Much has been said and written about religion in Eritrea and various accusations have been hurled at the Government and people of Eritrea over the last decade. I believe it is time once again to re-visit the issue of “religious freedom” in Eritrea and how this “wedge issue” was hatched and why Eritrea was targeted. While the regime in Ethiopia may have contributed, by way of lies and disinformation, to the campaign to demonize the Eritrean leadership, the scope of the agendas seem to be much larger than anything the aid-dependent minority regime could ever muster on its own. A beggar regime whose national budget is donor subsidized and whose people are dependent on food aid, and whose institutions of government are externally funded and run, neither has the financial or intellectual capacity, to launch or sustain such a campaign.
It was also a campaign that the so-called Eritrean opposition (a dubious association of like-minded defectors, disgruntled diplomats, pedophiles, rapists, self-professed “intellectuals and professionals” and an assortment of scandalous opportunists), who I have baptized as Eritrea’s Quislings League (EQL), could never organize or lead without directives. After overcoming almost three decades of betrayals and untold suffering, the neocolonialists should have been hard pressed to find a single Eritrean Chalabi[i]…but as we have seen in the last decade, Eritrea too has her share of treasonous children and scholars-for-hire… Instead of defending the dreams and aspirations of the Eritrean people, they set out to advance that of others. The EQL set out to betray the trust of the Eritrean people.
Serving as puppets for the minority regime in Ethiopia; they undermined, ridiculed and sullied every Eritrean institution. They left no stone unturned to isolate Eritrea and deny Eritrea and its people the right to development. They burned the midnight oil churning out “analysis”, “reports”, “lists” etc. to malign Eritrea, its people and its leadership. Even the historical Eritrean Orthodox Church was challenged and its members rebuked. As we will see later, the Eritrean Orthodox Church was long targeted and the EQL, instead of defending the rights of the Church, worked in tandem with its enemies to distort its history and its foundation. Today, we see a member of the EQL is parading “In Chains for Christ”-how fitting for someone who have been unable to unchain himself from mental slavery…this from a man who had the audacity to preach to others about African decolonization.
So, if it not the minority regime in Ethiopia and if not the EQL, then who was running the show? Well, suffice it to say that it too was an equally dubious alliance of fundamentally different and even ideologically opposed religious and political factions. One was the coalition of evangelical Christians (also known as the New Christian Right) and other was the aggressive political ideologues commonly known as the Neoconservatives. Despite their many ideological, cultural, and socioeconomic differences, these two factions found common ground in Bush White House and they, like Machiavelli back then, recognized the power of religion as a potent political tool. The cartel used civil religion to justify, promote and effectuate its political goals. They introduced us to a new brand of politics coined “Political Fundamentalism”[ii]-which has been defined as the “strategic manipulation of religious beliefs, narratives, and sentiments for political gain at home and for aggressive militarism overseas”. I will henceforth refer to them as the cartel.
Jeffrey Goldberg of the New York Times wrote about the cartel and its agenda in the 21 December 1997 article “Washington Discovers Christian Persecution”. According to Goldberg, the cartel included:
“….Reaganite conservatives, labor activists, veterans of the Soviet Jewry movement and, most important, evangelical Christians. These unlikely partners are united by their desire to “remoralize” American foreign policy…Midwifed by a handful of veteran organizers, this is an issue manufactured in the mile-square section of Washington that produces the most priceless of political commodities: the wedge issue. It is a process of political manufacturing that Washington seems to have perfected the taking of a simple, transparently righteous issue and turning into a political football…”
The Bush Administration’s Faith Based Initiative buoyed their coffers and offered them further access to nations big and small around the globe.[iii]
With a variety of mercenaries in tow, the cartel, which controlled the purse and the agenda, launched a massive disinformation and vilification campaign against the State of Eritrea. Eritrea’s Chalabis, expert information launderers that they have become, were eager to peddle countless lies and exaggerations about Eritrea’s history, economy, and its leadership and people-especially the Eritrean Diaspora. After jumping on the “democracy” and “human rights” bandwagons in the early years, the confused and disoriented EQL lined up to push the “religious freedom in Eritrea” wagon, while the cartel rode high. They figured it would be the most divisive issue, and the one that could help them achieve their ultimate goals. In these circles, treason and deceit are commonplace and there was plenty of that. Eritreans endured an incessant barrage of distortions, fabrications and insults from self-righteous individuals and groups.
The cartel which enjoyed unprecedented access and power in the Bush Administration, is seeking to do the same with the new Barack Obama Administration. With individuals strategically placed in key Washington institutions such as Freedom House, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Institute on Religion and Public Policy, Open Doors, World Wide Evangelicals, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and in the United States Congress, the “network” managed to pass legislation during the Bush era, that should have not seen the light of day in an Obama Administration…that does not mean that they will not try… and some already have…and unfortunately some have succeeded.
It is that access, influence and power that enabled cartel groupies like Joseph Griebosky of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and Dick Army, Meles Zenawi’s lobbyist, to provide the minority regime in Ethiopia, the political and diplomatic shield it needed as it violated international law, committed international crimes in Somalia, and committed genocides in the Gambela, Ogaden and Oromia regions of Ethiopia. The cartel and its “network” bombarded Congress with faxes, emails and letters to prevent lawmakers from taking action against the lawless and belligerent regime. When US lawmakers introduced HR-2003, known as the Ethiopian Democracy and Human Rights Bill, it was Joseph Griebosky that wrote to the United States Congress to kill the Bill. Here is what he wrote:
“…Ethiopia has made outstanding progress in democratic development, human rights, religious freedom, political and civil rights. Despite this improvement, the House of Representatives wishes to impose its own timeline and its own standards on Ethiopia’s advance… H.R.2003 is a threat to American political and security interests in the Horn of Africa and in Africa as a whole and only serves to alienate yet another ally with a sticks-but-no-carrots approach to foreign policy…It is imperative that the United States Senate reexamines the merits of H.R. 2003 as currently drafted and amend the bill to provide the appropriate democratic tools and capacity-building agenda, before it causes undue harm to American interests…”
Not surprisingly, Meles Zenawi is not the first brutal dictator that the cartel has defended; their hands are soaked with the blood of thousands of innocent people all over the world. Throughout the Cold War years, these groups have been responsible for helping to get these dictators into power and then provided the diplomatic and political shield and support to stay in power. Some examples of such dictators who enjoyed the cartel’s support are Mohammed Suharto of Indonesia, the most brutal and corrupt of the 20th century, Haiti’s Papa Doc Duvalier, Guatemala’s General Rios Montt, Siad Biarre of Somalia.
In the 1980’s, using language similar to that used by Griebosky to defend Meles Zenawi, the American televangelist Pat Robertson defended the atrocities committed by General Rios Montt of Guatemala. Nikolas Kozloff on 18 September 2005 warned of Pat Robertson’s duplicity and hypocrisy. He wrote:
“…Rios Montt conducted a scorched earth policy. His forces massacred as many as 15,000 Indians. Whole villages were leveled and the army set up “Civilian Self-Defense Patrols” which forced 900,000 villagers to “voluntarily” aid police in tracking down suspects. Rios Montt created “model” villages, similar to concentration camps, which housed Indian refugees. However, when 40,000 survivors sought safety in Mexico, Guatemalan helicopters machine gunned the camps…Amnesty International noted that extra judicial killings carried out the by the military “were done in terrible ways: people of all ages were not only shot to death, they were burned alive, hacked to death, disemboweled, drowned, beheaded. Small children were smashed against rocks or bayoneted to death.”…Far from denouncing such practices, Robertson rushed to defend Rios Montt. “Little by little the miracle began to unfold,” he wrote of the regime. “The country was stabilized. Democratic processes, never a reality in Guatemala, began to be put into place. Most damning of all, even as Rios Montt was carrying out the extermination of the Mayan population, Robertson held a fundraising telethon for the Guatemalan military…”
But Rios is not the only dictator that has won the support of Robertson and the cartel. Mobuto Sese Seko also benefited from his close friendship with Pat Robertson. He then, like Meles Zenawi today, was portrayed by Robertson as a “loyal US ally” in the war against international communism. He also emerged as Mobutu’s close friend, and probably his most valuable asset in a deceptive campaign to maintain his stature with some ruling circles in the United States. Robertson was “wined-and-dined” by Mobutu on the dictator’s presidential yacht, and entertained at his lavish estates. Robertson was rewarded handsomely for his political support and shield. He received extensive lumber and mining concessions along the upper Zaire River and operated a 50,000 acre farm in Zaire (now Congo).
Pat Robertson is not the only member of the cartel that has provided diplomatic and political, shield and support for vicious and criminal regimes that have committed historical crimes against humanity. No one should forget the support given by Jerry Falwell for the apartheid regime in South Africa. In the 1980s, the leaders of the unashamedly pro-free market economics and anti formal religion cartel had invested heavily in apartheid South Africa. Believing that the African liberation struggles would bring an end to their free reign over the territories, they demonized the liberation struggle and its leaders. Many were forced into exile, many more were killed. Back then it was “the fight against communism”, that served as a pretext for their “unholy” alliances. They said that South Africa was “the Kremlin’s Playground” and that its leaders were “Marxist”. Desmond Tutu, Beyers Naudé, and Allan Boesak were portrayed as dangerous “foes” and Nelson Mandela was labeled a “terrorist”.
Ted Haggard, one of the nation’s most influential conservative “Christian” leaders and a staunch ally of the Bush administration, who in a recent letter to his congregation confessed that he was “a deceiver and a liar” and cited “sexual immorality” as the reason for resigning from his position as President of the National Association of Evangelicals and as pastor of his Colorado mega-church (14,000-member congregation), once claimed that Jesus wants a free market economy.
No to be outdone, Billy Graham, a renowned Evangelical Christian and spiritual adviser to multiple U.S. presidents was against communism and supportive of U.S. Cold War policy, including the Vietnam War. But his political views did not stop him from having a very close relationship with the late North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung. Graham said that Il-Sung was a “different kind of communist” and that he was “one of the great fighters for freedom in his country against the Japanese.” There is a saying in Tigrinya that goes something like this-kit bel’o zideleKa aba gumbah, zagra tiblo…
Today we see the cartel and its mercenaries employing pretty much the same propaganda techniques to demonize the Government of Eritrea and its leadership. Damning pictures and words have been replayed in thousands of missionary sites by the cartel for over 5 years. Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and the many hundreds of radio programs such as Compassion Radio, and hundreds of website have disseminated un-Christian propaganda. These lies have been regurgitated by young and old Americans; some of these people do not even know where Eritrea is, but chose to propagate the lies and deceptions, forgetting God’s commandments that clearly say, “thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor” and “thou shall not lie’. Toeing the line is a group of cheap imitators who insist on being “In Chains for Christ”. These individuals and groups call on prayers for others when it is obvious that it is them who need prayer and salvation the most.
There are individuals and groups that have been obsessed with Eritrea, as if it were their final quest. One of them was the late Glenn Penner . This man who insists on challenging this author about Eritrea, as if he would know Eritrea better than I would, is typical of the patronizing and condescending lot. For a man who has never visited Eritrea, knows absolutely nothing about Eritrea’s long and deep religious history, or about Eritrea’s cultures and or about the people, and could care less, has gone out of his way to pen the most outrageous and false articles on Eritrea. For people like him, the end justifies the means. In some he has even attempted to provoke this author (rather childishly, I might add). But he, like all the other peddlers of Christian persecution news, knows that without the deceptions and the lies, there would be no sensational gut wrenching stories to tell. No stories, no funds… “Spreading the Gospel” is not going to earn them the $45 million dollars a year that “persecution of Christians” rakes in…
This member Voice of the Martyrs (VoM) maliciously labeled the Government of Eritrea “Communist” and falsely claimed that “the Eritrean security was trained by the East German Stasi, who were experts at recruiting informers from within religious groups”[iv]. Had he known anything about Eritrea’s long and heroic struggle for independence, he would have known that the East German’s never supported the Eritrean peoples struggle and never trained any members of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). Glenn Penner knowingly misled his readers. Instead of doing his homework, he chose to “cut and paste” unsubstantiated reports from dubious sources such as Release Eritrea. For people like him, it is the sound bites that he chases, not the truth. The fundamentalist and evangelical groups, such as VoM, preyed on the sympathies and kindness of the American public while and fleeced it of millions in donations and contributions, solicited on behalf of the “persecuted”.
But he is not the only person at VoM that has fabricated lies and distorted the truth to hoodwink his readers and hide VoM’s lawlessness. Todd Nettleton is another member of that NGO who has engaged in the most vicious campaign designed to distort Eritrea’s image. He is one of the many individuals and groups missionaries who have abused Eritrea’s visa regulations and entered the country under false pretexts citing tourism or business (English teacher) as reasons and then extending their stay repeatedly to carry on missionary and proselytizing activities.
Unfortunately, Eritrea is not his sole victim; there have been many other nations that have been violated by this wayward “missionary”. He justifies his illegal entry into sovereign nations and his lawless activities by saying that he is doing it for the good of the “converts”…he traverses the globe and tells us that if people are not introduced to the Gospel, “the alternative is that they will go to hell”. The alternative is that there will not be conflicts and violence and therefore no persecution stories for his group to peddle. For Nettleton and his group, its not just Moslems that are targeted, but as we shall see later, it is the established churches, such as the Eritrean Orthodox Church in Eritrea and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Ethiopia, that are prime for “harvest”.
Then there is the audacious Kevin Turner, a USAID subcontractor that entered Eritrea pretending to be a “humanitarian” worker, who had no qualms insulting the people and government of Eritrea, while he was still in Eritrea. Probably felt that his USAID credentials gave him free reign in Eritrea, as it did in Sudan where he has been “converting Moslems” for over 14 years. Turner of Strategic World Impact (SWI) tells an unlikely tale about a dream in which Jesus Christ told him that there were 9 hot spots in the world that he needed to go to and do God’s work. By coincidence, they also nicely aligned with those countries that are of strategic political and economic interest to the cartel leaders.
Feeding on the fear of Islam and the Islam phobic atmosphere in the United States, he sent numerous reports from Eritrea accusing the President of Eritrea, H.E. Isaias Afwerki, a Christian, of trying to “Islamize” the nation. He falsely and malicious propagated the false accusation of Christians being imprisoned “in the middle of nowhere in 40-foot shipping containers” which are “very hot during the day and freezing cold at night”. For Turner and his ilk, the nastier the tale, the better the response from the gullible that he and the cartel sought to deceive. These modern day missionaries are no different than their forefathers…the apple does not fall too far away from the tree…
The scandal ridden-cartel that brought us the illegal detentions of Guantanamo Bay, the prisoner torture and abuse of Abu Ghraib, extraordinary renditions and secret prisons all over the world, including Ethiopia, and the fake National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) sponsored multi colored and scented revolutions such as: Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Rose Revolution in Georgia, Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, Purple Revolution in Iraq, Saffron Revolution in Myanmar (Burma) and fake elections such as the 2005 elections in Ethiopia and the bloody Kenyan election of 2007, did not have the moral or legal authority or integrity or credibility, to preach to Eritrea about anything, least of all religious freedom.
What triggered the aggressive militancy of the “political fundamentalists”? Yash Tandon of the SouthCenter in his 1996 paper on Africa’s development wrote:
“…The collapse of the Soviet-style Communism obscures a deep crisis facing Western powers. Other forces are emerging to challenge them. One is fundamentalism. The West had a clear answer to Soviet communism, but has no answer to Islamic fundamentalism where the issues go beyond the development paradigm. Against Islamic fundamentalism, the West offers its own forms of Christian fundamentalism …”
During the last ten to fifteen years, there has been a bewildering explosion of new religious movements (NRMs) in Africa. We have all heard about the massive open-air rallies, crusades, revival gatherings, miracle centers, healing ministries and so on. While there are many African Christian churches that have been established by Africans themselves, it hardly explains how the number of churches in Africa grew from about 5000 churches in 1968 to the tens of thousands today. The headlines are filled with stories of this phenomenon. Here are a few examples:
- “…Authorities in Cameroon are seeking to control the surging numbers of Pentecostal churches in the country… Distinguishable by the loud music which emanates during services, the churches are found in the most densely-populated areas… concerned officials in the South West Cameroon governor’s office, together with police, have stepped in and begun closing down some of the churches – even though Cameroon is a secular state with freedom of worship…” (BBC 24 April 2007)
- “…There has been a boom in the number of new Pentecostal churches in Nigeria in recent years… Almost half the disciples are foreigners… Many Pentecostal churches have set up schools and universities, often focusing on business skills…”(BBC in pictures)
- “…The Registrar General is overwhelmed by increasing demand for the registration of churches … the department is facing difficulties in processing 6,740 pending applications by various religious groupings…about 60 applications are filed every month. Already, there are 8, 520 registered churches…The AG [Attorney General] cautioned that some of the groups masquerading as churches were illegal outfits established to cash in on freely flowing money in the evangelical world…There is an astronomical increase in the application for the registration of religious societies, some of them turning out to be either wolves and sheepish or formed purely for financial gain, and take advantage of the unsuspecting public…”(East African Standard 4 September 2007)
Allow me to present some recent stories that will show some of the problems that developing countries are facing because of these modern day missionaries and their illegal, aggressive proselytizing and conversion schemes:
- “…Groups of Ethiopian Christians were reportedly still hiding in churches Thursday, January 18, after one believer was killed, Christian homes burned and several believers were threatened with execution for converting from Islam…”
- “…Violence has engulfed some predominantly Moslem villages in Nigeria, where Nigerian Moslems are protesting the visit of German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke …”
- The recent Hindu attacks on Christians in the east and south of the country where churches homes and schools belonging to Christians were burned down and 22 people were killed and thousands forced to camps is yet another example. In this case, Christians in the area were “forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity”. The report cited a rise in “prosperity and status” that accompanies conversion to Christianity as being the underlying reason.
- In March 2008, the Jordanian government deported an unspecified number of expatriates for “carrying out Christian missionary activities under the guise of charity work”. Jordan, where Jesus Christ was baptized and is also home to several tombs of the Prophet Mohammed’s companions and Mount Nebo, and where according to biblical tradition God showed Moses the Promised Land, is a popular destination for Christian, Muslim and Jewish pilgrims alike who revere Moses.
- On 6 April 2007, the Times of India report[v] said: “…police had questioned 26 American tourists on a visit to the city after residents of a slum in Baghlingampally complained that the foreigners were trying to convert the locals… a group of 53 foreigners had come to India on tourist visas. Of them, 26 came to the city led by a schoolteacher from California …the villagers complained that the foreigners were trying to convert the locals… the tourists were propagating their religion by luring people with gifts like chocolates and sweets… The tourists are reported to belong to a group, Youth Wing Mission and went to the slum in vehicles provided by Bethel Gospel church…”
Not to single out Kenya, but this statistics on Kenya is interesting and a wake up call for Africans. In “Keeping Kenya Christian” posted on 18 February 2008[vi] , the Economist reported:
“….Missionaries are not the only ones interested in keeping Kenya Christian: the international community also enlists Christ to further Kenya’s stability. Colonial governments funded missionaries to ease tribal tensions. Western governments support them to battle the spread of Muslim extremists. The US government counts hundreds of international Christian groups as development partners. Of the 9,000 Americans in Kenya, two-thirds are missionaries and their families…”
Imagine the fit the bigoted self-righteous cartel would have if 6000 Moslem Kenyan Missionaries came to live in their midst, to convert their children, wives, husbands, fathers and mothers to Islam and convert their Mega Churches to Mega Mosques or as they are doing in Africa, break them up into many “house Mosques” or “Islamic cells”. Yet, when countries introduce laws to protect their people’s peace and security from the cartel and the aggressive militancy that is engaged in religious expansion, “harvesting believers”, creating “underground churches” and “Christian cells”, they are labeled “draconian”, “anti-Religious Freedom” etc. etc. These groups go out of their way to provoke governments, but are the first to cry “foul” when governments act. What hypocrites!
Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president warned of these groups over 4 decades ago, as he recognized the entry of various “missions” that were established by the neocolonialists to maintain control over the economies of the newly independent African states:
“……Perhaps one of the most insidious methods of the neo-colonialists is evangelism. Following the liberation movement there has been a veritable riptide of religious sects, the overwhelming majority of them American. Typical of these are Jehovah’s Witnesses who recently created trouble in certain developing countries by busily teaching their citizens not to salute the new national flags. ‘Religion’ was too thin to smother the outcry that arose against this activity, and a temporary lull followed. But the number of evangelists continues to grow…”
To its Bretton Woods “structural adjustments programs”, the cartel now added the Bible belt’s “spiritual adjustment programs” to maintain its economic stranglehold on Africa and its vast mineral, oil and other natural resources.
According to the modern day missionaries, they have a mandate to make disciples in all nations and fundamentalists and evangelicals launched “The Joshua Project”- to take the Gospel to as many “un-reached” people in the world as possible. The countries have been chosen and put into a neat rectangular area that Luis Bush (no relations to George Bush) says is the most important area that missionaries should focus on. Bush describes it and its importance:
“…It is a belt that extends from West Africa across Asia, between 10 degrees north to 40 degrees north of the equator… 97 percent of the 3 billion people who live in the 55 most un-evangelized countries live in the 10/40 Window… it is the heart of Islam… Adherents to the Islamic religion are growing, as is suggested by the increased numbers pilgrimaging to Mecca. Yet at the same time, it is reported that many Muslims–having studied the Koran in great depth–have discovered in the process that the highest prophet described in the Koran is Jesus Christ and not Muhammad… just as Eastern Europe recognized that the atheistic ideology of Communism could not stand the test of time, so also the “eyes” and the “hearts” of the Muslims will be opened to the truth… it’s where the three main religious blocs are located. There is the Muslim bloc with 706 million … There is the Hindu bloc with 717 million people … And there is the Buddhist bloc with 153 million…”
By the time George Bush came to the White House, the Project was already at its height in places such as India, Burma and in African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Cameroon. In Eritrea, the Afar, Beja, Bilen, Kunama, and Saho were considered the “un-reached” and missionaries eyed the newly independent nation.
Eritrea (pre-independence and post independence) has also seen an explosion of NRMs with roots in Ethiopia or in the West. The variety of these groups include the Church of the Living God- out of the Medhane Alem (Sunday School Ministries) revival groups within the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Dubre Bethel Church , Faith of Christ Church, Hallelujah Church / Hallelujah Pentecostal Church, Kale Hiwot (Word of Life- Baptist church affiliated to the SIM, formerly the Sudan Interior Mission), Mensfesawyan, Mullu Wongel (Full Gospel), Meserete Kristos (Christ is the Foundation-Menonite), Mehrete Eyesus Evangelical Church, Berhane Hiwot Church of Eritrea, Philadelphia Church of Eritrea, New Covenant Church, Rhema (from Ethiopia) etc. etc. the missionary groups were just as many. At one point there were 36 groups…
In the entire history of Eritrea, the only “religious conflict” happened during the British Administration, when individuals in that Administration deliberately and maliciously sought to bring conflict amongst Christians and Moslems in Eritrea. Astier Almedom describes one such incident, a very bloody incident, in her paper “Re-reading the Short and Long-Rigged History of Eritrea 1941–1952[vii]: Back to the Future?”
“…on Wednesday 28 August 1946, the day of Eid (Feast at the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan) a fight broke out in Abba Shaul, the poorest part of the Eritrean quarters of Asmara, in which one Sudanese man died and a few others were injured. As soon as the news of the death reached their barracks, about 70 Sudanese soldiers “careered murderously through Asmara’s native quarter armed with weapons ransacked from the armoury”…Predominantly Christian residential areas were targeted and those who did not wear a turban or an amulet or had the Coptic cross tattooed on their foreheads (as was common among Orthodox Christian women) were dragged out of their homes, lined up, and executed on the streets of Asmara. Ullendorff (1988) noted that this happened between 5 and 6 pm, and that he and his wife had heard the sound of “heavy machine-gun fire, loud and prolonged. As soon as we realized that something pretty serious was happening we went to the Senior Officer’s Mess, less than five minutes’ walk from the Hamasien Hotel the Massacre which lasted about two hours claimed the lives of 46, leaving about 70 wounded; of which 3 of the dead and 13 of the wounded were Sudanese [possibly victims of ‘friendly fire’, as there were no records of Eritreans firing back]…”
In addition, during Eritrea’s 30-year long struggle for independence, Christians and Moslems lived and fought together to liberate Eritrea. Even though there were efforts to disrupt and divide the people between ethnic and religious lines, these efforts were immediately recognized and thwarted.
So what is the problem today? For that, I think it is easier to take a look at how these new churches are being established and what their goals are. We will take a look at one of the churches that was established in the early 40s and one that was formed in the 60s. I chose these two because the missionaries involved with these two churches have written extensively about them, making it easy for me to illustrate the problem. Just because the churches were established way before Eritrea’s independence doesn’t mean that they are good for Eritrea, or that they ever had the best interests of the people of Eritrea, as one shameless Eritrean scholar-for-rent suggested in one of his recent posts.
FULL GOSPEL CHURCH
For example, in Africa, the Assemblies of God (AG) had over 245 missionaries in 50 countries. There are 49585 Assemblies of God churches and preaching centers, 48448 national and lay ministers, 232 Bible schools and 11964 Bible school students[viii] established in Africa. This mission operates all over Africa and is primarily responsible for the huge number of “churches” mushrooming all over Africa. Here are the staggering numbers[ix]:
- The Burkina Faso fellowship formed in 1944 and is the largest church in the nation of the 6,000-plus churches and preaching points in that country. Besides emphasizing home missions to the nation’s 58 distinct tribal groups, the Fellowship has sent and supported missionaries to Niger, Senegal, Mali, Benin, Guinea, and Belgium.
- In Tanzania the focus is on reaching the nation’s 160 cultural groups and 120 tribes. Its concerted church planting strategy and cross-cultural home missions training have been significant in the fellowship’s growth. In 1980, TAG consisted of 275 churches and preaching points. Today that number has mushroomed to more than 3,200 with at least 100 churches in Dar es Salaam, the capital. Nearly 500,000 adult believers attend AG churches each week.
- First introduced to Kenya in 1921 and today nearly 3,200 churches and preaching points have been planted around the nation.
- In Nigeria the church’s growth is said to grow at approximately 400 churches yearly. There are more than 10,000 churches and preaching points, and the Nigerian church is the largest AG fellowship in Africa. The Nigerian AG has been instrumental in the development of the Pentecostal church in Niger.
Let us take a look at AG in Eritrea.
Jerry Falley and Maxine Falley are two American missionaries with the Assemblies of God who have written about their “adventure” in Eritrea. In their story they tell how Eritrea was chosen by these American missionaries:
“…A month earlier, Eritrea had been recognized by the United Nations as the newest African Republic. Following 30 years of guerrilla warfare, it appeared the society would be fertile soil for church planting. Since the Assemblies of God had not yet entered Eritrea, Ethiopia or Sudan, I asked to survey those three countries. My Area Director agreed… God threw a curve ball and turned me toward the horn of Africa… On my flight from Nairobi, Kenya to Eritrea, I spent one week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia which was a wonderful introduction to the horn of Africa…Staying at a missions’ guesthouse, I met a man who had just come from Eritrea. He kindly recommended a hotel in Asmara and gave me the telephone number of Kuflu Meskel, chairman of the Board of Elders at the Full Gospel Church and a mathematics professor at Asmara University…”
Soon both Jerry and Maxine Falley were in Eritrea. They say that their primary mission was to work with the un-reached populations-the Afar, Beja, and Rashaida they also knew that without a national link, they could not do what they wanted to do. They established a link with the Full Gospel Church in Eritrea through correspondence, a visit and then by providing for the Church. Falley wrote that the mission had provided half $4500 of the $9000 needed to buy a large tent that was sent to Eritrea for the Church’s use. The balance of $4500 was raised by the local Church members. Falley wrote that the check for payment for the tent was brought from Asmara by an Eritrean American. Falley also writes about the Church in Eritrea and its needs.
Falley says the Chairman of the Full Gospel Church told him:
“…We need training. Training that goes beyond a formal Bible school and teaches us how to share the gospel with other cultures, especially the groups in the lowlands of Eritrea…”
Two months later, the School of Leadership Training was birthed. A shipping container in the church yard served as a classroom and 21 Eritrean students enrolled for the opening class of the School of Leadership Training.
According to Falley:
“…Full Gospel Church of Eritrea was birthed in 1965 as several born-again believers received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Bible studies grew into a young church… Then under 18 years of Communist rule and persecution, they met covertly and emerged in free Eritrea numbering about 250 believers…Six years later with a congregation of near 2,000 believers, a training program was being initiated. Senior pastors Habtom and Twelode were among the students…”
In 26 years, from 1965-1991 the Church managed to get only 250 members and yet, after independence, within 6 years, they managed to get 1750 new members… a whopping 700% increase…
Mehrete Yesus Evangelical Presbyterian Church (MYEPCE)
The book FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, by D.G. Hart and John Muether, chronicles the establishment of the OP church in Eritrea. It also contains information on the missionaries in Eritrea. MYEPCEChurch was initially established in the early 40s by the American missionary Clarence Duff[x]:
Duff decided to go to Eritrea in 1943, which at the time was under British Military Administration. He was joined the following year by the Rev. Charles E. Stanton and, in 1945, by Mrs. Duff, Mrs. Stanton and the Rev. and Mrs. Francis E. Mahaffy. Three stations were established, in Ghinda, in Arafali and in Assab. Duff wrote about the challenges he faced in Eritrea. The work was far different from his previous experiences. He called Eritrea a “hot, barren, rocky, Mohammedan field”. According to the book, Duff saw the need for many workers and, in effect, two missions:
“…one to the Ethiopic Coptic [Orthodox] Church and another to the Muslims…The mission needed long periods of laborious plowing before it began to reap any significant fruit. Several different languages had to be learned and relationships of trust had to be established. Several times the mission was frustrated by painful defections of individuals who had made what seemed were genuine professions of faith. The persecution and ostracism faced by new converts were harsh. Ten years would pass before the mission would realize the spiritual harvest of new believers…The emerging church had to be strengthened through a program of Christian education, thus heeding Christ’s command in the Great Commission to make disciples. The translation and publishing of solid Christian literature was always a priority in the mission. Francis Mahaffy translated portions of the New Testament into the Saho language and produced over a dozen booklets and tracts in that language. Working among the Coptics, Herbert Bird worked on Bible and catechism translation into the Tigrinya language…”
In 1974 two OPC missionary nurses, Anna Strikwerda and Debbie Dortzbach were kidnapped by members of the Eritrean Liberation Front from the MehretaYesusHospital in Ghinda. Anna Strikwerda was shot and killed and Debbie Dortzbach was held for 26 days and released unharmed on Saturday 22 June 1974. This is how OPC tells the story:
“…At noon, Monday, May 27, four armed men of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) invaded our Compassion of Jesus Hospital in Ghinda, Eritrea Province, Ethiopia, and took two of our missionary nurses away with them—Miss Anna Strikwerda, who had served at the hospital since 1966, and Mrs. Karl (Deborah) Dortzbach, who was nearing the end of a one-year term of service. Within minutes Miss Strikwerda had been cold-bloodedly murdered, and within two hours Mrs. Dortzbach had been flown off in a helicopter to a mountain hideout… On Tuesday, the day after the attack, Anna was buried in the presence of many, many people (estimates range up to 2,000) at a service conducted by Mr. Steltzer and participated in by elders of the congregation. She was buried in the garden of the hospital…”
The mission continued for about eighteen months but they decided to suspend their work in 1976 when Osman Adem, a “convert” in the hospital, was seized and never seen alive again. Immediately, the mission and the hospital closed, ending thirty-two years of service. The remaining missionaries returned to the United States. OPC returned to Eritrea in 1992, after Eritrea’s independence. Don and Jeanette Taws, who served from 1958 to 1961, returned to Eritrea for three years to reestablish the mission. The church sent Charles and Rhonda Telfer and Steve and Jane Miller and the Church was re-established in 1995. OPC said:
“…August 1995 saw the reopening of the Mehreta Yesus Family Care Center, at which Dr. Grietje S. Rietkerk and Lois Ooms work. In Asmara, Steve and Jane Miller, Dirk Kievit, and Charles and Rhonda Telfer are busily involved in all aspects of establishing and strengthening the indigenous church…”
Lois Ohm worked in Eritrea for nearly two years training traditional birth attendants and community health workers as well as presenting the gospel to Muslim women. Ohm no longer works in Eritrea but is still in Africa. Rietkerk has retired and Steve Miller is back in the USA.
Almost all the Faith Based groups in Eritrea had similar missions. For instance SIM says:
“…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. 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…”
According to SIM, the KaleHeywetChurch (SIM-related) has planted 11 new churches in 5 years and sent 21 evangelists to “non-Christian and nominally Christian areas of the country[xi]”.
Obviously, these groups had no problems “planting churches. If these are legitimate religious groups, why not register them instead of encouraging them to operate “underground”?
Allow me to quickly address the issue of the Jehovah Witnesses (JH) in Eritrea as that is another issue that is repeatedly misrepresented by the cartel and the self serving EQL. What the cartel and the EQL conveniently forget to tell their readers is that in the United States, members of the JH have been jailed for refusing to be drafted, during the war. Children were expelled for not pledging allegiance to the flag etc. etc. and parents were jailed for truancy. There is a long and sordid list of court cases filed against and by the JH that show that Americans were not as tolerant of JH as is being claimed today. Between 1933 and 1951 there were 18,866 arrests of American Witnesses and about 1500 cases of mob violence against them. There is a case about JH members being forced to drink castor oil, a strong laxative, to cause their humiliation and degradation. They were labeled “fifth columnists” and more. Attitudes towards JH have not changed; just dampened by an inordinate amount of legislation.
The Jehovah Witnesses came to Eritrea in the 1940s. While most of the established religious groups in Eritrea have complied with the various laws, there are some, like the Jehovah Witnesses who have rejected the laws and refused to abide by them. The JH refuse to participate in military service. Main issues which cause criticism of JH in Eritrea and in many other countries across the globe include failed prophecies, blood transfusions, and nationalism. In Eritrea the issue that has brought criticism of JH is their refusal to recognize the Government of Eritrea and refusal to abide by its laws. They also refuse to carry Eritrean identity cards. JH believe that “they owed allegiance to no person, flags, or nation; they owed allegiance only to Jehovah,” therefore, they do not vote, salute the flag, or participate in military duty.
The JH refused to participate in the 1993 Eritrean referendum and when the Proclamation on National Service No. 82/1995 of 23 October 1995 which made national service compulsory for all Eritreans between the ages of 18-40 was published, the JH refused to participate in military service. In Eritrea, as in all other countries, a member of any religious group who breaks the law will be punished as any other individual, and cannot invoke obedience to a religious precept as a cause for impunity. No one is punished for the sole fact of belonging to a religious group, as the cartel wants us to believe. A Jehovah’s Witness can be punished if he refuses to do military service in countries where this service is compulsory and no conscientious objection is allowed, although refusing military service is required by his religion.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN ERITREA
Every person has the freedom to practice any religion and manifest such practice, but no one has the right to forcible or coercively convert another person. Eritrea’s religious and ethnic harmony and culture of tolerance and respect has been well established. In its April 1995 country profile on Eritrea, the US State Department’s Office of Asylum Affairs[xii] acknowledged the peaceful coexistence and religious harmony in Eritrea. It said:
“…There is now religious freedom throughout Eritrea, and all denominations and faiths are permitted to practice. There is no state religion, and no religion is supported over another. The government is carefully balanced to reflect the virtually even composition of the population between Muslims and Christians and is sensitive to outside efforts to influence this even division…”
In May 2002, the Government of Eritrea once again called on all religious groups to comply with Proclamation No. 73/1995 and took action against those that did not comply. According to the US State Department the Mehrete Yesus Presbyterian Church, FaithMissionChurch, Seventh-day Adventists, and Baha’i Faith each submitted a complete registration application. The Kalehiwot, Full Gospel, Meserte Kristos, Tinsai, and Philadelphia churches submitted registration packages that did not include individual member names, while the RhemaChurch and others groups reportedly submitted blank registration forms. Yet, the western media and the cartel deliberately and maliciously misrepresented that as being some sort of “persecution of Christians”. They are not victims of “religious persecution”; they are victims of the cartel and their mercenaries who have used them to advance other illicit and dangerous agendas using religious freedom as a pretext.
It is very important to understand what religious freedom is, and that it includes in it the freedom not to have one’s religion targeted for destruction. For those who have forgotten Eritrea’s struggle to preserve Eritrea’s cultures, traditions and ethnic and are propagating the cartel’s agenda to disrupt the peaceful coexistence in Eritrea, the destruction wrought in India, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and other countries ought to serve as reminders.
New Religious Movements (NRMs) have existed throughout history, but the visibility, extent, and variety of have increased dramatically in the last decade. From the United States to Europe, Asia and Africa, nations that have been concerned about the mushrooming of the various NRMs and have instituted some forms of legislation to deal with them. While some registration processes are short, there are some that take years for completion. In African countries where the origins and intentions of a particular group are so hard to determine, especially if they are foreign influenced, the bureaucracy may take years. For instance, in Equatorial Guinea, the Assemblies of God group registered in 1987, but it was not until 1993 that it received official recognition.
The actions taken by Eritrea were misrepresented by the cartel and its mercenaries as being harsh, but as we will see, even the most “democratic” and “liberal” European states have opted for additional legislation or something close to that to handle this growing problem. It would take another seating to address the long and ugly history of religious persecution in the United States
In Austria the Bundesstelle für Sektenfragen was created by a federal law in 1998. The law defines a sect as a community referring to religious or philosophical beliefs that can endanger the life or the health of persons, their property, or financial autonomy; the free development of human personality; the integrity of family life; and the free mental and physical development of children…The task of the Bundesstelle is to provide “documentation and information about dangers that can emerge from programmes or activities” of these sects.
The 2002 law on Religious Freedom and the Position of Churches and Religious Associations created a two-tiered system of registration for religious organizations. To register at the first (lower) tier, a religious group must have at least 300 adult members permanently residing in the country. To register at the second tier, a religious group must have membership, with the requisite signatures, equal to at least 0.1 percent of the country’s population (approximately ten thousand persons).
The 2002 Guidelines for approval of religious organizations requires religious groups to submit the following items: a written text of the religion’s central traditions, descriptions of its most important rituals, a copy of the rules and regulations of the organization, a copy of the organizational structure, and an audited financial statement, as well as background information about the religion’s leadership and each member with a permanent address in the country. Additionally, the organization must “not teach or perform actions inconsistent with public morality or order.”
The Government requires religious groups to petition for legal status with the Ministries of Justice and Culture. Legal status gives religious groups the right to act as juridical persons in the court system, secures their standing as officially registered religious groups, and allows them to construct schools and churches. Groups must provide general background information and have at least 100,000 adult adherents to qualify for registration.
Persons who wish to form a religious group must register with the Ministry of the Interior. Registration requirements are the same for all religious groups. Religious groups are free from taxation.
All organizations, including religious groups, must register with the Government. To register, a group must submit its constitution to the Registrar of Societies section of the Ministry of Labor and Home Affairs. Any person who holds an official position in, manages, or assists in the management of an unregistered organization is liable to a fine of up to $166 (Pula 1,000) and/or up to 7 years in prison. Any member of an unregistered society is liable to penalties including fines up to $83 (Pula 500) and/or up to 3 years in prison.
It is illegal for a religious group to operate without official recognition. To register, a religious denomination must legally qualify as a religious congregation. The definition includes “any group of natural persons or corporate bodies whose vocation is divine worship” or “any group of persons living in community in accordance with a religious doctrine.” The President generally follows the recommendation of the Minister and grants authorization by a presidential decree.
All religious groups are required to register in this predominantly Muslim country.
Religious groups must register with the Government by submitting documentation to the Ministry of Justice detailing the structure and mission of the organization along with a nominal fee. Once approved, a religious group registers formally with the Registrar General’s Office.
The Government requires religious organizations to register with the Registrar of Societies at the Ministry of Home Affairs on the mainland and with the Chief Government Registrar on Zanzibar. Religious organizations must have at least 10 followers to register, provide a written Constitution, resumes of their leaders, and a letter of recommendation from their district commissioner.
All new nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including religious organizations, must register with the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ NGO Board. Foreign missionary groups, like foreign NGOs, must register with the Government.
Governmental controls require the registration of religious groups. To be eligible for registration, groups must have a unique name; possess a constitution consistent with the country’s laws; and display compatibility with the peace, welfare, and good order of the country. Unregistered religious groups are not allowed to operate. Violators can face a fine and imprisonment for up to 7 years.
Hopefully, the Obama Administration will put an end to this impunity by the cartel and its mercenaries and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations. The American public should stop giving their hard earned monies to this self serving cartel and think twice before condemning other people’s cultures and traditions. It is about time that the public wake up and see the cartel for what they are…abusive, self centered, greedy and most importantly-UNCHRISTIAN!
“…The missionary wants to put an end to pluralism, choice and freedom of religion. He wants one religion, his own, for everyone and will sacrifice his life to that cause. True freedom of religion should involve freedom from conversion…” (David Frawley)
Eritrea’s centuries long exemplary culture of ethnic and religious tolerance and respect cannot be undermined by modern day missionaries attempting to advance political agendas using “religious freedom” and “religious persecution” as pretexts….
The rule of law must prevail over the law of the jungle!
[i] Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi was one of the most sordid figures in the run-up to the Iraq war. Paid by the Bush administration to muster pre-war intelligence, Chalabi drummed up claims that Saddam Hussein had WMD, helping lead the United States into war.
[ii] David Domke, God Willing? Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the ‘War on Terror’, and the Echoing Press.
[iii] A yearlong Boston Globe survey showed that 159 faith-based organizations received more than $1.7 billion in USAID prime contracts, grants and agreements from fiscal 2001 to fiscal 2005.
[viii] As of December 2007
[ix] http://worldmissions.ag.org/regions/africa/overview.cfm accessed 5 October 2008
[xi] http://www.operationworld.org/country/erit/owtext.html, accessed 20 November 2008