By William Stark
An eight-month pregnant woman lies unconscious in a hospital bed in Ethiopia. Already, her husband has been pronounced dead due to injuries sustained in attack perpetrated by two unidentified Muslim men. What did this couple do to deserve this? What drove these unidentified men to attack?
Burtukan and her husband, Abreham, were Christians living in Worabe, Ethiopia. Abreham was the pastor to a small Christian community in Worabe, a Muslim-dominated city known for being intolerant of non-Muslims.
In May 2011, two Muslim men approached Burtukan and Abreham at their home and demanded that Burtukan and her husband convert to Islam. Both refused to convert. As the two individuals left, they threatened Burtukan and her husband, saying they would make their lives difficult in Worabe.
Nothing would have prepared them for what was to come.
When Abreham and Burtukan were returning home from visiting a fellow Christian in Worabe, they were again confronted by the same individuals that had demanded they convert to Islam earlier that day. Instead of demanding their conversion, they attacked Abreham and began to savagely beat him. “I screamed for help, but no one came to our aid,” Burtukan told an ICC representative. After beating Abreham for what must have seemed like an eternity, the two attackers decided to turn their rage on Burtukan, an eight-month pregnant woman.
After the attack, Burtukan and Abreham were both hospitalized for the injuries they received. Unfortunately, Abreham died from the injuries he sustained. Burtukan, who was unconscious for nine days, survived along with the child she was carrying. After Burtukan learned that her husband had been killed, she fled Worabe and went to live with her family.
When ICC got word of this tragedy, a representative was sent to see what ICC could do to provide for Burtukan’s needs. Since then, ICC has been providing Burtukan with what she needs to support herself and her one-year-old daughter, who she named Birhane, meaning “my light.” ICC purchased three cows for Burtukan and built her a new house in Moricto. Even though nothing can replace her husband, ICC has helped Burtukan start to put her life back together by providing her with shelter and a way to make a living.
“ICC has provided me with so much help. They have built me a house and purchased cows for my daughter and myself. Now, I am able to rest safely with my family in Morcito, Thanks be to God,” Burtukan, said.
If you would like to support projects like this, please donate today, and designate your gift to “Suffering Wives and Children.”
Right now, as I write this, there are 35 men and women sitting in a jail in Saudi Arabia for committing a “crime” that, not only is nonexistent in most countries, is not even on the books in Saudi Arabia. A little more than four months ago, these 35 men and women gathered together for a prayer meeting in a private residence and emerged to find the Saudi “religious police” waiting to arrest them.
They were accused of “illicit mingling” between genders, which as I mentioned, is not codified in Saudi law. But no one is really fooled by the official explanation. The fact is, the men and women arrested are Christians and they were arrested for having the audacity to hold a prayer meeting.
Since their arrest, they have faced everything from strip searches to violent interrogations. They have been accused of being “unbelievers” and pressured to convert to Islam. Worst of all, they do not know when or if they will be released. This completely flies in the face of official Saudi policy, which is supposedly to respect the private worship practices of all faiths.
Next week, ICC is going to Capitol Hill, the State Department, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in order to draw some attention to this case. Over the course of three straight days we will be meeting with at least two dozen congressional offices, explaining what took place, and asking for senators and congressmen to start exerting serious pressure on the Saudi Arabian government to respect basic human rights, like the right to worship according to the faith of your own choosing.
In the past, we have seen Christians set free after advocating on their behalf, so join us in prayer as we go to our nation’s leaders and speak up for the Christians who can’t.
It was on October 18 that ICC received an email from its representative in Ethiopia. The emails reported that three Christians had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel to Muslims. An Ethiopian staff member at ICC started to make phone calls to police officials who arrested the Christians. A few days after they received the calls, the police released all three Christians. But one of the Christians, a former Muslim leader, still faces criminal charges for “insulting the Quran and Islamic faith.” ICC is closely monitoring the situation.
ICC Interviews the Released Christians
On November 4, we talked to two of the released Christians. According to the Christians, they were arrested after they had preached the gospel to Muslims. During the conversation, one of the Christians even cited a verse from the Qur’an to tell the Muslims about Jesus. At this point, the Sheiks became enraged and called the police.
The Christians also told ICC that this was not the first time that they were arrested for preaching the gospel. One of them, a former Muslim leader, faced persecution after he became a follower of Jesus and abandoned the mosque in which he had been a leader. He later built a church near the mosque and most of his former Muslim congregants became followers of Jesus. The mosque, the former Muslim leader told us, is now empty!
So when they were arrested by the police this time, it didn’t come as a surprise to them. In fact, they used the time in prison to continue their ministry by preaching the gospel among the prisoners. They told us their experience in the following words:
“During our time in prison, we prayed for people and demons left many of them, we shared the gospel and twelve people came to Christ, six of them are attending churches right now. We even preached the gospel to the policemen. We saw the hand working in prison so much that we didn’t even want to be released. The people we shared the gospel would have not been saved, if we hadn’t been imprisoned.”
The Muslim government officials were angry at the Christians, particularly at the Christian who had been a Muslim leader before converting and becoming an evangelist. A Muslim public prosecutor warned this Christian to convert back to Islam or face 25 years in prison, but the Christian man wasn’t swayed by the threats. He even preached the gospel to the public prosecutor himself!
The released Christians have words of gratitude to ICC for calling the police. They said immediately after receiving the calls from ICC, the police held a meeting after which they confronted the prisoners, asking them, “How do you have people in the US who have asked us to release you?”
The released Christians told ICC, “After you called, the police started to respect our rights. Before that, they didn’t care about us. They had been threatening us for preaching the gospel. Your work gave us a lot of hope. Thank you very much. May God bless you.”
“Have the Christians in America really heard about me? Yesterday, I cried out to God and said ‘Lord have I been forgotten? Is there anyone helping me?’ Then a man of God from our village prayed for me and said, ‘God will never forsake you.’ I believed that word. I was crying yesterday and here you are today with the help I needed.”
It’s not very often that we get to directly hear and experience the impact that our ministry (and your gifts!) have on our persecuted brothers and sisters, but last month one of our representatives had the chance to sit down and spend some time with the widow of an evangelist who had been martyred by Islamic radicals. Our representative in Ethiopia traveled 125 miles from the capital of Addis Ababa to reach the village where Birtukan lives in a small hut that she shares with her mother, step-father, and seven other people.
Two months earlier, Birtukan and her husband, evangelist Abraham, were living as missionaries in the city of Worabe, in southern Ethiopia, ministering among Muslims in the community. Their home was constantly attacked by Muslims who were enraged by their work as missionaries, and they had received numerous threats on their lives. On April 21, Birtukan, then six-months pregnant, and her husband were assaulted by Muslims. Her husband didn’t survive the attack. Birtukan told us what happened:
On that day, my husband and I were getting back to our home after visiting a sick person. A group of Muslims stopped us and said they wanted to talk to my husband. They started to assault him and forcefully took him away. I followed them. Then they turned on me. They beat me unconscious. I was taken to a hospital. After ten days, I was told that the Muslims beat my husband to death.
Our representative told us, “Her story broke my heart. I comforted her and told her how the gospel of Jesus Christ was passed from one generation to the next generation through the sacrifices of martyrs. I also encouraged her by telling her that the Lord will never leave her.”
Greatly encouraged by our visit as an answer to her prayers, Birtukan affirmed that she was sure the Lord would never leave her and thanked and blessed all those who had a role in helping her, saying, “May the Lord remember you at the times of your needs!”
ICC provided Birtukan with funds to help meet her immediate needs and is also helping her to start a small business where she will work to earn a sustainable income to support her family.
P.S. — At the time of our visit, Birtukan was nine-months pregnant. On July 6, just a few days later, she gave birth to a baby girl.
In the first week of March, Muslim militants burned down 69 churches and several Christian homes in Asendabo, Ethiopia. More than 10,000 were displaced in the violence due to the severe losses and fear of continued attacks. ICC was the first organization to break the news about the attacks, warning of the impending destruction.
Many of you, our supporters, responded to the plight of the victims by providing for their emergency needs and by signing a petition seeking justice on their behalf. We want to thank you for your efforts and let you know that your prayers are being answered and your efforts have not been in vain. We have learned that Ethiopian courts have been working diligently to bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice!
So far, local courts have sentenced 579 Muslims to prison terms ranging from three months to 18 years for taking part in the violence that left at least one Christian dead, in addition to massive damage to homes and property. An additional 107 individuals are accused of terrorism and the public prosecutors have brought charges against them in federal court. Eight individuals suspected to be among the masterminds of the violence are still at large, but Ethiopian authorities are searching for them.
Speaking to ICC, an Ethiopian church leader said, “I am glad that the rule of law prevailed and the church has finally got protection from the government. The judges who looked at these cases have delivered justice. We are happy that the truth has finally been revealed.”
We hope that the decision of the Ethiopian courts will send a strong message to radical Muslims in the country that violence against innocents will not go unpunished, and we want to thank those of you have helped the victims through your prayers, gifts, and advocacy on their behalf. Thank you!
We just received pictures back from our representative in Ethiopia who delivered the first batch of aid to the displaced! So far, we’ve sent enough to feed 1000 victims of the violence that displaced 10,000 Christians when Muslim mobs burned down 69 churches and 30 Christian homes in the first week of March.
Through church officials, we bought and distributed 110 pounds of teff (cereal used as a staple food to make injera/Ethiopian bread) to each of 200 families in three different villages who have just recently returned from displacement. Each family has about five members on average. This is only our first round of aid – we plan to continue providing the displaced with food and clothing, and also to begin to help them rebuild their churches.
Many of the 10,000 Christians who were displaced by the recent violence in Ethiopia are now returning to their villages. While we welcome this development, we remember that some of these believers do not even have homes to return to, and most are returning to devastated crops, harvests, and property. With the farming season beginning, Christians do not even have seeds to plant due to the total destruction wrought by the Muslim mobs.
In addition to these challenges, there is still the threat of further violence. While a large military presence still remains in the area to help ensure the security of Christians, the Muslims know that their presence is only temporary and are telling the Christians that “once the military leaves, we will start killing you.”
Some Christians have not returned to their homes because they still fear for their lives. One Christian that we learned of told us that he is a convert from Islam. The Muslims in his village threatened to kill them if he returned, saying that he could not live among them as a Christian. He and six members of his family are still displaced. His situation is surely one of countless.
Please continue to keep our brothers and sisters in prayer as they must now struggle to re-esablish their lives in a still hostile environment.
Click “play” on the file below to hear an interview with ICC’s Jonathan Racho and a church leader from the area in Ethiopia where Christian churches and homes were burned to the ground by Muslim mobs in the first week of March. The church leader describes the situation for the 10,000 displaced Christians and what Christians around the world can do to help stand with our brothers and sisters.
We want to thank everyone who has shown their support for our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia through your prayers, encouragement, and financial gifts. We just sent our representative in with the first batch of supplies and have provided about a thousand of the displaced with food to sustain them for another week. Your generosity has been such a blessing to these believers and we hope to send a second supply of food and clothing in very shortly. We will continue to pour out as long as we have funds to give. We’re really just your bridge to bless your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our representative sent us pictures of some of the 10,000 displaced from a previous visit (see below). Stay tuned for pictures of the Ethiopians who have received the food and clothing that your gifts have helped to provide! We hope to have those up in the coming days.
This one’s for our Ethiopian / Amharic-speaking followers. ICC’s Jonathan Racho gave an interview to Voice of America this week regarding the crisis in Ethiopia – if you understand Amharic, we encourage you to listen to the interview here.
Also, if you have any Ethiopian friends, please pass this link along for their information.
The first part of the interview is the Muslim perspective – claiming that the alleged desecration of the Quran that has been cited as the cause of the attack occurred when Muslims found a Quran in the toilet of a church. Though the man they interviewed cited this as the immediate cause of the attacks, he also mentioned that one of the primary reasons for the attack was evangelism by Christians in Muslim areas.