Eritrea (MNN) — On Sunday, Eritrea marks 24 years of independence.
For Eritrean Christians, freedom isn’t theirs to celebrate as much if they’re a part of the underground church. While religious persecution in Eritrea is not limited to Christians, the underground Christian church has suffered most.
According to the latest report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the religious freedom situation is particularly serious for Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Greg Musselman is a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs Canada. “Today, you’ve got anywhere between 3000-4000 Christians there that are imprisoned in shipping containers or military camps because of their faith.” He says Eritrea also tolerates torture or other ill-treatment of religious prisoners, random arrests, and detentions without charges, and has a ban on public religious activities. Why? “The government of Eritrea sees evangelical Christianity as ‘western.’ They link it with the CIA, so as a result, they’re clamping down on the evangelicals within the country.”
Churches in Eritrea have been monitored closely since May 2002, when the government closed all Protestant and Pentecostal churches which did not apply for registration with the department of Religious affairs. For those who do apply, very few are granted the registration papers they need.
With conditions so dismal, some Eritrean Christians have fled to Ethiopia. During his visit last week, Musselman got a chance to hear a refugee’s story. The summation wasn’t what he expected to hear. “One fellow that we met has been in refugee camp (in Ethiopia) for 11 years. He’s actually chosen to stay there. He has ministry there within the refugee camp.” Because of their boldness, Musselman says, “They are actually seeing many people come to know Jesus that have come from religious backgrounds–Muslim [and] Orthodox–and into a personal relationship with Jesus.”
For those Eritrean Christians who have managed to escape and share their stories, Musselman says their lives inspire. “For those that are in the country, pray that the Lord will give them strength and that they will not be fearful.” Ask God to further the Gospel in this very young African nation. “Be praying for strength for our brothers and sisters in Eritrea, in the midst of difficult situations. There are those that are in shipping containers and military camps. Their families are divided, physically, because of the persecution. [Pray] that they would be strong in their time in prison.”
Here’s what Independence Day boils down to for Eritrea’s followers of Christ: 2 Timothy 2:8-10:
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s Word is not chained. Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.