Netherlands-based Open Doors, a group investigating reported cases of persecution, confirmed to BosNewsLife that at least one imprisoned pastor asked a guard to request his wife to bring wine. “The guard gave the message and added that the prisoners had probably become crazy," Open Doors said, citing Christians in Eritrea.
"The woman immediately realized that her husband wanted to organize the Lord’s Supper and brought the wine. That evening, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in an Eritrean prison."
Churches often remember the Lord’s Supper as the last meal Jesus gave to his disciples before He died at a cross and rose up from the death on the third day. Evangelicals see broken bread of the Lord’s Supper also as a symbol of the "living Body of Christ" made up of Christians, and the cup (with wine) as the blood of Jesus Christ representing eternal Life for anyone who believes in Him.
Observing these Biblical rituals isn’t easy for some 2,000 Christians jailed in Eritrea, several groups have said. Many of them are locked up in military prison camps and even in shipping containers, often for several years, several rights groups reported. Open Doors said that many Christian prisoners are unable to celebrate the Lord’s Supper or to have worship services. "Prison guards try to do everything to break the Christians’ faith in Christ," Open Doors said.
As an example it mentioned recent pressure on 28 Christians who were detained, apparently for their role in en evangelical-leaning church. "One woman was told that her pastor had renounced his faith in Jesus Christ and that she should follow his example. However she answered: ‘I don’t believe that my pastor would renounce his faith. But even if he did, I am not his follower but a follower of Jesus Christ’," Open Doors added in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Despite her refusal to abandon Christianity, she was released one month later, the well-informed group said, citing unidentified Eritrean Christians. However most Christians, it said, remain in prison till they renounce their faith, often under pressure of torture. That’s why a wife of a prisoner wrote her husband not to abandon his faith in Christ, the group said. “She said that she and their three children miss him, she preferred to be in this situation than that he would betray Jesus Christ."
News of Christians openly expressing their faith despite mounting pressure came after 24 men and 10 women were reportedly detained May 28 and forced to abandon their children, in the town of Keren. Four days earlier 25 other Christians were detained and brought to a feared military prison camp, Eritrean Christians said.
In addition at least three evangelical pastors have bene threatened with execution on charges of "treason," BosNewsLife reported earlier.
Open Doors said that thousands of people in the Netherlands are praying for fellow Christians in the Horn of Africa nation.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has denied human rights abuses. Presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel said recently that reports of mass arrests are "distorted and exaggerated" and that "people have never been prevented from their right to worship freely."
Eritrea outlawed its rapidly growing evangelical churches in May 2002, closing their buildings and banning them from meeting together even in private homes. Weddings, baptisms, church services and prayer meetings have been raided by security forces and guests or congregation members have been rounded up and detained en masse in recent years.
Only the Eritrea Orthodox Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Islam, and the Roman Catholic Church are officially allowed to function, however even these churches have reported difficulties. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos. News in Dutch? Go to BosNewsLife’s partnering site: www.manna-vandaag.nl)