Djibouti: How a young Christian convert chose a refugee camp over a life of luxury

Roda reading her Bible(Photo: Open Doors International)

"I didn't tell them anything. I left home with the clothes I wore, and never returned. I knew what they would do to me if they found out about my conversion."

Meet Roda*, one of only a very few in Djibouti - a nation nestled between Somalia and Eritrea on the Horn of Africa - who has been brave enough to convert to Christianity from Islam. Converting has serious consequences in the strongly Islamic nation.

For Roda, it also meant leaving her opulent lifestyle behind ready for a life of uncertainty. All for her faith.

Roda was born into a nice home, waited upon by servants. However, her family were very strict Muslims, with strict rules.

"My family has always been conservative Muslim," Roda told Christian anti-persecution charity Open Doors.

"Christians or even moderate Muslims who did not perform all the rituals, were not welcome in our home. Music was not even allowed, except Islamic chants. You could say that my family are radical Muslims."

Christians make up about 1 per cent of Djibouti's 1 million population. All laws and policies there are shaped by Sharia, Islam's legal system. The level of persecution that Christians from a Muslim background experience is immense, and it comes both from the local community and their own family.

If someone converts to Christianity or even there are rumours of a conversion, that person will lose all their inheritance rights. The local authorities do not protect Christians if they are attacked.

Roda's juice business.(Photo: Open Doors International)

The 'fairytales' that shaped her life

One day, a good friend invited Roda to a place "where people can teach you something important", taking her to meet a group of Christians.

Roda remembers that when they arrived, at first she resented them introducing her to the Gospel. She told them: "I have come because of my friend. I am not going to listen to your fairytales.''

Over time though, Roda felt her heart changing and eventually she converted to Christianity. She knew what this meant: she would have to leave her family immediately and permanently. She fled and went on to marry the friend, Tesfaye*, who introduced her to the Christians.

Unlike her own upbringing, her husband's family was very poor. When the couple fled the town, they started their married life in a refugee camp.

"We stayed at the camp for nine months," Roda said. "Living conditions there were bad. But the good side about my life in the camp was that my spiritual life grew stronger. In that camp I became a Christian with a strong conviction."

Roda fell pregnant at the camp. Needing a proper income they decided to move to Ethiopia in search of better life. This is where Roda's family found them.

"One day my mother came to us and threatened to kill me," Roda told Open Doors. "She kept shouting, 'I want to kill her. There has never been anything to do with Christianity in our family history. How did she become a 'kafir' (a person who rejects the commands of prophet Muhammad)? Killing her is Jihad (sacred).'

Roda's customers(Photo: Open Doors International)

"My mother even told my husband she would give him any amount of money if he divorced me. Tesfaye replied: 'No, I will not divorce her.'

"The next day, one of my brothers came and just like my mother said: 'I have to kill you. You must repent or I have to kill you.'

Roda's family did not kill her, but, again totally abandoned her. It was difficult for her and her husband to make ends meet, feed their children, pay the school fees and the house rent.

Open Doors gave Roda and her husband some practical business training and helped them to start a business making and selling fresh fruit juice. Using her new business skills, Roda identified another source of income, chicken farming, and started rearing chickens. Soon their fortunes changed drastically.

Her family continues to disturb her but Roda is as firm as on the day she left, vowing to never look back.

"Sometimes my family calls me and says: 'You live an insignificant life. You used to live in a beautiful house with us. You ordered servants around. Why do you choose this Christian life of poverty?' But I don't see it this way. I am happy because God tells me: 'All these things perish and pass away. But living with the Lord is forever.'"

*names changed for security reasons