Sophia was just eight years old when she was arrested by police because of her Christian faith.
Children’s Bible classes were held every Saturday at her church in Eritrea, in the open air. One Saturday, when Sophia’s class had just started, she saw a pick-up truck arrive with uniformed police.
One of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian
Given that Eritrea is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian believer, young Sophia was aware that some of her fellow-Christians were jailed for believing and proclaiming Christ. But she had never thought that she herself was in danger.
Tensions built around the church compound, where several classes were meeting in different corners, but Sophia’s Bible teacher just kept calmly teaching.
Before long, two police officers approached Sophia’s class and ordered them into the truck, which was already full of sobbing children, some as young as five. They were taken to a police station and put in a large hall to sit on the floor and watch TV. An older child from Sophia’s class urged the others to start praying instead of crying, and they did. Soon the children began to sing a song they had learned:
“I am not afraid.
Who can separate me from Jesus,
Who showed me His love on the cross?”
Sophia joined in and was starting to feel hopeful and even excited about sharing in the suffering of the Lord she loved. But then a police officer stormed into the room, and began to kick and slap the children in the front row. The praying and singing ceased and the children fell silent as he rebuked them, telling them to remember they were at a police station, not in church.
The children sat quietly for half a day, and eventually Sophia and the other under-12s were allowed to go.
Constant fear, many arrests
“That was the last day I went to church in my country,” says Sophia, who later managed to settle in Australia where she is now at university. “The remaining years, we lived in constant fear with my family as many arrests continued from the church, including the main leaders who are in prison until today. The images from the day remain vividly in my mind, reminding me that I was lucky to be free and there are many Eritreans who are still suffering in jail for the same reason.”
Yearning to worship freely
In Australia, Sophia goes freely to her local church, where she is a Sunday School teacher. She prays and longs for the day when she can see Eritrea again, and the church she grew up in.
But Eritrea remains the second worst country in the world for Christian persecution, after North Korea. “So many Eritreans yearn for the day that they can gather to worship freely,” says Sophia.
Operation Safe Havens now rescuing Eritrean Christians
On Monday 9 September the first Eritrean family to be helped by Barnabas Fund’s Operation Safe Havens will arrive in Australia, God willing. We pray that this will be the start of a rescue mission to bring many hundreds of faithful, persecuted Eritrean Christians to find freedom and safety in Australia.
Operation Safe Havens has assisted with the airfares of 2,405 Middle Eastern Christians and now we are looking to the Lord and to our supporters to enable us to rescue desperate Eritrean Christians. We are thankful for the generosity of the Australian government.
Travel costs for the first Eritrean family – husband, wife, child and baby – are £3,120 ($3,840; €3,480). Please give now so that more Eritrean Christians can be rescued.