‘Til death us do part – when a couple say this to each other as part of their wedding vows, they usually expect that day to be many years down the line.
But when Eyal* decided to propose, he wanted his fiancé to understand that day might come soon, because of his faith in Jesus. In Eritrea, where they live, only a few church denominations are officially allowed to operate, and every Christian who practices their faith outside of these government-approved denominations faces arrest, torture, and possible death.
Eyal says, “After I got engaged, I was arrested. Then while I was in [prison], I was praying, fasting, putting myself in front of God. ‘What is your vision?’ I was asking God. Then God was talking to me through brothers … There was in my heart, there was a witness.
“Then I wrote a letter to [my fiancé], saying, ‘Don’t wait me to go out of the country, I have a calling, a great calling. I will serve Jesus Christ in Eritrea, ‘til death. So are you willing to be on my side, to serve God in Eritrea, even though things are upside down?’
“Her answer was, ‘I’m ready. I will be on your side, whatever, and wherever you go, I will be with you.’”
Watch a short interview with Eyal:
Every £68 could train two secret church leaders to find and care for new believers facing persecution in the Horn of Africa.
Seeing God at work, even in prison
The conditions Eyal endured when he was in prison were horrific. When asked about it, Eyal says, “It was very challenging. When I think about it, my body still shakes. Officers told us, ‘You are helped by the Americans. You are on the side of the CIA to divide the people of Eritrea. Are you against the government?’
“While they asked all these questions they beat us. I told them, ‘No, I am just worshiping Jesus Christ. This is the way of truth that I have to follow. I am not a politician. I am not doing against the government. I am not killing anybody. I am not striking against the flag.’
“Sometimes they put us in the cells, in small rooms. Sometimes we were chained. Sometimes they beat us with rods. They considered us trash. I stayed inside for a long time… I cannot believe I survived that. Really, it was only by the grace of the Lord.”
While Eyal was in prison, the government also targeted Eyal’s family. He says, “The government sent messages to them about our circumstances to scare them. They also made them hated in the society, giving them nicknames and accusing them of being traitors.”
But Eyal felt God’s presence with him, even in prison. He says, “God helped us. We saw the Hand of the Lord. God was with us. We prayed, fasted and even witnessed to others. Many people accepted Jesus Christ. We were so happy.”
‘The new generations are powerful generations’
Eyal sees a bright future for the church in Eritrea, in spite of the extreme persecution being faced by believers there. He says, “For the next generation, what we are doing is we prepare them for suffering. We are receiving Jesus Christ for eternity, at the same time for suffering also. That’s what we teach them.
“We ask them, ‘Do you believe Jesus Christ as your own God?’ When they say, ‘Yes! I receive Him’, we say, ‘But there is also a suffering… You may be killed… You may find yourself in prison.’
“We teach this way, and they say, ‘I’m ready. I want to be a witness for Jesus Christ. I will accept Jesus Christ until the end of my life.’
“You see, youngsters today, in Eritrea in the school, in the universities, in the colleges they are witnessing Jesus Christ.
“They are very tough in their schools. They are very tough in their Christianity. They pray the whole day, they fast the whole day, they witness Jesus Christ… They are not afraid. And we are so proud! So, the new generations are powerful generations.”
Stand with your church family in Eritrea
Eritrea is known at the ‘North Korea of Africa’, and is number 6 on the 2018 World Watch List, Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. More than 300 Christians were arrested in Eritrea last year, and many believers are held in miserable conditions, some in shipping containers in scorching temperatures.
Following the recent peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, there are hopes that the human rights situation may improve as Eritrea becomes more open. But there is a long way to go. Please pray that this peace agreement will be the beginning of a change for the people of Eritrea, particularly for our persecuted brothers and sisters.
Since the late 1990s, your support and prayers have helped Open Doors to strengthen believers in Eritrea through strategic partnerships with the local church. Our underground networks mean that we can reach even the most secretive believers with the support they need to keep following Jesus, and the love of their global church family. Every £68 could train two secret church leaders to find and care for new believers facing persecution in the region.
*name changed for security reasons