A South African couple is providing God’s Word and hope to those fleeing persecution.
Kobus and Reinette (not their real names) have been working with Eritrean refugees for nearly ten years and currently work among Eritreans in Ethiopia.
“We serve them in the refugee camps, and then we serve this people group as a whole in the different places,” Kobus said, adding that their primary ministries are church planting, discipleship, distributing Bibles in the Eritreans’ Tigrinya language, and helping them learn ways they can support themselves financially in the camps.
“It has huge impact, the Bible distribution, more than in other places that I’ve seen. They have a huge reverence for looking into it themselves and not just hearing sermons. Many, many people come to Christ just through reading the Bible,” he said.
Kobus is a tentmaker himself, using opportunities created by his contract work to minister wherever God sends them. Apart from her appointed ministry, Reinette also homeschools their three children.
Since 2002, Eritrea’s government has permitted only four religious groups: Eritrean Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Evangelical Lutherans, and Sunni Muslims. Other groups must register in order to practise or operate, but the government has refused to register any. Those caught practicing or speaking for other faiths are thrown in prison for unspecified terms and generally are not released unless they deny Christ. Many die in prison, their families never knowing what happened or perhaps even why their loved one suffered.
“It’s illegal to gather and share the gospel and pray together in Eritrea,” Kobus said, adding that Christians are not allowed to gather, pray, or testify. “They don’t know what it’s like to sing in a group.”
Although they escape persecution, the refugees still face discouragement and hardship. The camps provide food and shelter, but the refugees are not able to work, start bank accounts, or get visas to start a life anywhere else.
“Some of the guys that I’m working with there have been in those refugee camps there for ten years. Ten years. So you lose hope of going anywhere; you’re stuck there, and that’s it. And the refugee camps are very, very difficult places. Its minimal food, and its a place to sleep, but its thousands of people clumped together without being productive, so that just breeds unrighteousness,” Kobus said.
“A lot of them are qualified people. In our church, we’ve got doctors, we’ve got engineers, we’ve got accountants and soldiers, so depression is a key issue. The fight is for hope. I can’t underline this enough: the fight is for hope for the future.”
By Brian Heffron, SIM SA missionary journalist
- for the refugees to hear and embrace the hope of Christ
- for Kobus’ work to continue providing opportunities and resources for their ministry
- for Eritrean believers to grow into leadership positions and disciple others
- that more workers and supporters would read about the Eritrean situation and hear God’s call for their involvement
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated their relationship with SIM SA. The writer regrets the error.