Eritrea's Christian Church Grows Despite Persecution

( [email protected] ) Apr 21, 2004 01:30 PM EDT

Christians in an East African country are asking for prayers from believers around the world as they face increased persecution.

The State of Eritrea, which was once a part of Ethiopia, is country of nearly four million people, where the population is almost equally divided between Muslims and Christians. But Todd Nettleton of the U.S.-based Voice of the Martyrs ministry reports that religious persecution against evangelical believers is on the rise in Eritrea, where the latest wave began with a government edict.

"About two years ago," Nettleton explains, "the government called all of the evangelical groups in for a meeting and told them 'We're closing down your churches. You're done having meetings,' They allowed four groups to stay open -- that's Catholic, Lutheran, Muslim, and Orthodox."

Although the country is officially touted as a republic, Nettleton says its government is a throwback to communism. "Even though they don't call themselves Communist now, the reality of life in Eritrea -- the reality of life for the Christians in particular -- is that this is essentially a communist nation."

The VOM spokesman says for Eritreans, that means the government and its officials seek to control everything, and "those who don't submit to their control face arrest and persecution."

With the exception of the four specified groups, evangelical faiths in Eritrea have been outlawed by the country's communist-style ruler, Nettleton says. He points out that those evangelical Christians not included among the Catholic, Lutheran, or Orthodox headings practice their beliefs at their peril.

"Those that meet in homes, which they started to do after their churches were closed, are facing arrest," Nettleton says. "This is a country where persecution is rising," he adds, "but it's also a country where the Church is growing."

But despite the severe religious persecution, Nettleton observes that Eritrea's Christians have a spirit of contentment about them. He says this is because they accept that this is the path God has put before them, and they are determined to walk boldly in their faith.