Eritrean Christians from around the world will gather for the first time this Sunday to pray for their country – notorious for Christian persecution.
The event, to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, was organized by the newly-inaugurated Nairobi-based Eritrean Evangelical Fellowship in Africa and the Middle East (EEF-AME), which seeks to empower the churches in the region and to advocate for persecuted Christians inside and outside of Eritrea.
Many of the hundreds that are expected to attend the Kenya prayer gathering live outside of Eritrea, having fled to escape severe persecution, according to the event's organizers.
Since 2002, the Eritrean government declared the closure of all churches not belonging to the Orthodox, Catholic or Lutheran denominations. The government, in particular, is highly suspicious of the newer evangelical church and has especially cracked down on members of those churches by raiding religious weddings and arresting members during worship.
It is estimated that some 2,000 Christians are currently detained without charges and without knowing when they will be released in Eritrea.
Among the arrested is the ordained Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, who was forced out of office in January 2006 and is currently under stringent house arrest.
"First and foremost, we hope that as a result of the National Day of Prayer the government will begin to see Christians not as the enemy, but as friends who are loyal to the nation," said the EEF-AME general secretary, whose name was not revealed, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
"We also hope things will change; that prisoners will be set free, that the increasing flow of refugees fleeing the country stops and that the direction is reversed, with people returning home to work together for a blessed and prosperous Eritrea."
The Kenya prayer gathering will be followed by a prayer event on May 26 in London organized by CSW and Eritrean human rights organization Release-Eritrea-U.K.
"It is a privilege to be able to stand in prayer with Eritrean Christians during this season of intense persecution," said Tina Lambert, CSW advocacy director, in a statement. "Their commitment to both their faith and their country should inspire us all."
The U.S. State Department has designated Eritrea as a "country of particular concern" for "egregious" religious freedom violations for three straight years. Moreover, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom once again recommended CPC status for Eritrea to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in this year's report, released last week.