In Eritrea unknown hundreds of  people are crowded into shipping containers and held for months or years for refusing to renounce Jesus Christ.  Long before I ever saw this picture I tried to put myself in their place and imagine what that must be like.  The panic.  The claustrophobia.  The stench.  The anger.  The sense of helplessness and hopelessness.


The Bible says, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
Hebrews 13:3

It also says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2_Timothy 3:12

After praying for these anonymous brothers and sisters for years, I “came across”–coincidences are just God staying in cognito–a book by Helen Berhane, an Eritrean woman who had survived incarceration in several containers for nearly three years and tells her story in The Song of the Nightingale.

The corrugated iron boxes are suffocating during the day, freezing at night.  There may be a window but guards will torture prisoners who are caught looking out of it.  Sometimes there are so many people in each one they can’t even lie down.  Once a day they are taken out and led to a field where they can relieve themselves.  The victims sometimes turn against and attack each other.  Helen was nearly choked to death by one of them.

I wear a wristband made of what Jerry calls “barbed rubber” to remind me to pray for persecuted Christians as “one with them.”  I am constantly, interiorly, hurting and grieving for them.  Sometimes when I pray I find myself groaning or physically rocking forward and back.

This morning I read in Philippians 4:12 where the apostle Paul said “In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

I am full and have abundance as a Christian in America while the poor and persecuted of the world are going hungry and suffering need.  I eat less and give more, asking God at every meal to send His people to be feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, praying throughout the day that He will encourage, strengthen and give hope to His persecuted children.

I realized today that I am being filled/ having abundance and going hungry/ suffering need AT THE SAME TIME. I think that grieving within me must be what Paul says is the Holy Spirit “interceding for us through wordless groans.”  Romans 8:26-27


Helen Berhane, The Song of the Nightingale Colorado Springs: Authentic Media, 2009.

Helen’s story:

“I am not afraid of you. You can do what you want to me, but ultimately all you can do is kill my body, you cannot touch my soul. You cannot even kill me unless it is God’s will that I should die…” February 7 – Standing Strong Through the Storm Devotional

“It was my experience that no matter what hardship I was in, God always sent someone to help me…” May 1 – Standing Strong Through the Storm Devotional

“Since I was the longest serving prisoner, I took charge. I wanted to help them as much as I could, because I knew they would be comforted by the thought that someone cared for them. I would fold the older ladies’ blankets when they went out to the toilet in the morning, and I would stay behind to clean the container [of human waste]… Then I would lead a Bible meditation and then I would sing…” June 7 – Standing Strong Through the Storm Devotional


About Jessica Renshaw
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