I wanted to share with you an excerpt from a book I will be releasing in the near future. It’s a devotional companion to The Last Words of the Martyrs, and I thought this piece was especially appropriate for today’s holiday.
As you gather together with your family to say grace this Thanksgiving, your material blessings and family may be the first things that come to mind when thanking God. 
Life may have been easy or hard, but at least you can thank God for the food on your table, the faces that surround you, and the love that you share. 
For the persecuted Church, though, thanking God can look a bit different. Some of them are missing faces at their tables, having lost loved ones to persecution. 
To them, God’s provision means something much deeper. 
It’s like Paul, who sang God’s praises even while behind bars or, to bring it to the present day, Birtukan thanked God when her life fell apart. Her story has always touched me deeply.
Darkness Descends
Birtukan and her husband, Abraham, lived and worked as evangelists in Worabe, a primarily Muslim area in Ethiopia. 
In 2010, they were attacked by three Muslim men with metal rods. As the men beat Abraham to death, Birtukan tried to intervene and save her husband. The men then turned on her, despite the fact that she was seven months pregnant. 
Dying, his arms and legs broken, Abraham could only watch as his wife and unborn child were broken under the rods of the three men. They beat her until she lay unconscious and eventually blacked out.
A Widow's Suffering
When Birtukan woke up in the hospital, she looked around at the faces of loved ones at her bedside and instantly knew why she didn’t see his face.  
She was enveloped in grief, but grew thankful for the miraculous survival of her unborn child. After leaving the hospital, she moved into her mother’s small mud and grass house with 10 other family members.
Comforting the Brokenhearted
Birtukan struggled with grief over her husband’s death. She questioned the goodness of God and couldn’t understand why he had taken Abraham from her, a man who had devoted himself to the Gospel. In great pain, and from a place of abandonment, she cried out to the Lord.
It was then that our regional manager met her and relieved her immediate financial struggles by buying her three cows. When she learned that Christians from the West wanted to help her, she was overcome with relief and gratitude. She cried out in joy:
“Have the Christians in America really heard about me? Yesterday, I had cried out to God and said, ‘Lord, have I been forgotten? Is there anyone helping me?’ Then a man of God from our village prayed for me and said, ‘God will never forsake you.’  I believed that word. I was crying (out to God) yesterday and here you are today with the help I needed.”
Our regional manager was in tears. He sat, comforting her, and explained how the Gospel had advanced from one generation to the next through the sacrifices of the martyrs, like Abraham, over the centuries. He also emphasized that the Lord would never leave her.
Then, just days after our visit, Birtukan gave birth to a baby girl.
Sustaining the Widow
The Bible clearly reveals our Father’s heart for the widow and the fatherless. We knew Birtukan and her baby were precious in the sight of our God, who “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18). He tells us that true religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
Birtukan was deeply touched by the care of her brothers and sisters throughout the world who answered her cries to the Father. Birtukan expressed a great desire that “God would remember those who had helped her in [her] time of need!”
Given Birtukan’s status as a martyr’s widow, ICC later built a small home for her. The cows provided her and her daughter with income through breeding and milk sales, and the home sheltered them in Abraham’s absence.
Later, she told us that she had named her baby Berhane, saying, “I named her Berhane — it means light – because the shedding of her father’s blood has shed the light of the Gospel on the Muslims in the city where he gave his life.” 
The Light Spreads
There was a very prophetic aspect to her choosing the name “Berhane,” and that became clear a year after her birth. 
Abraham was killed because of his zeal and success in bringing the light into a fundamentalist Muslim area. I’m sure those who murdered him felt that they had extinguished his light and that his ministry would stop with him. 
They were wrong. 
Following his death, numerous Christian leaders in the city were challenged by his sacrifice and vowed to continue his work. They began bringing the Gospel to many more Muslims than they previously had. The fall of their brother caused them to rise up and run to the front of the battle.
The Meaning of Thankfulness
Showing a thankful heart in the midst of tragedy is the ultimate sign of trust. It is the acknowledgement that God’s plan is better than our own. 
I often see the persecuted Church praising God for the crosses He sends and for His comforting presence in the midst of their fear. They look beyond their suffering to trust His ultimate plan.  
Birtukan thanked God for the survival of her baby and, in faith, named her “Light” even after the unjust murder of her husband. In thanking God, she acknowledged that His plan was better than her own. 
Birtukan’s life would never again be the same, but that can also be said for thousands of unbelievers in Worabe who tasted life through Abraham’s death. 
This is the great secret of the persecuted Church. They thrive in spite of their great pain because they hold on to trust and the goodness of God even when they suffer greatly. They remember that they have a great reward waiting at the end of their lives, and that their present struggles are “light and momentary.” 
I have much to learn from them! The persecuted have taught me so much and if you have followed them, I know you would echo that.
Acknowledging and thanking God for His greater plan and His unconditional faithfulness in the midst of my struggles is probably their first lesson to me. 
Thank you so much for standing with them, and with us, as we strive to build and bandage His Kingdom on the frontlines!
If you would like to serve other beleaguered believers in Africa, you can give to our Nigeria Farms initiative.
Jeff King
International Christian Concern
International Christian Concern
Donate by phone: 1-800-422-5441

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