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.