‘The most difficult thing I have gone through for the sake of Christ’: Finding hope in Africa

July 9, 2021 by Becca Anderson in Stories of Persecution

When Dagan* saw her husband Noah* in deep conversation with a Christian friend, she was annoyed.

 

They were Muslims, after all, like most of their friends, family and neighbors. The idea that her husband would be talking about real issues with a Christian?

 

Ridiculous. “I insulted them,” she says.

 

Plus, his foolishness could cause them both pain. Where they lived in the Horn of Africa (located in eastern Africa), conversion to Christianity can bring persecution and ostracism. She wanted no part in it.

Noah’s friend said he’d like to teach her the Word of God, as well. “You pray for me,” she spat. “If I get the desire that is in my heart, I will accept Jesus.” She expected that was the end of the discussion.

For years, she and Noah had longed for a child. “Shortly after Noah’s friend prayed, I received what I wanted. God gave me a child! I accepted Jesus and I began following Him,” Dagan said. Their daughter, Adiel*, was followed by a second daughter, Dinah*, and the girls became the center of Dagan’s and Noah’s lives.

The four nations that make up the Horn of Africa—Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti—range from somewhat tolerant of Christianity, to being largely defined by an extremist form of Islam that governs society. But in all four countries, converting from one faith to another, especially Christianity, can bring instant pressure from the community and family members. Such was the case for Dagan and Noah.

In the eyes of everyone around them, including family, Dagan, Noah and their children were now second-class citizens. They were shunned, and Noah was physically attacked at a funeral by his own brother.

But far worse was yet to come.

Women at an Open Doors’ trauma care center.

‘When I think of it, I become very sad’

Editor’s note: The following account depicts sexual assault. Please read with caution.

One day last December, 16-year-old Adiel was walking home from town. Six radical Muslim men followed her, caught her, beat her and raped her. The child who was Dagan’s gift from God survived the attack, but was injured in body, mind and spirit.

“It is the most difficult thing I have gone through for the sake of Christ,” Dagan says. Neither parent can speak of the incident without sobbing.

“We went to the police station,” they couple remembers. “The neighbors told the police our story was a lie because we are Christians. So, the police did not take our report seriously, and closed our case. No one was arrested for raping our daughter.”

They borrowed money to take Adiel to the hospital for an examination to document her injuries for the police and for the neighbors who had said they were lying. When they brought the proof to the police, the men who injured Adiel were finally arrested.

“But the neighbors were not satisfied, and again went to the police to fight our evidence. The police transferred our case to the justice department. Then Noah’s elders came and testified against us saying that because we are Christians, nothing we say can be trusted.”

The hurt of that time is evident in Dagan’s voice: “We suffer a lot because of that, and when I think of it, I become very sad.”

‘That is what my heart wants’

Some days, when they remember what has happened—or wonder what might happen in the future—Dagan and Noah wonder if it is all worth it. “We ask ourselves if we should not let it all go and return to the religion we came from. But we believe God chose us and we will not leave the Word of God,” Dagan says. “Even though we are persecuted, we still want to reach those who are in darkness without the gospel. That is what my heart wants.”

Open Doors partners have been working with the family in the aftermath of the attack on Adiel. Partners helped them repay the money they borrowed for Adiel’s medical care, and paid the school fees for both girls.

Trauma support for persecuted Christians is a crucial part of Open Doors’ ministry work in the Horn and sub-Saharan Africa. In trauma workshops, counselors help persecuted believers understand the impact of trauma, find healing through biblical principles and become resilient light-bearers in their communities.

“In trauma training we learned how to talk to our families and our children, why the relationship between husband and wife is important, and how to be tolerant of other people,” Dagan and Noah say. “Even those who persecute us. Trauma is something that leaves injuries inside and outside. We forgave the attackers as God forgave us our sins, and that is a good example of how the training has helped us.”

Adiel is doing well, under the circumstances, but there remains a long road to full recovery. Open Doors will continue to assist the family, in consultation with their church on the best steps to support them.

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Targeted sexual violence is by no means unique to Christian persecution. It is, however, often used by persecutors to inflict physical, emotional and spiritual suffering on Christian women and girls, their families and communities. Open Doors’ comprehensive 2020 Gender-Specific Religious Persecution report, further unpacks the uniquely complex dynamics of violence and sexual violence against women and girls as a form of persecution.

In many African countries where Christians are targeted for their faith, women and girls are objectified, and most have accepted that the abuse they face is normal within their cultural and religious context.

Dagan is so grateful for the support Open Doors partners have given her family. “I just want to send some words to the brothers and sisters who are always supporting us. Thank you and may God bless you. You have already helped us a lot.”

You can continue to encourage and support this believing family in prayer.

“My prayer request is for my daughter,” said Dagan. “I want to take her far from where she got hurt.” Pray Dagan and Noah will receive wisdom from the Lord on how to best protect their children, while serving the small Christian community in their country.

Thank God that the family’s faith remains strong despite the pressure and pain they are experiencing. May He continue to strengthen them.

Pray for healing for the whole family, and especially Adiel, through ongoing trauma care.

Lift up women and girls in Muslim-dominated countries who are vulnerable to sexual violence. Ask God to put His hand of protection over them.

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