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Eritrea

Welcome to Eritrea! This nation is located along the lower western coast of the Red Sea opposite Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Red Sea coast stretches more than 1000 km (600 miles), and it is from this body of water that the country derived its name (Erythraea, Greek for red).

Team's Vision

By faith, we see SIM enlarging the kingdom of God in Eritrea by making disciples, developing quality leaders in SIM-staffed Bible schools, building up strong house churches, and reaching unreached people groups.

Country & Ministry Profile

Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991, but border conflicts breaking out in 1998 have continued to cause social, economic, and spiritual hardships. Early in 2002, the UN helped both sides reach a decision on demarcation, but its implementation has not progressed well.

During the 1998-2002 war, thousands of soldiers became believers, largely as the result of evangelists who were conscripted and Christian radio. The church was preparing to openly receive and mentor them upon their release from service. However, in May of 2002, the government closed evangelical churches, forcing them underground into house (cell) churches. As the cell church continues to grow, government persecution has increased, and Christians are now being martyred. Many pastors have been imprisoned, and their families are persecuted. When young people flee the country, their parents are being imprisoned until they return. Eritrea is currently a country with no freedom of religion.

SIM entered Eritrea in the early 1950s, and our focus has been on assisting the Kale Hiwot Church (KHC). In July 2004, the last SIM missionaries in Eritrea were forced out of the country when their work permit was refused.

All assets, property, and bank accounts of the Kale Hiwot Church have been seized by the Eritrean government. The Kale Hiwot Church office has been closed. We have no word as to the safety of the office staff and pastors. Pray for them and the church of Eritrea. For now, Eritrea is being administered by the Kenya Area.

History of Missions

The Roman Catholic Church's entry preceded Protestants by several centuries. In 1866, the Swedish Evangelical Mission entered Eritrea. This movement is an outgrowth of the Moody revivals. This mission started a strong translation and education ministry in Massawa, Gehleb and Asmara. The people at Gehleb were newly Islamized, having left Orthodoxy when termites ate their ark around 1766.

The Swedish Evangelical Mission translated the New Testament, the Psalms and Isaiah, some Old Testament stories, mostly from Genesis, a devotional primer and a cultural book into Tigre. They also translated the Bible in Tigrinya. The Swedish Evangelical Mission's indigenous churches serve between 1,000 and 2,000 believers.

Other groups include the BV Swedish Mission, also called Friends of the Bible, and the American Faith Mission. The latter is a holiness group which has had a successful church planting and educational ministry. The Orthodox Presbyterian Outreach was initiated by former SIMer, Clarence Duff, after World War II. This group worked in Ginda, Senafe and Massawa among the Tigre, Tigrinya, Saho and Arabic speaking people.

SIM entered in 1952. The Red Sea Mission Team worked among the Afar in Tiyo and Edd on the coast. The Middle East General Mission (formerly the Egypt General Mission, transplanted due to the Suez crisis in 1957) did Muslim outreach using Arabic in Keren, Mai Aderday, Barantu and had a hospital at Hykota. Members of this group also produced a Tigre and Kunama language syllabus.

Mission organiations were evacuated in 1975 after Debbie Dortzbach was kidnapped and warfare made continuing work impossible.

Unreached People

The Tigre, Bilen, Saho, Nara, Kunama, Rashaida, Beja, and Afar are predominantly Muslim peoples and need to hear of God's compelling love for them.

The State Church

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was the official State Church in Eritrea before its independence. Now it is called the Eritrean Orthodox Church and is no longer the state church. The Eritrean government is careful to balance the Orthodox Church with Muslims who make up about 50% of the population.

Additional Reading

  • Two Weeks in the Trenches—This book is written by Alemseged Tesfai (Red Sea Press). It contains short stories about rural life and plays about life under Ethiopian occupation. It is an account of the writer's experiences during the war.
  • Asmara, Africa's Secret Modernist City—This coffee table book by Naigzy Gebremedhin, et al. (Merrell Publishers) surveys the capital's striking 1930's architecture.
  • Who Said Merhawi Is Dead?—This book is edited by Charles Cantalupo and Ghirmai Negash (Hedri Publishers, Asmara). It contains translations of contemporary Eritrean poetry, including works by Saba Kidane.
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