Ethiopian Christian Teenagers' Faith Unshaken after Beating by Muslims, Arrest for Evangelizing

Oct 20, 2016 11:33 AM EDT

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." -  Matthew 5:11-12

An Ethiopian Christian teenager who was imprisoned and brutally beaten by Muslims for handing out a book about Christianity has been re-arrested hours after she was released.

According to World Watch Monitor, the four teenagers - Eden, 15, Gifti and Mihiret, both 14, and Deborah, 18 - were arrested earlier in October after distributing a Christian book in Amharic, Ethiopia's main language, by a local author, entitled Let's speak the truth in love: Answers to questions by Ahmed Deedat.

The book answers questions about the Christian faith posed by the late South African Islamic scholar and former head of the Islamic Propagation Center International. Christians in Babile, around 550 km east of the capital Addis Ababa, decided to distribute it following cross-cultural evangelism training, according to WWM.

Believing the book insulted Islam, local Muslims responded with outrage, attacking churches and threatening religious leaders. The teenagers were subsequently arrested by local police, and one of the girls, Eden, suffered a beating on her first night in prison.

But according to WWM's source, who was able to visit the girls in prison and speak to Eden and Deborah, their faith is unshaken. "This [suffering] is an honor for us. We should expect persecution. We are not afraid. We are singing and praying here in prison," Eden said. Deborah added, "It is an honor to be jailed for God's Kingdom".

The teenagers were eventually released on bail after paying 3,000 Birr (around $135) to the court in Harar; however, Deborah was recently re-arrested for unknown reasons.

World Watch Monitor sources said the prosecutor's office is seeking advice on how to proceed with the case.

Of the population of 99.4 million in Ethiopia, about 20 percent belong to Christian evangelical groups and 40 percent to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC), while about 34 percent of the total population is Muslim, according to Operation World.

While Ethiopia says it guarantees freedom of religion, evangelical Christians frequently face discrimination and harassment; in fact, the country is ranked 18th of 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian, according to the 2016 World Watch List compiled by Open Doors, which works worldwide with Christians under pressure for their faith.

"Ethiopia has many tribes...[who are] not necessarily favorable to Christianity, and in some places like Afar and the Somali regions, tribes are interconnected with Islam," notes the report. "The ruling party in the country has blocked all the channels for freedom of expression and assembly, and has also tried to control all religious institutions in a bid to curb dissent."

In September, 34-year-old Christian mother Habiba Ibrahim was hospitalized after her husband Ibrahim Dido beat her up for leaving Islam. She had only been a Christian since Aug. 2 when her husband found out about her new faith, the Morning Star News reports.