Eritrea: She became a missionary to her people, then spent six years imprisoned for her faith

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By Mark Ellis

Shipping containers have been used to imprison believers
Shipping containers have been used to imprison believers

“Alice” grew up in Eritrea, then spent almost 20 years in the United States. But she answered a call to go back to her people and share the Good News of Jesus Christ and lead Bible studies.

“Her heart was burdened to serve. The Holy Spirit convicted her to go back. She said a lot of people are hungry for the gospel there,” said Jane, who grew up with Alice in Eritrea and also came to the U.S.

Alice’s family in Eritrea were part of the Orthodox Church, but her great grandparents shifted to the Evangelical Lutheran Church through the influence of Swedish missionaries.

When Alice attempted to leave Eritrea in 2009, authorities arrested her at the airport. All her possessions were confiscated and she was thrown into prison. There were no charges filed, no lawyers, no trial, just an indefinite prison sentence that began on January 24, 2009, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).

“It was as if she had just disappeared,” noted Troy Augustine with ICC.

Alice’s family did not know her specific location for five years. Her mother spent many tearful nights, wondering if her youngest daughter was still alive. “It was hell. Her heart broke, but she could not say a word because everything is [watched], so they had to be careful about what they said,” Jane shared with ICC.

In the prison, Alice witnessed boldly for her faith. “A lot of other prisoners before her, when they come out, they told us that some Muslims were converting to Christians… Their life is a witness, so we saw the fruit from someone when they came out,” Jane said.

Through Alice’s influence, Muslim inmates turned to Christ in their darkest hour as they faced abuse. “God gave her favor inside to tell in boldness and then convert people. When people got beaten there was a lot of wounding, but no treatment. Nothing! So you need something, you are in desperate [circumstances],” Jane said. “She is another Paul, or Silas… God had a reason to use her for so many people.”

Alice spent more than six years in prison for her faith and was finally released in February 2015, but she is under many restrictions, with the government watching her closely. She is also prohibited from working.

“She can’t do anything. People can visit her and she has to say, ‘I’m good.’ That’s all,” said Jane. “When she came out, she said everything was wonderful and good because she’s being controlled. Now she can’t say anything.”

Alice would like to return to the U.S., but has no foreseeable way out of Eritrea under current conditions, according to ICC.

The “North Korea” of Africa

Eritrea is one of the most trying places in the world to be a Christian. Authorities repress, jail, and torture anyone they consider to be a threat to the state, which includes Christians who don’t attend registered Orthodox, Lutheran, or Catholic churches.

Released religious prisoners have reported they were held in 20-foot metal shipping containers or underground

Wehazit Berhane Debesai, a Christian woman in her thirties, died of pneumonia after facing harsh prison conditions and denial of medical treatment because she refused to renounce her faith, according to Open Doors
Wehazit Berhane Debesai, a Christian woman in her thirties, died of pneumonia after facing harsh prison conditions and denial of medical treatment because she refused to renounce her faith, according to Open Doors

barracks, and subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations.

Evangelicals and Pentecostals in the prisons have been pressured to recant their faith in order to be freed. Persons detained for religious activities, in both short-term and long-term detentions, are not formally charged, permitted access to legal counsel, accorded due process, or allowed family visits, according to ICC.

It is estimated that 1,200 to 3,000 people in Eritrea are currently in jail for their faith, the majority of whom are evangelical Christians. Because of these abuses, Eritrea has been called the “North Korea of Africa.”

 

How you can help:

PrayInternational Christian Concern urges readers to pray for Alice and thousands of other Christians who are facing unspeakable torture in jail for their faith. These brothers and sisters plead like Paul for the Church to “remember my chains.”

Give to the work of ICC: Donate page

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