Eritrea (MNN) – Roughly half of the population of Eritrea is considered to be of the Christian faith. A very small percentage of that group would be considered evangelical. And it’s these Eritreans who are under the heavy hand of persecution.
Todd Nettleton of the Voice of the Martyrs USA says, “The Evangelical Church has been outlawed in Eritrea by the government. Any kind of public church meetings are illegal, other than those in the approved denominations by the government.
“So anytime Christians gather together, they face arrest, they face persecution and imprisonment. Many times those imprisonments are in horrible conditions, even being held in shipping containers which have no plumbing. They have very limited air supply, they’re closed off, they’re [hot] in the summer, they’re very cold in the winter.”
New persecution strategy
But there’s been a disturbing development. Nettleton says who is arrested and how they are arrested is changing:
“Since May of this year, nearly 200 Christians have been arrested. The interesting thing about this—they have shifted tactics… Instead of just raiding church services or Bible studies, now the government is going to the homes of Christians, and they’re arresting the whole family. Even children have been put under arrest if they’re part of a Christian family.”
When the parents are arrested, the children get taken into custody. The authorities make sure they receive no support from the Christian community. The latest arrests included 16 students just last month. They were arrested simply for praying together.
What this means is that the government is watching Christians meetings closely and strategically planning ways they can thwart evangelical Christian activity. They’re trying to hammer down on this community even harder than before, attacking one of the key practices of their faith: fellowship.
“Even as bad as it was, this seems like even a step further in the persecution of Christians—to arrest even children who are involved in Christian activities.”
As is often the case, where one human right is denied, other human rights are also at risk. According to International Christian Concern, Eritrea is the second worst country when it comes to freedom of the press. The nation that is even worse than them? That’s not a surprise—North Korea.
The UN has officially accused the nation of crimes against humanity, saying that the nation is systematic in its atrocities against mankind. Along with persecution, the UN lists enslavement, rape, torture, murder, and more.
Open Doors USA lists Eritrea as the 10th worst country to live as a Christian. They cite Dictatorial Paranoia, Islamic Oppression, and Denominational Protectionism as the three main sources of Christian persecution.
How does the Church hold up under oppression?
Nettleton says, considering the horrors believers face, the Church has been a shining example of resilience.
“The Church continues to meet. And one of the amazing things about the Eritrean Church is that they continue to serve the Lord, they continue to meet together for worship. The churches that were closed moved almost immediately into a house church, underground church type of activity.”
And, what’s more, they aren’t just living a hidden faith. They’re sharing it with others. Even with their lives at risk. Even in prison.
“They are sharing the Gospel. They are seeing other people won to Christ. And that’s really an amazing example of faithfulness to the call of Christ, even in really horrific circumstances.”
Voice of the Martyrs is actively supporting the Church there. For security reasons, they can only say they are helping Christians undergoing persecution—they are providing persecution response tools, Bibles, and support to frontline Gospel workers.
You can join in this work with the Voice of the Marytrs, here. And, you can pray.
“We want to pray for God’s protection, and we want to pray for them to be faithful. It’s a hard place to serve the Lord. The persecution there is intense. But we can pray that they will continue to experience the joy of the Lord and to continue to faithfully serve him, even in that very, very difficult circumstance.”