How many Christians are there in Eritrea?
There are 3.7 million people in Eritrea. Of these, 1.7 million are Christian, which is almost half the population.
How are Christians persecuted in Eritrea?
It's known as the ‘North Korea of Africa’ due to its intense authoritarian government. Eritrea only recognises three heavily monitored Christian denominations (Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran), so anyone who follows Jesus outside of these denominations – such as evangelicals or Pentecostals – is at constant risk. Speaking out about persecution or government interference in church matters is not tolerated at all.
Raids to round up ‘unsanctioned’ believers are common, with church leaders particularly targeted. Those seized in these raids are often sent into Eritrea's notorious prison network, where they can be detained indefinitely. Current estimates suggest around 1,000 Eritrean Christians are imprisoned, and they haven't been charged with any crime. Members of some house churches have been in prison for more than ten years, enduring shocking conditions, including solitary confinement in tiny cells. Women in prison can face gender-based violence, including rape and sexual violence.
The government watches every citizen of Eritrea, promoting a stigma against Christians. This means that anyone who converts from Islam or joins a non-approved Christian denomination is likely to come under intense pressure from their family and community, along with the government. Women are particularly vulnerable - converts risk abduction, house arrest, forced marriage to a Muslim or removal of their children.
Following Jesus in Eritrea comes at an incredible cost, but courageous believers continue to walk with Him.
What’s life like for Christians in Eritrea?
Becoming a Christian in Eritrea cost Abdullah* everything – his job, his freedom and eventually his life. This persecution might have ended if he’d renounced Jesus – but that was something he refused to do. He knows Jesus is worth the cost.
Like most Eritreans, Abdullah grew up in a Muslim home. When he decided to follow Jesus, he could have been a secret believer – but he was so passionate about his new faith that he couldn’t keep it quiet. He told everyone at work about Jesus – he wanted them to know the good news, too! One of his coworkers was angry, and secretly recorded him while baiting him into making political comments. The next day, Abdullah was arrested and imprisoned.
In prison, he was only given food three times a week. His wife wasn’t allowed to bring him any extra food or clothes, or even to see him – though she did receive letters, in which she learned that he was getting increasingly sick in prison. Tragically, he eventually died.
Those close to the family say that Abdullah was imprisoned to discourage his faith. Ultimately, the authorities wanted him to deny Christ and convert back to Islam. He was told that, were he to do this, the charges against him would be dropped. But no imprisonment, hunger, torture or sickness could separate Abdullah from the love of God.
How can I help Christians in Eritrea?
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Eritrea. Your prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Open Doors works through local church partners in Eritrea to provide economic empowerment projects, discipleship and persecution survival training.