Saturday, December 12, 2009

When we are accused of exaggerating or lying about persecution.

It is not uncommon for someone to contact us here at the mission saying that they have recently been talking to a friend or an acquaintance from China, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, India, or some other country where we say there is persecution taking place. To their surprise, they find that their friend or acquaintance denies what we say is going on in their homeland. “It’s an exaggeration,” their friend says. Or something from the past, they suggest. They might concede, “Sure, things aren’t perfect but it’s not as bad as VOMC’s newsletter says.” And so they contact us, confused and torn between believing us or their friend.

It’s hard to know how to respond to such such inquiries. It is not as if we speak out of a vacuum or report only what others tell us. We personally know those who have experienced violent persecution against them. We have met them, held their hands and prayed for them as tears stream down their cheeks. It is impossible for us to deny the reality of what we report when we (or our colleagues in our sister missions) actually travel to these countries and see for ourselves what we report.

So, how do we respond to suggestions or accusations that we are inaccurate in our reporting? We don’t want to call them or their friend a liar but what do you say when you actually do know that what they are saying is not really true.

I recall how difficult it was for my grandparents to talk about their experiences in the former Soviet Union. Their hesitation to speak about the suffering they experienced seemed to range between a desire to leave the past behind on the one hand and the love for homeland that almost all expatriates feel regardless of why they leave, on the other hand. To criticize the government of their place of birth is to risk offending or embarrassing the country itself. To focus on the failures of one’s homeland might seem to negate any progress that has been achieved. To suggest that your homeland needs to improve its human rights record, for example, risks being accused of not being proud of who you are, ethnically and nationalistically. Deep inside most of us there is the nationalistic pull to defend one’s homeland. There are few who are immune to this.

This pull must be understood and taken into consideration whenever you read both affirmations and denials of persecution. We must not assume that because someone is from Eritrea, Pakistan, China, or any other nation, that their analysis of what is going on “on the ground” is without bias and demands special credibility. In fact, it may be needed to be taken with even greater care.


Simon said...

I thank you Glen for having pragmatic approach to the subject.
I am Eritrean and Christian, be it not evangelist.
Not many people know this, but Eritrea received Christianity , only second to Armenia on the 4th century, way before Europe and and the rest of the world. Christian Eritreans in the 7th century gave refuge to Prophet Mohamed when he fled Mecca from Quraysh.

This current madness started, because aggressive fundamentalist from both religions tried to convert, influence and sow discord to people who lived harmoniously for centuries.
The government intervened in those cases that are going to create unnecessary discord in the community.

What the concerted effort to vilify Eritrea by interested parties would not tell you is, evangelists such as Lutherans, 7th day Adventist and other denominations have no restrictions at all.

One can argue it is unfair to some denominations, but in the end maintaining the religious harmony that existed for centuries is more important than allowing religious freedom funded by external parties, that will guarantee fireworks, if allowed freehand.

Here are some of the Churches, Mosques and Synagogue happily coexisting in the capital.

Anonymous said...

That's a helpful insight. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Before any readers fall for the message that some churches have "no restrictions" from the former poster, you may want to go through the news reports from Eritrea on Even the Eritrean Orthodox Church is not free from government restrictions.

Glenn Penner said...

Rarely have I read such a reasonable justification for persecution as you have just given, Simon. But having just read the recent published testimony buy Helen Berhane of the torture she endured in Eritrean prisons in her book "Song of the Nightengale", I cannot and I will not accept for one second that this kind of brutality is justifiable for any reason. She did not sow discord; in fact she worked very hard at maintaining harmony between religious groups. So, why was she tortured for 2 years so badly that she still can barely walk?

Government enforced religious harmony is only a clever way of stripping away real religious freedom from all Eritrean citizens. Freedom that is given can also be taken away. Hence, it is not real freedom. True freedom is an intrinsic right that can never be given or taken away. This current madness actually began when the Eritrean government decided that it was their right to determine who had greater relgious rights than others. Very Orwellian

Anonymous said...

It is the leadership in a country that determines the attitude towards human rights and freedom.And it is the leadership,chosen or allowed to rule by the people.
In 1940 Holland was taken over by a dictatorial regime which ended in1945.We experienced what such a government can do.Love for our country propelled many to resist and many paid with their lives.One does not automatically love whatever government there is.In other words love for one's country does not automatically include the love for the oppressive government.
True love for one's country for a christian is also the grieving about the contempt of God's laws as expressed in the treatment of its citizens.Understanding of that pain and lovingly handling it,is mandatory.Suzanna Meyer

Simon said...


I do not condone or justify violence on any one, but what I stated is the true reason for the restriction. what one reads and the reality on the ground is completely different. You do not have to take my word for it, you can go visit, attend Lutheran or other Churches.

For outsiders it might look Orwellian, but the alternative is what we have seen in Nigeria and Ethiopia, where freehand was given to Saudi Arabian Wahabism and Evangelism and people turning on each other.

Glenn Penner said...

That may be the reason the Eritrean government has given. But it is still wrong. And we do have people on the ground there who can confirm that what you are saying is simply not true. The Eritrean governmen has simply used violence in other nations as an excuse to crack down on evangelicals. This is the whole purpose of this article isn't it? To show that those who claim to speak from first-hand experiences are not always accurate. You have provided a wonderful example, Simon.