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Yemen: Baptisms taking place despite two years of war in country where leaving Islam is punishable by death.

28 March 2017

A vicious civil war has been exhausting Yemen for two years now. While society is still dominated by strict Islamic rule, some Christian pastors baptize new believers regularly. Jamil*, a former Yemeni Muslim but now a follower of Christ, shares a unique insight into the body of Christ in Yemen. "Yemeni Christians really long for Jesus to return. We have lost so much; we reach out to the everlasting peace that He will bring one day - hopefully soon!"

Christians before the war

When the war started two years ago, many foreign Christians who had been residing in Yemen were forced to leave the country. Oddly enough, in Jamil's experience, this laid the groundwork for the current development in the Church in Yemen as he explained: "Before that most house churches were heavily dependent on foreign Christians. Local Yemeni Christians couldn't match their theological knowledge, abilities and funds and simply didn't need to take responsibility themselves. Now the foreigners are mostly gone, we actually had to take the lead ourselves. At first it seemed the house church movement would fall apart, but gradually, local Christians started taking responsibility and took up leadership positions. They may not have been highly trained, but they share the knowledge they have and support each other."

Dangerous Faith

Being a Christian in Yemen is still extremely dangerous, Jamil pointed out. "Before the war, persecution by the government, the community and relatives was the main problem. Now the government control has diminished the main threats for Christians come from Al Qaeda and IS-like terrorist organizations roaming the country. Some time ago 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 from 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. Nevertheless Jamil is hopeful for the future and commented: "The Church in Yemen is still young. The first generation of Christians who converted from Islam were used to fighting 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."

Yemen is number 9 on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List, the annual ranking of countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Yemen is a tribal society and leaving Islam is seen as a betrayal of the tribe - leaving Islam is punishable by death. However, it is reported that many Muslims are turning to Christ.

History of Christianity in Yemen

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.

War and poverty

Yemen is an extremely poor country on the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula. During the Arab uprising of 2011, Yemeni started taking to the streets demonstrating for political reform. The momentum was hijacked by Islamist militants taking over parts of the country. In the resulting chaos, a Shia Houthi group overtook the capital city Sanaa, sparking Sunni Saudi Arabia to wage war against Yemen, trying to fight back the Houthis (whose links to Iran is seen as a possible threat for Saudi Arabia). Roaming factions of Al Qaeda, IS and other fundamentalist groups are benefiting from the instability to gain ground in Yemen, igniting new fights with the warring parties. They are very aggressive towards Christians. After two years of war the violence has depleted the limited resources Yemen had. Civilians take the hardest hits—about eighty percent of the country's population needs emergency relief, causing the UN to label the situation in Yemen as "highest level of humanitarian emergency". However, the war prevents most relief efforts from reaching the needy.

Millions displaced

The conflict means that figures for the number of people displaced are hard to pin down. The Task force for Population Movement - co-led by the IOM and UNHCR estimates* that of Yemen's 28.1 M inhabitants, nearly 2M were internally displaced due to the conflict since March 2015 and that during the same period an estimated 1.05M people returned to their region of origin in Yemen.

* Name changed for security reasons

Please pray:

  • IS and AQAP members are able to move freely in Yemen, and actively target and kill Christians. Pray that God will change the hearts of radical Islamists, and protect Christians from attack
  • Praise God for the Yemenis who have turned to Christ - ask God to help them grow in faith
  • 80 per cent of Yemenis currently rely on aid - pray for provision for them.

More News from Yemen:

Find out more about persecution in Yemen.