This blog was written by Alice, an Open Doors Australia worker.
At just seven years old, Miriam and her mother were left to care for six children under the age of seven.
Recently I returned from the Horn of Africa meeting persecuted Christians. Meeting Miriam was an experience that impacted my whole outlook on the global church – the Body of Christ.
Miriam is 17 years old.
She grew up in a Muslim village as the eldest of seven children. She shared with me memories of her childhood that I’m sure are not too different to many of us; she spoke about the fact that she was very close to her dad, and loved spending time with him. She remembered her dad talking about Jesus, and reaching out to Muslims in their community.
In one night, Miriam’s life was turned upside down.
Miriam’s dad’s passion for Christ had infuriated a group of extremist Muslims in the village. One night the men came and broke down the doors to their house, dragged her father outside and began to attack him. Terrified, the family watched helplessly as he was beaten to death in front of their eyes. Miriam was only seven years old at the time.
After her father’s funeral, Miriam’s mum, Meskele, discovered she was pregnant with her seventh child.
Miriam and her mum were left to care for six children under the age of seven, in an unsafe house, with no access to food and no source of income. I remember my heart sinking as I saw the pain in Miriam’s face as she recounted those tragic moments.
Seven year old children are vulnerable.
They are supposed to feel safe, protected, and have an assurance that their basic needs will be met. I realised Miriam’s pain was not only from the anguish of losing her dad, but in the trauma of losing her childhood.
Life demanded Miriam to be a mature adult at home, but also when she attended school. Miriam had no choice but to attend the same school as the children of the men who had killed her dad. Most of us would find it excruciatingly painful to be forced into the same space as a person who had created suffering like this. Yet, at seven years old, this was Miriam’s reality. My heart just broke.
How do you feel when you hear a story like this?
As I sat with her in the dry African dust I felt so many emotions – sadness, pain, grief and despair. But in the same moment I also felt joy, hope, love and a sense of being privileged. Why? Let me explain…
It had been ten years since Miriam’s father had passed away.
Her countenance changed as she began to share how she experienced the love and comfort of God in those dark years. She referred to the people God had sent “from far away” to support her family – to build a house for the eight of them, and help them start a small business that helped Miriam and her mum provide food, and the opportunity for education for the family.
Miriam broke into a beautiful smile as she referred to God as her father. She said, “God is my father. He provides for my needs. He feeds my soul.” Miriam shared her hopes and dreams for the future, that one day she would become a doctor and help people in need.
Sometimes, when I share stories of the persecuted church, people often become overwhelmed. It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling paralysed or hopeless. People often tell me, “There are so many horrible things going on. What can I do that will make a difference?”
My answer is this:
We cannot afford to be paralysed by thinking we can’t do anything. We must see the opportunity that lies before us to be the Body of Christ.
As the Body of Christ, God has entrusted us to care for each other. To care is more than just a feeling – it is tangible, it looks like something. When we choose to give time, money or resources, it makes a difference.
When you take the opportunity to do something for the persecuted church, remember God works through us to make a difference.
Want to make a difference to Christians in Africa?
Walk to Water is a great opportunity to do something fun that makes a difference to persecuted Christians in Africa. Join a walk or start your own at www.opendoors.org.au/walk
Editor’s note: In our latest Frontline Faith Magazine – The Rise of Extremism Edition, Miriam’s age was incorrectly stated as 14.