Editor’s note: This article is re-shared with permission by Todd Nettleton with The Voice of the Martyrs USA. Todd Nettleton is host of The Voice of the Martyrs Radio and the author of When Faith Is Forbidden.
Eritrea (VOM) — In 2004, I had the privilege of meeting persecuted Christians in Eritrea on behalf of The Voice of the Martyrs. In the few days I was there, I fell in love with the country — the cool evening air in Asmara, the beautiful Red Sea beaches in Massawa and the warmhearted, welcoming people.
Two years before my visit, Eritrea’s one-party government, led by President Isais Afwerki, had ordered leaders of nearly all Protestant churches to close their doors. Overnight, public worship services were restricted to Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches only.
But while the government was able to lock the churches’ doors, it could not change their purpose or stop their work. Pastors and members of non-approved churches quickly transitioned from open, public services in church buildings to house groups and secret meetings.
Then, Eritrean authorities began arresting Christians and sending them to prison. Many were sent to military camps in the desert, while others were locked in metal shipping containers or held in dark underground cells. Biblical disciples were branded as unpatriotic traitors for putting obedience to God ahead of obedience to the government or to Afwerki’s People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).
One pastor I met in Eritrea said the first question Christian prisoners were asked was, “Will you deny Christ?” Another pastor showed me how he was bound in prison, lying on his stomach with his hands and feet tied together behind his back.
In meeting after meeting, I heard inspiring stories of how God had encouraged and empowered Eritreans who were arrested because of their Christian faith. “Persecution is not sweet,” one pastor said, “but it is useful.”
Affirming and expanding on that thought, another pastor said, “Nothing comes to us without the will of God. Through persecution — I don’t know why, but the church grows.”
Just months after my visit to Eritrea, several of the pastors I had met were arrested. This Saturday, July 22, will mark the 7,000th night in prison for two of those pastors, Kiflu Gebremeskel and Haile Nayzgi.
Like every other imprisoned Christian in Eritrea (currently estimated at nearly 400 people), they have been denied legal counsel and a trial. In fact, they’ve never even been formally charged with a crime.
Seven thousand days in prison.
Please take a moment to think about that number. One thousand weeks away from their families. Children that were very young when their fathers were arrested are now college graduates and even parents themselves. How many family milestones have these two Christians missed over the past 7,000 days? As a father and a grandfather, I weep at the thought of all the significant moments they have sacrificed for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.
I want to ask you to do something today on behalf of these men and all Christians imprisoned in Eritrea.
If you are a Christian, please pray for them. God has sustained persecuted Christians through many trials and long imprisonments; I’ve heard amazing stories of how he has worked in prison cells in China, Iran and Sudan. Please pray that God is writing similar stories — even today — in the lives of Pastor Kiflu and Pastor Haile. Ask God to sustain, protect and provide for their wives, children and grandchildren, and pray that he will graciously reunite these families soon.
Whether you are a Christian or not, I ask all people of goodwill to contact the Eritrean Embassy in Washington, D.C. (or your home country), and respectfully urge the release of Kiflu, Pastor Haile and so many others who are locked in Eritrean prisons simply because of their religious beliefs.
Here is the contact information for the Eritrean Embassy in Washington, D.C.:
Email: [email protected]
Thinking about the suffering my Eritrean friends have endured over the past 7,000 days is heartbreaking. Please join me in speaking out on their behalf. As we raise our voices together, let us pray and hope that this will be the day of their release.
May it be so.
Header photo courtesy of Prayercast.