ERITREA: A NEW COMMUNIST GOVERNMENT CAME INTO POWER DECLARED THE END OF ALL RELIGION
Mimi grew up in a nation that had been at war for decades. In the midst of strife, she became a follower of Jesus Christ. At the end of Eritrea’s war with neighboring Ethiopia, a new communist government came into power and declared the end of all religion. Eritreans had been an Orthodox Christian people, but now Bibles were taken up and destroyed; houses of worship had to register and were then closed. The Church went underground.
Mimi was arrested and told she must deny her faith in Jesus Christ or go to prison. She refused, so she was sent to the prison of a shipping container without heat, air conditioning, or many of the essentials of life. The good news is that she was confined with Helen Berhane (see story below). Helen is a Christian music artist and was also a target of the communist government. Mimi and Helen were beaten, starved, and denied medical care.
Through a miraculous turn of events, Mimi was released and escaped with her family through the neighboring country of Kenya. They gained asylum in the United States and now live in Northern Virginia. Before her arrest, Mimi had not been an outward Christian, not living her faith or sharing it with others. Something changed after her imprisonment with Helen. Though they had no copies of the Scriptures, Helen had God’s Word hidden within. She discipled Mimi and taught her to love Jesus in ways that she had not known…yes, in prison.
Today, Mimi is an active member of an SBCV church (unnamed for security). She teaches children the Bible, helps with bookkeeping, and actively shares her faith. After coming to the US, she led her parents and her children to faith in Christ. She models a Christ-centered life before her husband (a new and growing believer) and among those she serves. For Mimi, it took prison and losing much of what she held dear for her to live out her faith.
Sadly, the arm of the Eritrean government has extended through its embassy in the US and now threatens any new Eritrean churches and its members. The embassy denies visas for its Christian citizens to return and visit family. They also attack Eritrean churches in the US through propaganda.
A Christian activist noted, “…the government of Eritrea has decided to export its rule of terror to the Eritrean- American communities in the Diaspora…in the United States…. [Another observer put it this way]: ‘It appears that the appetite of Eritrea’s ruling regime to terrorize its citizens is not satiated by the subjugation of those unfortunate enough to live within Eritrea’s borders. It is not contented with denying them religious freedom; freedom of assembly or freedom of expression. It wants to extend the police state outside its borders—all the way to the United States.’ The Embassy of Eritrea in Washington, DC, departing from all diplomatic conventions, has set itself up as headquarters for the government’s campaign of intimidation and terror. From there, it has deployed its auxiliaries and enforcers of the ruling party to harass the clergy of the Eritrean Orthodox Churches throughout North America.”
Our Eritrean pastors and its members with SBCV have been denied visas to return for family funerals. This has defined the extent of Christian growth and membership of our Eritrean churches. Please pray for our leaders and those who are coming to faith in Christ.
HELEN BERHANE was a member of an evangelical Christian church in Eritrea, which was persecuted by the government. She was arrested May 13, 2004, after she released an album of Christian music. The government wanted her to sign a pledge to cease all evangelical activities, but she refused. She was kept at a military camp, imprisoned in a shipping container. (Mimi, mentioned in the article above, was imprisoned in the same container). Helen was beaten and tortured and had no access to medical care. She was not allowed to contact family or legal representation.
Amnesty International advocated multiple times for her release, along with that of several other female prisoners. They had not been charged with any crimes nor brought before a court.
Eventually, after severe punishment, Helen’s right hand and leg were paralyzed. Because of her injuries, the Eritrean regime allowed her to go home in October 2006, almost two and a half years since she was arrested. Helen was granted asylum in Europe and continues serving God openly.
She tells her story in a book she recently wrote, Song of the Nightingale, describing the appalling conditions and horrendous torture she and others were forced to endure for refusing to deny Jesus Christ.