26 May 2015
"It was so cold during the night you would suffer hypothermia... So hot during the day that your skin would burn to the edge of the container... The bugs that bite you felt like fire all over your body... But like driving a nail into wood, every hit, every beating, and every blow to my body drew me closer to God..."
These are the words of an Eritrean Christian musician named Helen Berhane. Helen spent two and a half years in prison for refusing to recant her faith. Every day she woke up on the floor of a jagged metal shipping container where she was beaten and tortured regularly.
But one of her most incredible stories is found in her response to a beating that very nearly took her life. Helen had been writing notes of encouragement to her fellow prisoners. In these, she included Scriptures for memorisation. The guards soon confronted her:
"Helen, where is your Bible?"
"I don't have one," she replied.
"Is it in your head?"
"Yes, it's in my head."
"Well," concluded the guards, "we're going to have to beat it out of you!"
They dragged Helen to a courtyard and began to beat her with wooden batons. In the middle of this beating, Helen stopped, looks at the guard hitting her and says to him, "I do not hate you. You are just carrying out an order, but you need to know that I'm carrying out an order too, and that order is not to renounce Jesus, so carry on..." When they were finished beating her, they threw her body back into the metal shipping container. As she lay on the floor in the container she began to sing:
Thank you for the cold nights. Thank you for the hot days. Thank you for the hunger, for the sickness. Thank you for the bugs that bite my body. Thank you Lord, thank you.
For the complete and inspiring story of Helen Berhane's imprisonment, see Helen Berhane, Song of the Nightingale (Colorado Springs: Authentic Media, 2009).