Nala found out about Jesus online – and made an extremely risky decision in choosing to follow Him. In Somalia, that decision could mean her death sentence. Here’s her extraordinary story.
It’s very rare to hear the story of a Somali Christian. It’s hard to even estimate how many people from Somalia are Christians, because of the extreme secrecy they are forced to live in. It’s estimated that there are only a few hundred Christians living in Somalia – which is number three on the Open Doors World Watch List 2022.
That’s why it’s such a privilege to hear Nala’s* story.
Like more or less everybody in Somalia, Nala grew up as a Muslim. Her oldest brother had control of the family’s religious values, and he was very strict about adherence to Islam. In Somali culture, women have very little autonomy or worth, and Nala’s brother was very violent to her.
“My brother beat me up for no reason and was spiteful,” Nala says. “I was very unhappy.”
Nala wanted nothing more in life than an education. But no woman in their home was allowed to study anything other than the Quran. Nala saved every penny of her pocket money to pay for literacy classes she attended in secret. But her brother found out: “He punished me severely.”
The treatment Nala received from her brother, in the name of Islam, was very destructive. “Slowly but surely, he turned me into a person of no religion,” she says.
"So many of my questions were answered. For the first time ever, I felt peace in my heart." Nala, on reading the Bible
Nala wasn’t intending to replace Islam with any other faith, but one day she was browsing online and came across something that shocked her.
“One day, I heard a testimony about Jesus from Somali converts living abroad,” she says. Nala had no idea that Somali people could be Christians. “I started to look for more videos and found others who shared the Word of God. They even shared their phone numbers and links to videos to watch.”
Nala began talking to Somali Christians on Facebook, asking them to tell her more about Jesus. “One girl, Hani*, shared with me some things from God’s Word.
“I thought the Bible was a story book, and I didn’t understand it [at first]. But I started reading in Genesis and just kept going. So many of my questions were answered. For the first time ever, I felt peace in my heart.”
It was risky. Nala knew she was doing something extremely dangerous. “Every time I communicated with Hani, I felt guilty and scared,” she remembers. Often, she would delete her account – but always felt she had to go back and find out more from Hani.
And Nala had reason to be scared. Any Muslim in Somalia who converts to Christianity is considered to have betrayed their family and community. The new believer risks extreme persecution – even murder. As a woman, Nala was also vulnerable to sexual violence or being forced into marriage to a Muslim.
But Nala knew that following Jesus was the right decision. She met with other secret believers – and eventually chose to be baptised!
Unbeknown to her, though, her family were growing suspicious.
“One night at 10pm, there was phone call from home, but I was sleeping, so I didn’t pick up.” The next day, Nala spoke to her father – and he had an upsetting message to give. “My father told me that my mother was dying.”
"My father told me that my mother was dying." Nala
Nala’s mother had struggled with her health for a long time and Nala had no reason to doubt this news. She rushed home. But, when she got there, she discovered that she had been tricked. It wasn’t true.
“I did not suspect that my father would lie. But when I got home, the men in my family were waiting for me. They beat me and took my mobile phone and they locked me up in a room. They said, ‘We have heard that you are corrupted’ but they have never once used the word ‘Christian’”.
That was the start of intensive efforts to convince Nala into returning to Islam.
“They took me to a place where they tried to cure apostates and psychopaths,” says Nala. “They tried different rituals to fix what was ‘wrong’ with me. They beat and locked me up. Sometimes they put a lightbulb against my head and repeated words from the Quran over and over. Four nights in a row, some imams rolled up pieces of paper, and used it as trumpets to shout words from the Quran into my ears. They even tried some concoctions on me.”
Throughout it all, Nala refused to identify the Christian friends she had made – even when her family demanded she unlock her phone, so that they could get their phone numbers. “I knew they would harm my friends if they knew their names.”
Nala’s sister quietly offered a solution. “Seeing how hard things were for me, my sister advised me to pretend to be a Muslim but pray to Jesus in my heart. And that is what I did. I would get up early for prayer, but use the time to speak to Jesus.”
It worked. Nala’s family believed she was ‘cured’, and started being kinder to her. But Nala knew she couldn’t stay. She started making plans to escape to a safe place, aided by her Christian friends.
Nala was making her plans when her family surprised her with a plan of their own: she was going to be married to a Muslim leader, who already had two wives. She wasn’t given any choice. Her family said that he would guide her.
One day before the wedding, Nala fled.
“At first, I hid with friends. After one week, I fled the country with the help of my Christian friends,” says Nala. She is still living in another country, which we can’t name for security reasons. “I arrived here with only the clothes on my back. I cried constantly. I was exhausted. I asked God, ‘Why do you hate me? Have you forgotten me?’ But then God reminded me that it was He who helped me to escape.”
Life has been really hard for Nala – but she is trusting in the One who rescued her. “Jesus has changed me. I realised that I didn’t choose Him, but He chose me. I didn’t go out looking for Him, but He found me. Previously I didn’t have happiness, but now I have joy.”
"Jesus has changed me. I realised that I didn’t choose Him, but He chose me." Nala
Nala lost all she knew as home, family and community. But each loss brought her closer to God, and closer to the family of God. In coming to Christ, she has become a member of the family of Christ where there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male and female, where we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
However, Nala’s journey towards hopeful and fruitful living despite persecution has only just started and she has a long way yet to go. Like many Christians in countries in the Open Doors World Watch List top 10, it’s a difficult journey. Nala needs discipleship, prayer and support in different parts of her life from people she can trust – people like you.
*Name changed for security reasons
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.