Tomorrow, they will return for the Christmas Day service. You might think that attending two church services in such a short period of time would be the last thing a teenager would be excited about. But not Sele.
“My favorite thing about Christmas is the dramas we watch in church and the songs we sing, and how they share Christmas gifts,” he says.
After the church services, Sele’s family and neighbors enjoy a humble meal and sing together. And if there is a little extra money, each person might open a small gift.
But during dinner, there is an empty seat at the table. The celebrations are a little quieter than they ought to be. Something is missing—something the family is painfully aware of. Sele’s father Solomon is not there.
During the evening’s celebration, Sele picks up a photo of Solomon. In it, you can only see Solomon’s side profile—but even from that angle, the resemblance between father and son is obvious.
“He was killed for being a Christian,” Sele says.
‘We heard gunshots everywhere’
Sele may not remember the day of his father’s death, but it’s forever seared into the memory of Sele’s mom Cecilia. “My husband died in 2011, on a Sunday,” she shares. “That morning, he went to the market. His cousin had died, and I was preparing food to take to the family’s house.”
Cecilia and the children were waiting for Solomon at his cousin’s house when suddenly attacks broke out. The family knew that Christians were likely being targeted. “We began to hear gunshots everywhere.”
Cecilia remembers: “There was smoke everywhere. The last call we had [from him], Solomon said I should go home and take care of the children. He said everything in town was on fire, but I should stay calm … My heart was troubled. I sat down, and I tried his number [several times], but it wouldn’t connect.”
The next day, Solomon had still not come home. “Later that day, they told me that my husband was killed, and his body was brought to a hospital close to our neighborhood,” Cecilia continues. “I hurried there. Outside I saw his sweater (discarded on the ground).”
In the afternoon, someone came to the family’s house with a shovel to bury Solomon.
“It was at that point I began to scream and shout. When my husband was alive, we were living peacefully,” Cecilia continues. “He was a farmer and provided for all our needs.”
The day Solomon was killed, his attackers undoubtedly knew they had struck at the heart of a Christian family’s future. Cycles of violence against Christians have left countless widows and their children in deep economic strife. When Solomon was killed, the chances were good that Cecilia would become yet another widow exploited by her in-laws, left to fend for herself with hardly enough to keep her children under a roof, fed and in school. It was easy to imagine Sele as another boy without his dad, growing up desperately poor and completely alone.
But God never left Sele’s family, and the attackers’ plan failed.
“I decided to hold on to Jesus,” Cecilia says.