Books Worth a Look

  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave - This book is a must read. Better than anything else I've read, it takes you vividly into the life of a person in the 3rd world who has no choice but to escape. It is brilliantly written & works well as an audio book. Often I've sent info about the wonderful refugees I've met in Europe. We know only so much of their plight as it is painful for them to recall much less live through again by recounting it. But over time it is clear what they've lived through. This book is excellent as you discover the horrors of their world. Somewhat how to me, it is like being in Europe near a Concentration Camp. One has an obligation to visit it. 'Never to Forget.' In this case, to have our eyes opened.
  • Garbage King by Eliz Laird - The book is set on the streets on Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia and here lives Mamo and his sister Tiggist. When Mamo's "uncle" offers a job, he soon sets out on a bus to work. Little does he know that he is actually being sold into slavery...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Religious persecution in Eritrea

From BBC World. I have met one of these individuals. He is a fine person: warm, kind, bright, and hard working. Please read on and pray for him & us that we may find a way to assist him to have full opportunities for his life. Phil

If you are Catholic, Muslim, or a member of the Orthodox and Evangelical churches in Eritrea then it seems you can breathe easy. However, those who believe and practise minority faiths are routinely persecuted, according to human rights groups.

Two years ago the Eritrean government introduced a registration system for religions which forced groups to submit information about themselves in order to be allowed to worship.
Apart from the four mentioned, other faiths have not been recognised. And human rights groups have regularly complained that people practising minority religions have faced harassment.

Secret meeting
I went to visit a small part of a Christian Pentecostal Church that has been banned from meeting for the past two years. We were put into a metal shipping container... During the day it very hot and at night very cold Samuel When I arrived in a small dark room of a private house, 12 men and women face away from each other, looking to the corners of the room. Lit by just a small lamp, some of them are singing, some praying, occasionally one breaks into prayer and collapses to the floor. The congregation has divided into small groups. There are 10 other gatherings just like this, taking place across Asmara tonight. These people are very trusting of each other - just by being here and praying together. There have been numerous occasions reported around Eritrea of neighbours and friends of worshipers informing the authorities.


A few days later I arranged to meet a man, who I will call Samuel.
President Isaias Afewerki does not allow political dissent eitherSamuel was attending a religious service, just like the one I was at, when soldiers arrived. "I was praying with six people at a house one evening and the soldiers came into the house, watched us for one minute and said these meetings are forbidden," he told me. "We were beaten with sticks and then taken to a police station." Samuel told me that he and the other Pentecostals had spent the next three months being moved between different locations where they were regularly beaten. "We were put into a metal shipping container with nine Jehovah's Witnesses; one of them was in his 90s. During the day it very hot and at night very cold". Eventually Samuel said he was released after signing a document in which he promised to return to Orthodox Christianity.


His case, it seems, is not an isolated one. I spoke to one American journalist while she was in Eritrea, undercover, researching religious persecution. She asked that I not mention her name, so that she can return to the country. She told me she repeatedly heard from individuals telling her police had taken them off and beaten them after interrupting them praying at home with friends. They were then told they were an enemy of the people and forced to either sign a paper or kept in jail if they wouldn't sign and left in containers. "All of these things are just happening repeatedly over and over from people of all different Christian denominations and the Jehovah's Witnesses. So it is very pervasive of any group that are not part of the four major religions," she said. The evidence she has seen herself is undeniable, she says. "I've seen the scars on people's legs, I've seen their tears and it's very real and they live under a lot of fear." I was asked to leave Eritrea before I could get a government response to my research and experiences, but a statement from the foreign ministry rejected accusations of religious persecutions from the United States.

The government seems to have decided that anyone who does not follow a certain standard is an enemy of the people, is an enemy of the state. It is afraid that people who consider their highest allegiance to be God, at some point may not be patriotic and follow the state's instructions.
At a time of growing tension, both with Ethiopia and Sudan, it seems the Eritrean government is determined that nothing, not even religion, should fall outside their control.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Refugees

What follows will be brief as I am just getting to know individuals.

I want you to take a moment to conjure up your impressions.

  • What do you think/imagine when you hear the word 'refugees?'

  • Now imagine going to live with a 1/2 dozen or so. What further images come to you?

Eating, sleeping, bathing, socializing etc. in the same house?


I do not know about you, but for me there are aspects to certain images that might not be automatically appealing. So I arrived in the U.K ready to help out but not quite sure how it would be.

To preserve anonymity, names have been changed.


Zineddine - He is from Algeria. Tall, good looking with a ready smile, probably about 30. His family is home & he is here. For political reasons he cannot return. He is affable and easy to talk with. He enjoys a good laugh.

Amarion - Slim, average height, always helping out he is from Eritrea. Amarion always greets you with a smile. He is recovered from TB. He is a victim of torture as most are. Zelda explained the protocol in the cafe kitchen to me. The day Amarion was working there, he was making sure Zelda & I did it correctly. Often, apparently, we did not! His manner & approach are always to be helpful, not judgmental. He forever wears a baseball type cap with camouflage design.

Simplice from The Congo- He comes & goes almost non-stop. He was a student who joined a student protest of another student demonstration. Then the govenrment started to arrest students who had participated in any protests. They tortured some of them. Simplice then fled overland to the U.K. All the refugees look for work. It is difficult as they do not have proper ID yet. It can take a long time.

ImAn - is from Iran. A middle aged man, he could not be more polite. He told me stories of being beaten if he did not go to prayers. He made the mistake of going a protest march in his homeland. Now he too cannot go home.

Kalev - hails from a former Soviet Republic. He escaped as his father was Russian descent and when the U.S.S.R. broke apart, those with Russian heritage were persecuted. Now he is stuck in the U.K. as his former homeland is now a part of the EU and he cannot claim refugee status. Because his heritage is suspect, they will not give him a passport at home. Imagine.

Sohrab - also hails from Iran. I do not know his story as I see him little. He is very polite.

I hope what this conveys is two things:

1. It's easy to think generically when there is no face to a name, a category.

2. Imagine what it must be like to live:

- away from all family
- trying to live with no money
- no health care
- the constant possibility of being deported and then upon returning home being killed,
tortured, imprisoned .
- coming home each day to good people & a place to stay, BUT what do you do without much

May WE not only pray for them and peace in their native lands, but do something tangible today to help so many in need.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

LONDON Day 5 7/25/08

Hello from East London!

Arrived safe & sound to 70 degree and sunny. Martin (Fr. Newell) met me at The tube and my introduction began. He's a pleasant man just 40 who lives Simply. Next I met Zelda, an acknowledge atheist. From the start she has with Much energy (She 3 years younger and at times leaves me in the dust!). She gave me a tour of the simple two story house and then the neighbourhood.

One of the appeals is that the Dorothy Day London CW is in a simple neighborhood - East London in Hackney.

One of the appeals is that the Dorothy Day London CW is in a simple neighborhood - East London in Hackney.

It's a nice walk to the cafe - open M-W 11:30 - 7:00 p.m. There's a canal just a block away on which Zelda is taking me for a short tour to a small neighborhood museum before we begin our cafe shift today.

The café is almost like an extended family. Homeless, poor people scraping by, local children, people out for lunch all stop by for a simple lunch that is cheap or free. What works so well is those who have may give more.

For example, a hearty bowl of soup with toast is 70p which given our weak dollar is about $ 1.40. After eating his lunch a young students gave me £2 = $4.15 and said he did not want any change. There’s no tipping, all goes to support the outreach work.


There are a number of regulars who "hang out" for hours each day. Barry, a retired gentleman in his 60's stays most every afternoon. He is a treat.

Picture your older English gent who sits in a pub and talks with a decidedly English accent (what else!), and has the pauses and inflections in speech that are so much fun. Add to that a wealth of local knowledge and a curiosity that invites you to regular conversation.

I've enjoyed meeting all kinds of people and learning about daily life in the U.K. I'm now working on reading a different paper each day to get a sense of the print media. There is a regular stream of customers in the cafe who live locally - many young and working or in various causes. That is great fun as young people everywhere are open and most interesting.

NEXT POST - Refugees in London


Thoughts on the amazing people I get to meet.

Rich, my 19 year old friend, soon to be Franciscan and recent community member at Haley House in Boston. An article he wrote.