Somalia: Christians living in fear
Somalia is a country in crisis. On 22 July the UN officially declared parts of the south to be in a state of famine, amid the worst drought to hit the region for 60 years. On the same day, Amnesty International reported that extremist groups are systematically recruiting children under 15 as child soldiers.
The country has been without effective central government since 1991. By 1990 most foreign Christians had left as a result of insecurity and increased Islamist activities. Since then, the church has been forced underground. What is it like to follow Christ in such a climate? An Open Doors contact sent the following report.
"Somewhere in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, secret believers arrive one by one at an agreed meeting place. Once everyone is settled, the prayer leader opens a piece of paper and starts to share. He received today's topic from the underground movement's leader, whose only source of inspiration is Christian websites. Although some of the members own Bibles, not one copy is in sight. When caught with a Bible, Christians face certain death.
"From time to time, members meet new converts at these gatherings and telephone numbers are exchanged. But for safety purposes the numbers are memorised. All evidence of interaction is destroyed to ensure that fellow Christians cannot be traced, should one be captured.
"These believers dare not meet for longer than three hours. Careful not to leave any tracks, they abandon the meeting place separately at intervals. This is the tale of the growing number of underground Somali Christians.
"We recently received testimonies from several secret believers in the country.
"Nishan* (27) first heard the gospel in 1999, and by 2002 he made known to his family that he had become a follower of Jesus. Furious with his announcement, his family kept him in a dark room for 13 days without any food. Despite her fear of getting caught, his sister secretly brought him meals. Only after Nishan's mother pleaded with his father was he released.
"After that, Nishan decided to become a secret believer. Now he goes to the mosque but prays to Jesus, one of sixteen secret believers who meet there and call themselves followers of Isa al Misah.
"Another underground believer, Ahmed*, became a Christian at college through one of his teachers, who secretly taught him the Christian faith. He said, 'We know that anyone who is suspected of being a Christian will be tortured or even killed, so we pray secretly. We have prayed in Muslim prayer rooms - sometimes at night and sometimes during the day. [But despite our precautions] many of our friends have been killed. We now live in fear.'"
*Name changed for security reasons