Helen belonged to a pentecostal denomination of Christianity which isn’t recognised in Eritrea. As a result, her singing ministry and Bible study group activities led to several arrests and then she was eventually sent to various prisons without trial, stripped of her human rights and tortured. The majority of the book describes these experiences, including being beaten to the point of paralysis, followed by the account of how she escaped to Sudan and then Denmark.
There are some beautiful pictures of what it means for Christians to care for one another in her story and also the sadnesses of even Christians imprisoned together arguing over denominational differences. It’s interesting that even in prison Helen saw herself as loyal to her country and desiring to obey the authorities.
The most striking thing about this book is Helen’s refusal to give in on grey areas. Even when she thinks she’s being followed by the secret police, she still goes to Bible study. Once she’s in the prison camp, she refuses to stop preaching, even when others are threatened. I was cheering her on when she wouldn’t recant and even when she refused to stop preaching. But I paused when she signed the document that sealed her fate: “I will keep on believing and preaching.”
The title of the book comes from a quote by Richard Wurmbrand who was imprisoned by the Romanian government for his faith in the 50s and 60s:
Other prisoners and even the guards very often wondered at how happy Christians could be under such terrible circumstances. We could not be prevented from singing, although we were beaten for this. I imagine that nightingales, too, would sing, even if they knew that after finishing they would be killed for it.
At only 100 pages and written in quite simple English, this book is an accessible read but incredibly challenging for the western Christian. It reminds us again of our obligation to stand with and advocate for our often invisible persecuted brothers and sisters. The strength of their faith and their willingness to suffer for the name of Christ is also a rebuke to us. Helen writes, “If I could sing in prison, imagine what you can do for God’s glory with your freedom.”
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.