SIX YEARS after he deserted the Eritrean army and crossed the Sudan border, 31-year-old Abraham Musa has found the freedom he was looking for. In Eritrea, he had been threatened with prison if he was ever found with a Bible, or met other Christians.
In his new home in Cardiff, Mr Musa distributes Bibles to his fellow countrymen and is emerging as a leader in a flourishing refugee fellowship. Currently, a dozen church projects and eight immigration-removal centres are involved. They are all part of a Bible Society programme that provides Bibles to more than a thousand refugees and migrants across England and Wales.
In 1993, Mr Musa’s hopes for freedom for his homeland had soared after Eritrea’s 30-year war with Ethiopia ended and its people voted for inde-pendence. During a new spiritual springtime, the country’s embryo Evangelical churches had grown rapidly.
Then everything went into reverse. The government in Eritrea began another two-year border war. In 2001, elections were put on ice, and, in May 2002, a campaign of repression was unleashed on the country’s new churches.
Persecution was severe in the army, where Mr Musa was one of thousands already adapting to the imposition of indefinite National Service. He became a Christian through another Pentecostal Christian who was also doing his National Service.
“In 2003, three of us were meeting secretly for fellowship in a cave — my friend, a woman soldier, and me. They put my friend in prison, and warned me and the woman that if they found us praying together, it would happen to us. I left after that.”
An aunt arranged for Mr Musa to be flown into Europe on a false passport. He crossed the English Channel smuggled in a lorry.
It was at an asylum-seekers’ hostel in Hastings that Mr Musa was free, for the first time, from fear of arrest. He also received his now battered Tigrinyan Bible.
Three years later, he moved on to Cardiff, where he found a spiritual home at a church linked to the South Wales Churches Refugee Network. Over the past two years, the Bible Society has supplied the Network with Bibles. Mr Musa has become a vital link. He takes Tigrinyan and Amharic (Ethiopian) Bibles to new arrivals from Eritrea at two asylum hostels in Cardiff.
“Some people still face great uncertainty,” Philip Poole, the Bible Society’s deputy chief executive, recognises. “But many are finding fresh strength and a fresh experience of God through the Bible.”
Mr Musa is grateful he no longer has to meet in caves. And he feels privileged to help others find an even deeper freedom.
This year’s Bible Society materials for Bible Sunday on 25 October include a video of the Bible Society’s ministry to migrant workers in the Gulf. Linked to the lectionary readings for Bible Sunday, they include service-materials, as well as youth and children’s programmes.
Lindsay Shaw is the Bible Society’s Creative Resources Officer.