‘We are filled with hope and faith’
…says courageous believer Pastor Tesfahans – despite being imprisoned five times in Eritrea because of his Christian faith. Release’s Marian reports on a visit to northern Ethiopia.
Early this year, in a small town in northern Ethiopia, 37 Eritrean Christians gathered for three days of discipleship training, led by a Release partner.
These 30 men and seven women are all in active Christian ministry, with most serving as pastors. The training was to enable them not just to survive as persecuted Christians, but to thrive: to be strengthened in faith and equipped for ministry. Most had experienced some form of trauma.
It was my privilege to join them and to learn from their experience of persecution.
Throughout the training there was an emphasis on remembering the promises of God – especially the promise of Romans 8:28:
‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.’
Eritrea is a small country on the Horn of Africa, sometimes known as the North Korea of Africa because of the repressive regime and the persecution experienced there by Christians. In May 2002, President Isaias Afewerki closed many churches in Eritrea and severely restricted religious freedom, especially for evangelical Christians.
During the training I was introduced to Pastor Tesfahans, a bold believer. Despite the restrictions to religious freedom, he spent many years in ministry in Eritrea, before fleeing with his family to Ethiopia in the summer of 2019.
Although he was arrested and imprisoned five times, he told me how the Lord worked things which were intended to harm him to his good.
For example, one spring Pastor Tesfahans decided to relocate his family to Asmara, the capital city, for relief from the heat during the hottest months of the year, while he would remain in Massawa on the Red Sea coast.
Having accompanied his wife and family safely to Asmara, he returned home. But as soon as he arrived, he received a telephone call from his wife who had suddenly been taken ill. Without delay, he took a bus to Asmara to be with her. On his arrival, his wife became well again instantly, for which he praised the Lord!
Later that evening, however, he received an anxious phone call from Christians in Massawa, wondering where he was. Unbeknown to Pastor Tesfahans that very afternoon, secret police had rounded up many Christians in Massawa and asked specifically about his whereabouts. He praises God that his wife’s illness was used to save him from prison on this occasion, so he could continue his vital ministry.
Another time, the pastor told me how God had spoken to him as he prepared for bed one night. The Lord reminded him of words from Jeremiah 36:26, ‘But the Lord had hidden them.’ Unsure what this meant, Pastor Tesfahans replied ‘Amen’ in agreement.
Throughout the next day this verse kept coming to his mind. Later in the day, he went out to meet secretly with other Christians. That evening, police surrounded his house and knocked on the door. His wife explained that her husband was not at home, and that he had left several hours earlier.
‘Yet again, God had worked out His purposes and kept Pastor Tesfahans and his family safe’
After asking her many questions, most of the police left, stationing a few outside to wait for his return. She called her husband. The children were frightened, what should she do? Should they try to leave by the back door? Pastor Tesfahans was reminded again of the words the Lord had given him the night before. He reassured his wife to stay where she was – the Lord would hide them.
He then prayed that God would send an angel to frighten the police away. Whether the police saw an angel or not remains a mystery, but they left and did not return! Yet again, God had worked out His purposes and kept Pastor Tesfahans and his family safe.
The pastor believes that the Lord has trained him to be bold, hence his willingness to share his testimony.
Unable to spread the gospel in his beloved Eritrea, he is now involved in radio ministry in Ethiopia.
I discovered that all of those present at the training had experienced some form of trauma. Many had been imprisoned in Eritrea, with some now living in refugee camps.
On the final day of the training, Pastor Tesfahans summed up the thoughts of many. They had waited so long for God to do something new in Eritrea that some had started to act in their own strength, he said. But now they had been reminded of God’s promises.
‘I have started to look ahead and be encouraged,’ he said. ‘I’ve learnt to give glory to God. I want to praise God. I’ve learnt about trauma – and that our fellowship is a means of healing… We are all filled with hope and faith!’
Give thanks for Pastor Tesfahans’ boldness and that he and the other Eritrean Christians now have renewed hope and faith that God works for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.
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