Another Christian, interned in an Eritrean prison, died on July 5. Yosief Kebedom Gelai (41), a recently converted single Christian man, had a history of illness, but the harsh treatment at a secret Mendefera incarceration center intensified the effects of the disease. Yosief is the 24th reported death connected to punishment for religious activities outside of the four government sanctioned religious institutions-Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Lutheran Church and Islam. The government’s secrecy surrounding prisoners and denial of access to watchdog organizations makes an accurate count impossible; there may be many more unreported deaths and burials.
Originally from Asmara, Yosief relocated to Mendefera to teach at a primary school. Six months after his arrival, Yosief came to faith in Christ. His devotion to Bible study and prayer caught the attention of representatives of the ruling Eritrean People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (EPRDF) at the school. Around December 2012, authorities arrested him and took him to a secret detention center in Mendefera where he was denied outside contact. Sources told Open Doors that this center holds many other religious prisoners whose whereabouts have been hidden from family members and churches.
“Because Yosief was a new believer who came from a different city, his arrest was unknown to Christians in Mendefera. The news of his death, and his faithfulness to Christ, came from a most unexpected, but very trustworthy, source,” a church leader said. “Christians should be greatly encouraged to see how God, through His Holy Spirit, enables His children, even new and isolated ones like Yosief, to remain firm in their devotion to Christ no matter the circumstances,” commented an Open Doors team member.
Father, we know that Yosief is free now, and well, rejoicing in Your presence in ways we cannot even fathom. But we grieve for the earthly trial he endured, even while we give thanks for his faithfulness even as a new believer. Surely our faith to endure comes from Your hand and not our own resources; we take courage in that truth demonstrated in Yosief’s life. We pray for his family and pray that as they learn of the circumstances surrounding his death, Your Spirit will use the testimony of his faith to draw them into saving faith. We also pray for the many religious prisoners in Mendefera and across Eritrea who may be facing torture, hunger and humiliation. Grant them grace and faith to endure that the light of Christ might radiate from their lives. In the name of Jesus who pours out His grace upon us, Amen.