Leader: President Isaias Afwerki
How many Christians?: 1.7 million (47%)
World Watch List Rank: 4
“Even when we are in suffering, we rejoice. Our happiness is not based on what we have or do not have. When people see that, they accept Jesus.”
Pastor Gideon, who has spent more than six years in prison for his faith.
Believers in Eritrea continue to suffer extreme persecution, making it still one of the hardest places in the world to follow Jesus. The government recognises only three denominations: Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran. Those not part of these groups are at risk of severe persecution at the hands of the state. This includes intrusive surveillance, raids on gatherings, and arrests.
The conditions facing Christians in prison can be inhumane. Some pastors have been incarcerated for over a decade and have faced solitary confinement. There are believed to be more than 1,000 Christians imprisoned in Eritrea, with none formally charged. While some are released, many of these are moved to military service – which is no freedom at all – or house arrest.
Since most underground church leadership positions are held by men, any arrests among them cause a leadership vacuum, as well as financial distress to families where they are the breadwinner. Detained Christian women are acutely vulnerable to gender-based violence whilst held.
Meanwhile, converts from Islam and the Eritrean Orthodox Church face harsh mistreatment from their families and communities.
In the past year, multiple gatherings have been raided. In June 2022, 150 Christians were arrested during a prayer meeting. “This number is too much in a single home meeting,” the authorities claimed. “We do not support their act.”
Despite this extreme persecution, the church in Eritrea is seeing remarkable growth, particularly among young people.
Pastor Gideon (name changed) knows how costly it can be to follow Jesus in Eritrea – he’s spent more than six years in prison for his faith.
During his detention, the pastor experienced mental and physical torture. “There were times when the temptation to deny Christ was very real,” he recalls. “But with God’s help we persevered and said, ‘No’. Had we said yes, they would have freed us earlier.”
Amazingly, inmates and guards became Christians through the bold witness of Pastor Gideon and others. “Some of the happy moments during my time in prison were when I met people who accepted the Lord,” shares the pastor, who has since been released.
“We tell people that being a Christian does not only mean accepting Jesus,” he continues. “Rather, we tell them that there are also prison and challenges.”
Despite the acute risks that come with following Jesus, the church in Eritrea is growing. “What makes us happy is that the gospel is spreading,” says Pastor Gideon. “Now more than ever before. People, especially young people, are coming to Christ. Persecution has not stopped the church.”
In this inspiring video Eyal shares how the courage of Eritrean believers is helping them to stand firm in the face of persecution, imprisonment and even death.
If you were to wake up tomorrow, with only the things you thanked God for today, what would you have?
Open Doors works through local church partners in Eritrea to provide discipleship training, economic empowerment projects and persecution survival training.
Heavenly Father, we pray for all our brothers and sisters currently imprisoned for their faith in Eritrea. May they know Your presence with them in every moment. Sustain them and their families spiritually, physically and emotionally. Thank You for those who have witnessed their courage and come to know You for themselves. We pray that all Christians will be able to meet and encourage one another in safety. And we pray with Eritrean believers that You would work in the hearts of those in power and bring them to repentance. Amen.
Click the Eritrea tag below for a list of the latest articles and news on the country…
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.