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Intense Eritrean Persecution Continues

October 11, 2008

An Eritrean Christian living outside of the country writes to Christian Aid:

"The church in Eritrea is doing great, by God's grace, in spite of terrible persecution. God is working mightily; the church is growing, and that's why the devil is afraid and trying to destroy it.

"We have seen God's servants serving faithfully, sharing their time and all they have, as they teach and preach the gospel.

The government has special task forces to hunt Christians from their offices, homes, from under-ground and on the street. Their aim is to eradicate Christianity from the country by killing believers, beating them into death in front of their peers. My closest Christian brothers and sisters with whom I have prayed, fasted and ministered are in prison for four years, leaving behind their families. Many infants and children are left behind, bringing temptation for them, as the government demands that they denounce their faith.

I was one of the elders of the church in Eritrea, and I am still coordinating things to help them. I am writing to ask if you could assist in any way the persecuted church in Eritrea."

Eritrea is about the size of Pennsylvania and is located on Africa's east coast on the Horn of Africa. Population is approximately 5 million.

Here, in this small nation, Christians are routinely arrested and sent to military camps or underground prisons, where they are severely tortured unless they agree to renounce their faith. Many have been sent to Sawa Defense Training Center (SDTC), the country’s main military training center.

At SDTC many Christian youth are brutally persecuted.

Last month, Eritrean authorities confiscated and burned 1,500 Bibles from new high school students who arrived at the Sawa Defense Training Center for the 2008-2009 school year. Eight male students who boldly protested the Bible burnings were locked in a metal shipping container that exceeded 100 degrees F.

Upon completing grade 10, all Eritrea high school students are required to attend SDTC to finish grades 11 and 12. Though technically only required to attend for two years, many youth have been forced to remain for up to 10 years. Only Muslim girls are exempt from this service.

Eritrea's ratio of military to civilian population is the largest in the world, as almost 9 percent of its citizens have been trained at SDTC to serve in the army.

The SDTC has also become a hub of terrorist activity, hosting major international terror groups, including those from Somali and several with links to al-Qaeda.

Since 2002, the Eritrean government only recognizes four religions: Muslim (which comprise 50 percent of the population), Coptic, Catholic, and Lutheran. These three Christian religions are generally in no danger, as long as they remain nominal, without showing any evidence of true spirituality. Evangelical Christians face severe consequences if found carrying a Bible, praying, partaking in communion, engaging in baby dedications, or even having weddings.

The most common forms of torture involve prolonged sun exposure in temperatures up to 120 degrees F, intense beatings or binding of the hands, elbows and feet for extended periods.

According to the U.S. State Department, Eritrean authorities "suspend prisoners from trees with their arms tied behind their backs," or "place prisoners face down with their hands tied to their feet, a torture technique known as the 'helicopter'."

Eritrean believers report that more than 4,000 evangelical Christians are currently being detained incommunicado in remote army camps.

Devastated by 30 years of war, drought, and lack of infrastructure, Eritrea is desperately poor. Western aid agencies, however, have ceased offering support due to the nation’s blatant support of terrorist activity.

Last year the U.S. State Department warned that the United States was considering adding Eritrea to its list of rogue states, which include countries such as Iran, Syria, North Korea and Cuba.

Eritrea is bordered by the Red Sea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti. Arab and African Muslims have teamed up to seize control of its two ports.

Unofficially Marxist, the nation's transitional government led the country in a 30-year war to gain its independence from Ethiopia. In 1993 Eritrea was officially recognized as a nation.

More than 1 million Eritreans have evacuated the troubled nation and are living throughout Africa, America, Europe and Arab countries. Approximately 10,000 of these refugees are Christians.

Underground church leaders have extremely limited resources to meet the material and spiritual needs of believers suffering under persecution. However, Christian Aid is in communication with native Eritrean believers who can provide funds to those in desperate need. Please help our brothers and sisters in Eritrea.

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