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Advancing the Kingdom Behind Bars in Eritrea

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Dr. Berhane spent 11 months in prison in Eritrea because of his Christian witness. The following is edited and excerpted from an interview with Dr. Berhane by VOM Radio host Todd Nettleton.

I was working in hospital when one day the secret police came and arrested me and sent me to prison and I stayed there for 11 months.

So, at that time [I was arrested] I was a new believer, but still I believed that my future is in God's hand. I wanted to use the opportunity to share God's love to the prison guards, the fellow prisoners, the inmates, and God opened this opportunity. Every day I was clapping my hands and prisoners would come forward and I shared the gospel.

When you are in prison, what you see is harassment; everybody screams at you, the prisoners fight each other and the prison guards are not nice to you. But, you can keep this inner peace; it is because of Jesus. You wanted to share that peace to the guards and to the prisoners. Sometimes you see people being touched by that and they want to hear more about it. So this encourages me to do more and more. Some people were praying and were inviting Jesus Christ into their heart.

When you are in this prison, it is not like prison in the West. Most people were never charged [with a crime]. One day they will call five to six [or] 20 people and execute them. Nobody knows when he or she is going to be executed.

I remember one night two guys came to my bedside and borrowed my Bible, and they read together and prayed. The next morning one of the guys was executed. So when you see those people prepare to face eternity, you appreciate being there. That was the purpose of God. A lot of people prayed just before they died, so that is really a good opportunity.

There are times that you feel that God has forgotten you; especially when you see these 20 to 30 people taken from you. You are close. You become family in the prison. You eat together, you laugh together, and suddenly the prison guard comes with a list of names and just you wait. You might be one of them, but you are not, but your friends who are part of that group. You feel bad, but always, the Scripture encouraged me.

I remember one time I was a bit disturbed. When I looked into the Scripture, the book of Psalms, "Though I walk through the valley of death, you are with me." I felt this is the valley of death. I shared with the prisoners, I told them, "That is the place where we are, but that is not all. God is with us." So, a lot of people were comforted, and you can see the power of the Scripture for that dark time.

I had to hide [my Bible]. Sometimes there is search, they take my Bible, but I had to smuggle again. In 11 months I smuggled three times, so three times they took my Bible. I know three [prisoners in Eritrea —Dr. Kiflu Gebremeskel, Kidane Weldou and Haile Nayzgi]; in fact, Dr. Kiflu was my prayer partner. Pastor Kidane is also a pastor and I knew him since he was a young person. I know also Haile very well. Three of them are still in the central prison in Asmara. It is high security prison. In fact, that was the place where I was in prison a long time ago. So I know the situation; I know where they are.

There is more freedom inside the prison than outside. Once you are there, you are there; you are not scared of imprisonment. People feel freer to worship inside the prison than outside.

*Photo – The father of these Eritrean girls was imprisoned because of his Christian witness.

Tags: eritrea, pastor, berhane