Under totalitarian rule, Eritrea is in the top 10 countries on the World’s Watch List for its persecution of Christians, something Yohana Menghesha is very familiar with
Seeing many people from her own home church in Eritrea imprisoned for their Christian faith, Yohana was better able to explore her own faith in God as an international student in Australia.
"The only reason why I was not strongly persecuted or thrown in prison back in Eritrea was because I compromised a lot in what I did and said," Yohana confesses now.
"People who are fully committed to Jesus are the ones who get persecuted the most there.
"It was only after I escaped from Eritrea that I really learned what it means to truly live the Christian life."
Battling culture shock and loneliness after leaving her family to study abroad, Yohana realised that she could not depend solely on herself.
"I didn't know anybody here to begin with and I had to do everything by myself," Yohana says. "It made me realise that the only person I could rely on was God."
Yohana has learnt to trust God for help and support in tough situations but she has not always felt that way.
"Even amongst the persecution I used to feel a sense of superiority and pride compared to non-Christian people," Yohana confesses openly.
Feeling like she lacked nothing because she had the "right religion", Yohana lived how she pleased, thinking that she knew God.
“I started to just be honest with God, .... I also asked [Him] to help me forgive people that offended me in some way”"Christianity was just a religion to me," she admits. "You go to church on Sundays, you read the Bible every night before you go to sleep and that's it, God has nothing to do with the rest of my life.
"I loved gossiping, lying, cursing, watching bad movies and I was also a very proud person. I had everything I wanted and I didn't care about what people thought of me."
"I had an outward Christian life but in private I didn't really care about God and what He wanted for my life so that is why it was easy for me to compromise on things."
Then one day God challenged Yohana through a man who was sharing from the Bible.
"He started off telling us how God loves each and every one of us and that is why He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for us," she recalls.
Yohana realised that she needed to take God more seriously because Jesus had suffered persecution and paid the ultimate price by dying for her.
"Then he talked about Judgement Day and the end of the World, which really scared me," she adds.
"I heard God saying to me: 'this is your last chance to turn away from your sins', and that's when I decided to follow Jesus in every single part of my life."
Praying for forgiveness for her sins, Yohana felt peace settle over her, knowing that she would not have to be judged by God and could instead enjoy a personal relationship with Him through Jesus.
Inspired to read the Bible from beginning to end in three months, Yohana says it had an amazing cleansing effect on her.
"The more I got to know God through His Word, the more I hated the sin and hypocrisy in my life," she admits.
"I started to just be honest with God, confessing every sin that I was and am conscious of, including every prideful thought, selfish act, lie and every bad motive I had for doing something. I also asked God to help me forgive people that offended me in some way."
Although Yohana admits that sometimes she still fails to live the way she should, she says that reading her Bible and being honest with God has changed her life.
It was Scriptures like Ephesians chapter 4, verses 21-23, which challenged Yohana saying, "Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from Him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Holy Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes."
No longer wanting to follow in the footsteps of celebrities and other famous people, Yohana says she wants to be more like the strong men and women of faith in the Bible like Daniel, Paul and Esther who endured in their faith despite persecution from others.
Making friends and experiencing a new lifestyle and culture in Australia have also helped to teach her more about God.
"Sometimes," she adds, "God takes us through alone times so that we can experience and learn to depend on Him."