By Nathan Johnson
03/20/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – A friend of International Christian Concern (ICC), Joseph*, recently traveled to Eritrea and interviewed David*, one of the many underground pastors in the country. David related the many struggles that the Christian Church is facing in Eritrea, “We are in serious persecution. That doesn’t mean that the government kills us by shooting us or something, but he puts us in prison to persecute us… [Even more common than prison], they use financial pressure and political pressure to persecute us.”
Eritrea is one of the most closed-off countries in the world. Often referred to as the “North Korea of Africa,” Eritrea earned the title of “least free country” from the years 2007 to 2016 in the World Press Freedom Index. North Korea took claimed that title last year. Eritrea also ranks as the fifth worst persecutor of Christians in the world, according to Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List. This makes obtaining information and news from Christians in the country extremely difficult.
The financial pressure that David referenced concerns the government’s control of all finances. Joseph expressed, “It was so sad to see all people (rich and poor) suffering by the new money laws. The government announced that whole county should put their money in banks and deal with checks only… Asmara literally feels like an empty desperate city.” The communist regime tightly controls the economy and many aspects of every-day life. The system prevents Christians from being able to afford food, rent, and the general necessities of life.
However, the harsher and more direct persecution is carried out through arrests and imprisonment. According to Joseph, “[In December 2017], the [Eritrean government] caught 116 believers in Massawa. They attacked homes…and families that they knew were born again Christians.” These people were then taken to underground prisons where they remain to this day. They join thousands of other imprisoned Christians in Eritrea, simply for believing in Christ. Many Christians remain imprisoned for years, while others have died behind bars.
Finally, the authorities use political power to force Christians underground. They have granted four religious organizations legal status: the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Church and Sunni Islam. Gaining entrance to any of these religions, however, requires applicants to agree to four rules:
- You cannot be a born again Christian.
- You must be loyal to the government, no one else.
- You must not carry the Bible outside of your home or church building.
- If you encounter any missionaries, you must report them to the police. The reward is three months’ wages.
Despite formidable obstacles, there is hope in this closed country. Joseph believes strongly that “God sometimes allows persecution in order to purify us…. He is purifying us [here in Eritrea] to be mature Christians.” He has personally seen the underground Church in Eritrea grow despite the government’s best efforts to end it. David asked Joseph, “How many people have you seen baptized in your house?” Joseph replied, “More than 500 people in my own home. The persecution that we have undergone has united us, and shown us that the weapon that we have is love.”
*Names changed for security reasons
For interviews with Nathan Johnson, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected]