Tsedal, whose name means ‘halo’, is a young widow, just 32 years old, and mother of four from Eritrea.
She and her husband Ftsum married in Eritrea in 2005. As Christians, persecution came initially from her own Orthodox parents. For several years the couple were able to worship together with other Christians in small groups in homes – changing locations frequently and often meeting at night.
‘I know God has His own way, but it’s hard for my children and I worry about them not having a father.’
But in 2017 the secret police started to round up Christians indiscriminately from their homes and places of work. Ftsum was arrested while working at the shop he owned in Massawa and imprisoned for his faith.
It was impossible for Tsedal to visit her husband, although she tried to smuggle medication to him for his high blood pressure. In prison, her husband was seen as a man of prayer, a leader, and so the authorities put him into solitary confinement for a month.
Yet he and the other believers refused to renounce their faith. Early last year, two years after his arrest, Ftsum died in prison.
For a few months, Tsedal remained in Massawa, but life was hard. She received some support from a ministry related to a Release partner. Then the security forces spied on her, trying to discover her source of support.
Her children suffered at school, harassed by other children and the teachers for being Christians. It became too much to bear and the family moved to Asmara before escaping to Ethiopia last year. After some months in a refugee camp, Tsedal and her children are now settled in a small town, where she hopes the children will be able to go to school in September this year.
When Ftsum was arrested, God gave Tsedal the words from Isaiah 54:5, that God would be her husband. ‘I never thought he’d be gone forever,’ she said in tears as she shared her story. But she has confidence in God, and she trusts in Him. ‘I know God has His own way, but it’s hard for my children and I worry about them not having a father.’
Tsedal once asked her ten-year-old daughter to write a letter to her father in prison. ‘We have a defeated enemy,‘ the daughter wrote, ‘Satan has already lost the war!‘ Praise God that this young girl knows Him as her heavenly Father!
Despite her grief, Tsedal is looking to God for the future. She wants to develop a life of prayer and to do more for those who suffer persecution for their faith in Christ – something she knows all about.
Thanks to your support, Release gives practical help and pastoral care to prisoners of faith and their families inside Eritrea – as well as to Eritrean Christians living in refugee camps in northern Ethiopia.
Population: 6 million
Government: Presidential republic
Religion: Muslim 50%, Christian 47% (including 1.7% evangelical and independent), other 3%.
Since 2002 all Christian groups, apart from Eritrean Orthodox, Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, have been persecuted by the authorities.
Sources: World Factbook, Operation World.
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