In a further crackdown on Christians, the government of Eritrea recently arrested 39 women and 5 men during home gatherings. That brings to 415 the number of Christians currently imprisoned in the small northeast African country that persecution watchdogs call “the North Korea of Africa”.
The 44 Christians are currently being held at Mai Serwa prison near Eritrea’s capital, Asmara.
“Not many people have even heard of the small country of Eritrea, but it is of special importance to Christians worldwide because the believers there have suffered so much and yet remained faithful and joyful,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “Since May 2002 it has been one of the fiercest persecutors of Christians worldwide. It is often called the ‘North Korea of Africa’ as its president is known to have a fondness for the North Korean model of leader-worship and desires to implement it in his own country.”
According to Representative Foley, only four religions are legal in Eritrea, and all four are strongly monitored and restricted. Among Protestantism, only Lutheran churches are permitted. Many of Eritrea’s non-Lutheran pastors have been imprisoned and tortured for more than ten years. In Eritrea, prisons are located in the hot desert and prisoners are kept in metal shipping containers. Due to the strong persecution against Christians, many flee the country and are living in refugee camps in Ethiopia.
Representative Foley says that in the past year, during civil war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Eritrean Christians reported that Eritrean soldiers entered the refugee camps in an effort to disrupt them and to find and repatriate or kill certain targets of the government, including Christians. “These days, everywhere is dangerous for Eritrean Christians,” says Representative Foley.
Believers in Eritrea have suffered so much and yet remain faithful and joyful.
Representative Foley says home gatherings in Eritrea are always dangerous for Christians, yet they refuse to give up meeting together. “In Eritrea, persecution comes and goes in waves, and these waves—like these recent arrests–typically happen without any prior warning or explanation from the government,” says Representative Foley. “The truth is, whenever the Eritrean government wants to crack down on Christians, it is easy for them to find Christians to arrest because Eritrean Christians are simply bold in their faith. They don’t hide, and they love to gather together.”
Representative Foley adds, “We have had the privilege of providing persecution training annually to Eritrean believers for many years, and they all show the same characteristic love for the body of Christ. Their singing is heavenly, usually without instruments and always from memory. Their memorization of scriptures is amazing. And they simply love to be together, worshiping, praying, learning, and exhorting one another to be faithful witnesses. Since 2002 they have been willing to bear whatever suffering the Eritrean government lays on them because they consider it such a precious privilege to gather as the body of Christ.”
Doctor Foley speaks to Eritrean church leaders about what trauma is and how to work through it.
Representative Foley says she is praying that the recent arrest of these 44 Christians will remind Christians around the world to renew their urgent prayers on behalf of all of Eritrea’s imprisoned Christians. “There are now more than 400 Christians imprisoned in Eritrea because of their faith,” says Representative Foley. “Hebrews 13:3 says we are to remember our fellow Christians when they go to prison. All Christians around the world should add to our prayer list our Eritrean brothers and sisters in prison, especially those who are suffering in metal shipping container prisons in the deserts of the ‘North Korea of Africa’, simply because they fear God, not man.”
Voice of the Martyrs Korea administers a fund to provide ongoing support to families of Eritrea’s Christian martyrs and prisoners of faith. Churches and individuals interested in making a monthly donation or one-time gift to VOMK’s Eritrea Fund can do so at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
Please include the phrase “Eritrea” on the transfer.