Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 379 - Wed 24 May 2006
---------------------------------------- ERITREA: SEVERE PERSECUTION IS EXPANDING ----------------------------------------
Eritrea is around 48 per cent Muslim and 48 per cent Christian, with 90 per cent of the Christians belonging to the Eritrean Orthodox Church. However there has been significant growth in evangelical Christianity fed mainly by the 1970s Biblical renewal movement, Medhane Alem, in the Orthodox Church.
The brutal persecution of Eritrea's Protestant Church began in May 2002 when the government closed all churches other than the Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Mekane Yesus (Evangelical Lutheran) denominations. The move was driven by the government's desire to prevent the infiltration and growth of foreign and radical Islamist groups, and pressure from the Eritrean Orthodox Church for a crackdown on evangelical Protestant ('foreign' and 'radical') Christianity. Eritrea's constitution guarantees full religious freedom which the government denies is being violated, saying the crackdown is for national stability and security. Compass Direct reports: 'Nearly 1800 Christians, including 28 pastors and priests from both Protestant and Orthodox churches, are now under arrest in police stations, military camps and jails all across Eritrea because of their religious beliefs.' Several evangelical leaders including Dr Kifle Gebremeski, Chairman of the Eritrean Evangelical Alliance, remain 'disappeared'.
In January 2005 the government for the first time arrested 25 Catholics. In March 2005, after three clerics from Medhane Alem were arrested, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church of Eritrea, Patriarch Abuna Antonois, protested the government's interference. The government then orchestrated a coup d'etat against the church and in August 2005 passed a resolution to depose the non-compliant Patriarch Antonois and replace him with Mr Yoftahe Dimetros, a compliant layman. When Patriarch Antonois was officially dismissed in January this year he immediately rejected the dismissal and excommunicated Mr Yoftahe Dimetros and the others who signed the dismissal order. After Dimetros confiscated Patriarch Antonois' car, the unstoppable patriarch simply walked to St Mary's Orthodox Church.
In March 2006 the government sent a letter to all Eritrean Orthodox churches officially excommunicating 65 key leaders who refused to denounce Medhane Alem as heretical. Then on 4 April three of the excommunicants were arrested and imprisoned for agitating against the excommunication. Even though he is under virtual house arrest Patriarch Antonois courageously continues to challenge the government's interference. Since June 2004 (in RLP 275) solidarity amongst Eritrea's churches has been our constant prayer request. Maybe the Lord is building that solidarity now.
Meanwhile the persecution of the Protestant Church continues. Compass Direct reports the Defence Ministry and its military personnel are waging an intensive campaign to identify and punish students who are members of banned evangelical churches. Earlier this month 50 students were identified as 'evangelical believers' and punished harshly at Mai Nefhee Educational Institution, a military service centre in Asmara. Compass Direct also confirmed three women members of the banned Full Gospel Church were arrested on 8 May accused of 'actively witnessing about Christ' to the inhabitants of their town, Nefasit, 10 miles east of Asmara. All three are mothers of young children. Ghenet Gebremariam's unwell six-month-old baby son died two days after his mother's arrest. Only then did the police agree to release Ghenet on bail. The government is extracting a very high price from Eritrea's believers for a faith the Saviour gives freely.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD:
* to humble Eritrea's President Issayas Afewerki so he will repent and fear God (Daniel 4), or may God at least turn his heart (Proverbs 21:1) so he will stop persecution of the Church.
* to bless Eritrea's persecuted and imprisoned believers with enduring faith, a powerful sense of his loving and sustaining presence, and ultimately with justice.
* who is three but one, to create by his Spirit deep bonds of brotherly love, identification and solidarity between all Eritrea's Christians; may the politically powerful Orthodox Church and the spiritually rich evangelicals become a blessing to each other, to their nation and to the world.
' . . . I pray . . . that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.' Jesus, John 17:20-23
SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE: ------------------------------------------------------------
SEVERE PERSECUTION EXPANDS IN ERITREA
Eritrea's Protestant Church has been severely persecuted since mid- 2002 when the government closed all but the 'official' Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches. During 2005 the persecution extended to include some Catholic and Orthodox members. In January 2006 the government took control of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, sacking the non-compliant Patriarch Antonois and replacing him with a compliant layman. Compass Direct wrote, 'Nearly 1800 Christians, including 28 pastors and priests from both Protestant and Orthodox churches, are now under arrest in police stations, military camps and jails all across Eritrea because of their religious beliefs.' Prison conditions are appalling and torture is routine. Several evangelical leaders including Dr Kifle Gebremeski, Chairman of the Eritrean Evangelical Alliance, remain 'disappeared'. The suffering is immense. Please pray for the Church in Eritrea.
Please send this RLP to others, with attribution to World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Prayer List <[email protected]> ----------------------------------------------------
The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray specifically and regularly for religious liberty issues, and in particular to uphold the Church where it is suffering persecution.
RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC. Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.
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