Eritrea, situated on the ‘Horn of Africa’, has a population of some 5.5 million, split roughly 50:50 between Muslims and Christians.The country has been ruled since the 1990’s by a brutal marxist dictatorship known for its absolute authoritarianism. All religious organisations have to be registered and Christians, with their more peaceful attitude are considered a threat, so face persecution. Arrest, harassment, disappearance and even murder are commonplace. The Eritrean Orthodox Church, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, is tolerated as long as it toes the party line.
Its Patriarch Abune Antonios installed as leader in 2004, was forcibly removed from office and banished to a remote monastery for speaking out against the antics of the regime. He was replaced by a puppet of the government. This government persecution, alongside that of the Muslim community which has been getting more and more radicalised in recent years and who view converts to Christianity as betrayal of community, family and Islam, has made life very difficult for many Christians, especially those who join non-traditional church groups.
It is estimated that some 2000-3000 Christians are at present in prison, often in metal shipping containers under appalling conditions and suffering torture, negligence and often dying for lack of medical attention.
Military service is mandatory for all, and there is no release date, so in effect all men are under Government control. This includes Christian clergy and church workers, who are often assigned to severe works. This is slowly starving the churches of pastors at all levels, leading to the closure and abandonment of many church communities. Because of this, many young men seek to flee the country before they reach military age. This stream of refugees numbers many thousands, often seeking to reach Europe to start a new life.
The UN has commission monitoring the situation. It is hoped that this will highlight the brutality of the regime and bring a greater awareness of the suffering of all Eritreans but in particular that of Christians.
● Give thanks to God that in spite of the terrible hardship and persecution, Christians in Eritrea continue to meet, share the Good News and worship God our Father.
● Cry out to God for our brothers and sisters locked up in Eritrea’s brutal prisons, some for 10 years or more. Pray that God will give them endurance and strength in their ordeal, and that they will be lights to their captors as well as their fellow prisoners in spite of their circumstances.
● Pray for God’s grace to all those who are filling the shoes of imprisoned church leaders. Ask the Lord to equip them for the task of discipling the faithful in these difficult circumstances.
● Pray that the Holy Spirit will comfort Eritrean refugees and guide them in their search for a safe haven.
● Pray for the deposed Patriarch Abune Antonios for health and strength in his exile, and that the leaders of the government will come to experience the truth of fulfilment and life in Christ our Saviour for themselves.
● Join with the local churches who do not pray evil on their persecutors but rather that there will be a change of heart and a coming to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour.