As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
Jamil, a former Muslim: “Yemenis follow Christ with all their hearts. There is no way back. We all know that. Becoming a Christian will cost you much”.
A vicious civil war has been exhausting Yemen for two years now. While society is still dominated by a strict Islamic government, some Christian pastors baptize new believers regularly.
Jamil*, a former Yemeni Muslim, who is now a follower of Christ, shares a unique insight about the body of Christ in Yemen.
“As Christians we feel like strangers in our own country. The war has focused us on what really matters—following Christ—even if it costs us our lives. The Bible is very clear about what we can expect; suffering is a part of Christian life. That is why many Yemeni Christians really long for Jesus to return. We lost so much; we reach out to the everlasting peace that He will bring one day—hopefully soon!”
Jamil was born and raised in Yemen to a Muslim family. As a young man, he knew Christ and decided to follow Him. This cost him most of his relationships within his family. “Yemeni Muslims are raised with the idea that converting to Christianity should lead to immediate exclusion from your family and tribe, and of course you suffer the wrath of Allah.”
That is why Yemenis follow Christ with all their hearts. “There is no way back. We all know that. Becoming a Christian will cost you so much; there is nothing that will make you turn your back on Him,” he says.
Jamil left Yemen before the war started, but he regularly returns to encourage his Christian brothers and sisters. A lot has changed for Yemeni Christians since the war started, Jamil notices.
“The violence has affected the church enormously. Many Christians had to leave their communities; they are now scattered all over the country,” Jamil explains.
“It may sound strange, but the fact that many Christian families had to flee, has become a huge blessing. There are Christians everywhere in the country now, not just in certain places. And the faith is growing because, as Christians, we seem to have lost our fear. Through the crisis and the war, God has empowered us to share the gospel wherever we are.”
He knows some pastors who regularly baptize new believers. “The war creates new chances for the gospel. A growing number of Muslims in Yemen are very disappointed with their religion. They see now that ‘religion’ will just bring them more trouble and are re-orientating themselves. This is a great chance for Christians, not to introduce them to a new religion, but to show them that a relation with Jesus Christ is the answer.”
When the war started two years ago, many foreign Christians who had been living in Yemen were forced to leave the country. Oddly enough, in Jamil’s experience, this laid the foundation for the current development of the Church in Yemen.
“In the past, most house churches heavily depended on foreign Christians. Local Yemeni Christians couldn’t match their theological knowledge and abilities, so they simply didn’t need to take responsibility. Now the foreigners are mostly gone, and it was our time to lead. At first, it seemed the house church movement would fall apart, but gradually, local Christians started to take responsibility in leadership positions. They may not have been highly trained, but they share the knowledge they have and support each other.”
Being a Christian in Yemen is still extremely dangerous, Jamil points out. “Before the war, persecution by the government, the community and relatives was the main problem. Now, the government control has diminished, and the main threats for Christians come from Al Qaeda, Daesh, and similar terrorist organizations. Recently, one of these groups posted the names and addresses of a group of known Christians online, effectively endangering their lives and forcing many of them to go into hiding.”
Apart from that, Christians also suffer the effects of the war, just like every other Yemeni: insecurity, lack of food and the danger of being caught up in fights between the warring parties.
However, Jamil has hope for the future. “The Church in Yemen is still young. The first generation of Christians who converted from Islam used to fight for their position. We are now seeing a second generation of Christians growing up—children born in Christian families. They will be the generation that helps the Church to grow. My hope and prayer is that the third generation—their children—will keep the faith and will be accepted into society. Yes, that is my dream—that in the next decades Christians in Yemen can worship God freely. I know that people are willing to give their lives to get there.”
For centuries, Yemen has been dominated by strict Wahabi Islam, leaving no room for local Christians. The only official churches are just accessible for foreigners; however, they have been closed and sometimes destroyed since the violence erupted. Throughout the country there have been small groups of Yemeni believers, all from a Muslim background.
You can support the Secret Church in Middle East with your prayer and financial support to Open Doors projects. You may find the “Project for religious freedom: Secret believers” project in the GivingTuesday website (Spanish) o Migranodearena website (Spanish), and be part of the Christian response to persecution.
*Name changed for security reasons