Tuesday 24 May marks 20 years since the Eritrean government closed all churches that weren’t Orthodox, Lutheran or Catholic. It’s led to extreme persecution; one of the reasons Eritrea is at number six on the World Watch List. In this letter, an Eritrean believer called Peter* offers a unique insight into just how dangerous it is to be a Christian in the country.
Peter shares his story with Open Doors; his identity is disguised to protect his identity
To live for Christ is something I have consciously chosen to do. Every day I choose to participate in this walk knowing what trials await me. When my walk started, it was with the intention of remaining faithful until death. As a believer in God and a student of the Bible, I understand that this life I am living is the life of a guest and I am only passing through like a traveller. My home, my country, is not here nor is it this lifetime. I'm a visitor here.
I don't care much about what happens in this life. It's not that I don't want comfort or happiness, but it will all pass. My primary concern is the life that is coming – the forever life. I will never change this worldview. Jesus showed me His love on the cross when He suffered for me, and I show my love to Him by being faithful in my trials. Remember, we have Jesus who knows all our suffering first-hand.
Therefore, when it comes to challenges, look to Jesus who has faced far greater trials. They can't take Him away from us; they can make our lives difficult, but they can't take away the truth.
Know this, you will be treated as second, third or even fourth-class citizens, and you will not necessarily find acceptance from your family. They who once gave you financial, physical and emotional support will turn their backs on you. Your parents who you saw every day will now come to ridicule and harass you – in their eyes you have betrayed them for choosing Christ.
Your family and community will look at you, and say things to you, and it will hurt even more than being beaten with sticks. Words in themselves can hit hard, but people's eyes are also painful sticks. Even, if they don't say anything, you can tell by their attitude. You quickly understand what they think. In their eyes you are filth.
At your workplace, when you refuse to do something, your employer will always say it is because of your faith. Be prepared that people will not easily accept you or what you say. Your employer can dismiss you or exclude you whenever they please. If you point out wrongdoing because your faith asks this of you, your colleagues will avoid you. If you resist the temptation to partake in something unrighteous, you will not continue in the same position – you will be demoted.
When you leave your house to have fellowship, you must always consider the possibility of being arrested. You will always have to question if you should really go. If you do decide to go out, know that someone is always watching. You will constantly have to question everything you do and what message that sends to unbelievers watching you. Sometimes it feels like being arrested would set you free. Our minds are often consumed with worries and fear.
"How would the persecution be if a brother and sister didn’t pray for us?" Peter
The easiest way for them to arrest you is if you are found at a gathering. Even though you may only be with two or three people – if they find you reading the Bible or praying, they will arrest you.
In almost every street there are ‘administrators’. They are ordered to report any gathering. If they refuse or fail, they too will be arrested. If you are a church leader, then the pressure and likelihood of arrest will be even greater for you.
Yet there is a hope and a light that radiates from us. And some people can see this. They see in us things of Christ. They see our happiness and peace. Even when we are in suffering, we rejoice. We have nothing in our house, but we are grateful to God. But even if we have nothing, we thank God. Because the reason for our hope and happiness isn't based on what we have or don't have.
In the past, you would go and preach the gospel, but now they come to you and ask you questions. Remember our main goal in this country is for God to reach people, and this does not depend on the opening of a church or the cessation of persecution. We want people everywhere in Eritrea to hear the gospel and, for this to happen, we need a door for the gospel.
Jesus may return before they hear the gospel, it is our calling to share with them the good news. Then it is the work of the Holy Spirit to work in them and they will have to choose either to follow or walk away.
I know it is hard when you think about the trials ahead of you. Think about it this way: “How would the persecution be if a brother and sister didn’t pray for us?” We remain standing because they continue to pray for us. God hears their and our prayers, He collects each and every one. It doesn't matter if it's small or big. God hears everything, whether it seems important or not.
According to the Word of God, everything works out for the good of those who love God and to them who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). The persecution we encounter permanently changes us for the better. It's not because what happened was good; it's because God changed it for the better. It is not something that happened to us; it is how God works.
Many people are persevering with God at this time, despite the persecution. Brothers and sisters are better acquainted with God's Word. They studied the Word, and its teachings have become real to us. Today, many people know Jesus in a way, similar to how they know one another. Therefore, this time has made us know God better. We had heard a lot about Jesus preached in church before, but now we know Him in person through our own sufferings.
Now my letter has come to an end, and I leave you with the final words of Jude: “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore! Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)
*name changed for security reasons
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