When my Norwegian friend Tobjørn tried to convince me to attend a concert by Helen Barhane, I really did not want to, simply because my Sunday has one plan, to go to church, get back home and relax as I plan for a new week.
I had never heard of this musician as much as Tobjørn tried to convince me that Helen is a great musician and has been touring most countries in the world. She has one message spreading the Gospel and telling people of her testimony of how God has saved her life, having served a 32 months jail term in Eritrea.
“You might also want to do an interview with her and use it in your show,” he said. I head home and over lunch time and I take time to google about Hellen and what I read, is enough reason to see her in person. At exactly 2.45pm, Tobjørn is outside our apartment to pick my housemate and I for the concert at Filadelfia, where Eritreans’ meet for their Sunday service in Kristiansand.
I like what I see and hear, the life in this congregation. The difference between Norwegian Sunday services and the African services is so huge. Coming from a very composed service in the morning, this is very loud and upbeat. Sounds really nice, feels so much like Africa, you know, people singing and dancing and the loud instruments and we all find ourselves joining in the dance and enjoying the music.
Helen is leading the singing most of it done in Eretrean´s language, Tigrinya. She is a pretty woman, with long hair that flows halfway her back, dressed in winter clothes, she is definitely very spiritual, she takes time to pray in between the songs. Helen is coming from Denmark and is visiting Norway under a trip organized by Open Doors which is a ministry organisation whose goal is to serve persecuted Christians worldwide. It is active in around 45 countries, supplying Bibles, leadership training, Scripture-based literacy programmes and support for Christians suffering for their faith quoting that millions of Christians are at risk of persecution around the world.
After an hour of great music by Helen, she stops to tell us about her life, she calls herself a living testimony. “I count it all joy that I did go through all this because of my faith, it has strengthened me and changed my life and prepared me to serve God, which is my call,” she said.
Her life in detention
We listen carefully at times moved to tears wondering why life was so unfair for this beautiful woman. In 2004, Helen was among 2,000 detained members of banned evangelical churches in Eritrea, including Rema Church which was her church then. She had made a Gospel cassette which saw her imprisoned for over two years.
“Life was hell on earth, I witnessed hell, I went through beatings and torture, it is a moment I do not regret, I did all I could for the Lord and He rescued me. I read the Bible 5 times, prayed and wrote songs!” she said. She says Rema was one of the churches that was subjected to sustained persecution by the Eritrean Government in the past years. She says the Government only recognises Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran Evangelical and Islamic religion, anything else out of this is subjected to persecution.
“ It was a torturous moment in jail, I received extreme beatings and injuries, I never slept a wink thinking of all this and I fell sick most of the time, but one thing I knew is, that I was being persecuted for my faith and I was never going to abandon my faith. I trusted in God and knew He was going to come through for me at His own time,” she said.
Helen explains she actually spent most of her detention in merciless and demeaning conditions inside a metal shipping container which was used as a prison cell.
“With such conditions, I was still forced to recant my faith which I vehemently denied to. At times my cases became very serious and had to spend months in hospital and in October 2006 I was hospitalised in Asmara for a close medical check-up. I had suffered many injuries in my body and I could not walk,” she said.
Helen was released later in the same month, and had to be confined to a wheel chair to aid her movement. She says she prayed and trusted in God and she knew many more people were praying and fasting for her realise. She now lives in Denmark following an International campaign which won her a political asylum. She is married in Denmark and says she has only one call in life to move around the world to proclaim the Gospel by uplifting souls and encouraging people in life, especially those who have faced persecution because of their belief.
Her experience and that of many alike has seen Amnesty International urge the Government of Eritrea to respect its Constitution and its obligations under international law, to respect freedom of religion and freedom against arbitrary and incommunicado detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners.
She is a great woman and she has been through it all, I am sure nothing will stop her in life. During this International womens´ day, she remains my number one source of inspiration and my prayer is that –Helen, may you live to tell the world of your experience!