His disciples up on the mountain and gathering them around Him, He taught them, saying:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven
  • Blessed are the meek
  • Blessed are they that mourn
  • Blessed are the merciful
  • Blessed are they that thirst for justice
  • Blessed are you when persecuted
  • Blessed are you when you suffer
  • Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven.”

Then Simon Peter said, “Are we supposed to know this?”

And Andrew said:  “Do we have to write this down and take notes?”

And James said:  “Will we have a test on this?”

And Thomas said:  “Do we have to get this signed?”

And Phillip said:  “I don’t have any paper.”

And Bartholomew said:  “Do we have to turn this in?”

And John said: “The other disciples didn’t have to learn this.”

And Matthew said: “May I go to the boys’ room?”

And Judas said: “What does this have to do with real life?”

Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus’ lesson plan and inquired of Jesus:

“Where is your anticipatory set, your aim (long-term goals), your objectives in the cognitive domain?”

AND JESUS WEPT!