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 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.” 

“Miracle Boy”

Love and forgiveness among unbelievable tragedy

A few days ago I posted a blog regarding the persecuted church and showed a picture of a young boy whose face was horribly mutilated during an attack on his village.  (http://barblaneblog.c`om/2015/11/27/i-will-not-let-them-suffer-alone/)

Thirteen–year–old Danjuma Shakaru was critically injured during an attack on his village in northern Nigeria on January 28, 2015.  Muslim militants struck Danjuma on the head, arm and body with their machetes. His right eye was carved out, his genitals were cut off. Seeing his mangled, lifeless body covered in blood, the villagers who found him dug a grave for him.  Before he could be buried, he regained consciousness and began crying and shouting.  Taken to the hospital at the nearest city, workers there could not believe he would survive.

But survive he did!

Today, though his face is marked by horrendous scars where his right eye was carved out, his face shows a bright smile of joy for God had other plans for Danjuma.

In spite of what he has suffered, Danjuma is certain that God is still in control. He has no anger toward his attackers. “There is no problem,” he said. “I have allowed God to handle everything.”

I forgive them

Asked about his attackers, he said “I forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing,” he said, echoing the words of Christ. “If they had love, they wouldn’t behave that way.”

A defiant joy

While the attackers stole so much from Danjuma, they couldn’t take his joy. It is still evident on his face and in his voice. “The joy comes from the Lord,” he said.

Danjuma said his relationship with God has only grown stronger since the attack. He continues to pray regularly and seek God’s guidance. “God continues to guide and protect,” he said.

And today –

He recently had an operation that frees him from having to carry a bag for his urine.  Voice of the Martyrs is sending him to a school for the blind where he can learn Braille.  The hospital staff refers to him as “Miracle.”

Could/would I do the same?

As I read about this young man I have to ask myself, could I – would I forgive?  I think of the times I get all upset because someone said something unkind about me – or they did not respond to my phone call or text.  The words of Jesus ring in my ears:

You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say unto Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if you love only those who love you, what good is that?  Even scoundrels do that much.  If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?  Even the heathen do that.

Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

What if we really did that?

What kind of a world would we have – how full would our churches be if we really completely did that?

 

I will not let them suffer alone!

Marks of Christ

A wonderful Thanksgiving!

It was a great Thanksgiving this year.  Our youngest granddaughter spent the night before with us – and slept all snuggled up next to me.  The morning brought her mother and father and while I made the scalloped potatoes and banana pudding that my family love, my daughter fixed all the rest of the food.  Afterwards, my husband and son-in-law cleaned up.

The family gathered around the table was not as many as in years past as our children and grandchildren are scattered all around the USA, but I was thankful for the calls and texts from many of them.

So much to be thankful for:

  • While we have aches and pains, none of my family have any life-threatening illnesses.
  • My children all have jobs/homes.
  • I have a terrific husband.

But what about the rest of the world?

As we all rush out to find great bargains on this “black Friday” I think of those who did not sit down yesterday to a table loaded with delicious food.  Those who did not lay their body down last night on a soft, comfortable bed with warm blankets.

My thoughts last night were especially of my Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ.  For them, there was no big meal with family and friends all gathered around.  Many are in prison and have not seen their families in weeks, months, even years.  For them, there was not a big shopping day.

But what can I do about it?

Many times we feel like there is nothing we can do about people suffering on the other side of the world.  We do not have enough money, enough political power, no army.  What can we do?

There is much we can do!

Start with prayer.

We often say to someone who shares a need that we cannot fix, “All I can do is pray.”  But never under-estimate the power of prayer.

Samuel M. Zwemer, a missionary and Christian scholar on Islam, said: “The history of missions is the history of answered prayer…it is the key to the whole missionary problem. All human means are secondary.” J. Oswald Sanders said: “[Prayer] is fundamental, not supplementary…. All progress can be clearly traced back to prevailing prayer.”

How can we pray?

  • Pray for God to move in the hearts of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, so that they may know Christ (1 Timothy 2:4).
  • Pray for God to change  the hearts of governmental authorities (Proverbs 21:1).

Pastor Wurmbrand (founder of Voice of the Martyrs) writes how God used him while he was in prison.  He credits having the courage and strength to be a witness and survive the harsh treatment of prison to the prayers of God’s people.

This is part of his story!

In Romania, Pastor Wurmbrand was interrogated many times during his 14 years in prison. One of his interrogators, Lieutenant Grecu, questioned Pastor Wurmbrand about his activities with the underground church. Wurmbrand described Grecu as “a tough young man… indoctrinated with the belief that he was making a better world.”
After accusing Pastor Wurmbrand of lying about his contacts, Grecu ordered him to write out all the rules that Pastor broke in prison. Pastor Wurmbrand willingly sat at the table to write out his “declaration.” It had been two years since he had held a pen, so it was difficult to write. He persisted in writing all the rules he had broken, ending his “confession” with: “I have never spoken against the Communists. I am a disciple of Christ, who had given us love for our enemies. I understand them and pray for their conversion so that they will become my brothers in the Faith….”
When Grecu read the “declaration,” he was overwhelmed that Pastor could write of his love for a government that had put him in prison and tortured him. Grecu said, “This is one of your Christian commandments that no one can keep.” To that, Pastor lovingly responded: “It’s not a matter of keeping a commandment. When I became a Christian, it was as if I had been reborn, with a new character full of love. Just as only water can flow from a spring, so only love can come from a loving heart.”
Over time, Pastor had more opportunities to talk about Christ with Lieutenant Grecu. One day he had the wonderful privilege, in his own prison cell, to see Grecu come to Christ.

Don’t let them suffer alone!

Pray.  Write letters.  Educate yourself about the persecution in the world.   Check out http://www.persecution.com/

 

Ten Ways to Pray for Our Persecuted Family

I recently shared some information about a very important organization, VOM.  (The Voice of the Martyrs)

I would like to share more information about how you can pray for those who are being persecuted around the world for their faith.

  1. Pray that persecuted believers will sense god’s presence.
  2. Pray that they will feel connected to the greater Body of Christ.
  3. Pray that they will experience God’s comfort when their family members are killed, injured, or imprisoned for their witness.
  4. Pray that they will have more opportunities to share the gospel.
  5. Pray for their boldness to make Christ known.
  6. Pray that they will forgive and love their persecutors.
  7. Pray that their ministry activities will remain undetected by authorities or others who wish to silence them.
  8. Pray that they will rejoice in suffering.
  9. Pray that they will be refreshed through God’s Word and grow in their faith.
  10. Pray that they will be strengthened through the prayers of fellow believers.

Voice of the Martyrs

The Voice of the Martyrs is a non-profit, inter-denominational Christian organization dedicated to assisting our persecuted family worldwide. VOM was founded in 1967 by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned 14 years in Communist Romania for his faith in Christ. His wife, Sabina, was imprisoned for three years. In the 1960s, Richard, Sabina, and their son, Mihai, were ransomed out of Romania and came to the United States. Through their travels, the Wurmbrands spread the message of the atrocities that Christians face in restricted nations, while establishing a network of offices dedicated to assisting the persecuted church. The Voice of the Martyrs continues in this mission around the world today through the following main purposes:

Their ministry is based on Hebrews 13:3:

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.

VOM’s Five Main Purposes

  1. To encourage and empower Christians to fulfill the Great Commission in areas of the world where they are persecuted for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. To provide practical relief and spiritual support to the families of Christian martyrs.
  3. To equip persecuted Christians to love and win to Christ those who are opposed to the gospel in their part of the world.
  4. To undertake projects of encouragement, helping believers rebuild their lives and Christian witness in countries where they have formerly suffered oppression.
  5. To promote the fellowship of all believers by informing the world of the faith and courage of persecuted Christians, thereby inspiring believers to a deeper level of commitment to Christ and involvement in His Great Commission.

VOM’s Mission Statement

“Serving the persecuted church through practical and spiritual assistance while leading Christians in the free world into fellowship with them.”