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Back to school

Having issues at School? Struggling to fit in? The same was true for Hadassa from Tanzania. Originally from the mainland, her family moved to the island of Zanzibar, and found that their faith was severely under scrutiny and attack from local people.

This is some of Hadassa’s story – it begins back 1996 when they relocated. Hadassa was just 9 at the time.

“My sister and I were enrolled at a local school. Our school uniform included the head-covering required for Muslim women called the hijab. It took us long to get used to it. The hijab covered our ears and that was the most bothersome about the whole outfit because we sometimes could not hear the teachers properly. I used to loosen the hijab around my ears but I was constantly in trouble with the teacher and my classmates.

The Muslims would throw stones on the church roof during services…. I witnessed one of our school buses being set alight and nobody seemed to care.

“We were constantly mocked by the students. The teachers’ indifferent manner towards us and unfair treatment made it difficult for my sister and I to get out of bed for school in the morning.

“Thinking back I remember how helpless the Christian society was in the face of the then severe persecution. We could not worship in peace. The Muslims would throw stones on the church roof during services. Christians would be harassed and insulted on the streets unlike in mainland Tanzania at that time. Many churches were burnt down. I witnessed one of our school buses being set alight and nobody seemed to care. My sister and I did not have friends as our Muslim neighbours forbade their children to play with us.

“Once, a friend of mine was forcefully taken from her family in the name of Islam. They gave her a new Muslim family and changed her entire identity. The authorities took no action against the perpetrators.”

“I got a brief reprieve when I transferred to the mainland to attend high school in 2005. However, I opted to come back to the island two years later after my mother underwent surgery and required care. I was then enrolled into a Muslim private school. I remember things became even more difficult.

“I was the only Christian in the school and was very lonely as teachers warned the students against befriending me; referring to Christians as infidels. They would teach non-religious subjects such as History or English, but would often interrupt the lesson to talk about Islam and how they hated Christians. From time to time I would gather enough courage to address the issue but I only got booed and heckled by my classmates. Teachers told outright lies about Christianity. Most times I kept my cool and quietly prayed because I knew it was the devil trying to get his way. I would then read my notes until the teacher went back to the actual subject.

Learning to forgive

“The Bible says that I have to forgive to be forgiven myself. But it is not easy when they burn our churches or harm our loved ones who have done nothing wrong! And to forgive an individual, who you know will hurt you again, does not come naturally. I had to ask God to help me, and He did.

“A few years ago I had a nightmare about a person in school that treated me with immense hostility. I dreamt that he had died a painful death and I did not have the chance to pardon him. It is as if God wanted to show how important it was for me to have forgiven this person before he had died. My heart broke and I was so sad in the dream that I woke up crying.

“The following morning I called the person to say to him ‘I forgive you! Please know that I forgive you!’ From then on it became easier to forgive. Not long after a Christian friend of mine got killed, and I realized that God had prepared me for this trying time in my life.

“He was born into a Muslim family but had become born again. First his parents banned him from their home and disinherited him. That was sad, but the church took him in and supported him. He lived alone in a small house but joined our youth group and soon felt like a member of the bigger Christian family. The young man was growing into a strong, bold Christian. But he started getting death threats. He reported it to the police but they did nothing.

“One day he did not come to church. His phone was switched off and no one knew where he was. Concerned Christians went to his house. There in his small house, they discovered his lifeless body. He had been tortured to death. I can’t even imagine the pain he felt! We cried for days. The church buried him. His family did not attend the burial. No one was ever charged for the murder.

Changing times

“But Christians on the Unguja Island earnestly prayed for God’s intervention in their circumstances. Since 2000 doors started to open up for Christians to live out their faith publically. Lately we can openly carry a Bible and not bear too many negative consequences. Nowadays, restaurant owners are allowed to stay open during Ramadan and teachers started displaying the necessary respect towards Christian learners.

“But the foremost improvement is the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ is now being preached all over the island. Churches are still being targeted and persecution still happens to Christians. But Jesus was persecuted and killed and so were many believers that followed. We must not lose faith. Jesus is worth it.

No matter what you are going through, always remember that God is by your side and He sees your suffering and knows your pain. Just hold on because your help is on the way. Remember Christ on the cross. Without Jesus we have no hope. Please be strong and hold on.

“New Christians are advised not to make their conversion public until they are ready to face resistance and ultimately their families’ rejection. These fresh believers are introduced to established underground fellowships where they are mentored and guided in their faith walk.

Hadassa has seen enough trial and pain for her faith in just a few short years. She has the following advice for anyone going through tough times and pain:

“No matter what you are going through, always remember that God is by your side and He sees your suffering and knows your pain. Just hold on because your help is on the way. Remember Christ on the cross. Without Jesus we have no hope. Please be strong and hold on.”

Please pray

  • Pray for Hadassa. Ask God to make her even stronger in her faith. Pray that He will use her exceedingly amongst believers who experience similar circumstances to her.
  • Hadassa is set to start legal studies at university soon. Her vision is to help Christians in future. Pray for the Lord’s provision and blessing for this new chapter unfolding in her life.
  • Pray for all the Christians of Zanzibar for strength and courage.
  • Pray for the work of Open Doors as we partner with the Church on Zanzibar in their outreach task.

We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.