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Welcome to the Horn of Africa's secret church

03 July 2018

When Open Doors worker Joy* arrived at the secret church meeting, taking care to see that no one was following her, it was a baking hot day. She says, “The believers arrived one-by-one at a secret location. Outside it was sweltering, and inside it was not much better.

“But as soon as our meeting started, with the group singing God’s praises, my skin defied the heat and broke out in goose-bumps. There were no instruments and no hymn books, but it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. The lyrics of a simple but profound chorus went, ‘Worship and serve the Lord. He gave us life, Hallelujah! Worship and serve the Lord. He gave us life, Hallelujah!’”

Worth the risk

For these Somali believers in the Horn of Africa, a region which includes Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Eritrea, choosing to follow Jesus is a huge risk. Most Somali Christians keep their faith completely secret. Islam is an important part of Somali identity, and for a Somali person to decide to leave Islam and follow Jesus is seen as a huge betrayal – and one that could lead to immediate execution.

The militant Islamist group al-Shabaab has stated publically that it ‘wants Somalia free of all Christians’, and they have intensified their search for Christians in the last year. If they find someone who has become a Christian, the militants will often kill them on the spot. At least 23 suspected Christians were murdered in Somalia last year, and the group operates in neighbouring countries in the region too.

Our courageous Somali brothers and sisters believe that following Jesus is worth the risk – but that doesn’t make it easy. Joy says, “Some of the believers were too scared to talk to me, petrified of even greater persecution (one of them had a terrifying encounter with Islamic State and begged me not to share any details).

“There are a few, though, who eagerly tell me about their faith journeys.”

One of those who speaks to Joy is a sister you may remember – we shared Zemzem’s* story in our May 2015 magazine. When she became a Christian, she was imprisoned for a time, and her husband divorced her, leaving her to care for their two young sons without any help. Your support enabled Open Doors to provide for her practical needs, such as buying her a bed and cooking utensils, and helped her to start a small business.

Despite everything that she has been through, she is a bold evangelist, and loves the teaching she receives in Muktar’s group. She says, “This training taught us to preach the gospel in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is deeply rooted in my heart, so I preach the gospel. And my children and I pray every morning and evening for those who make these discipleship classes possible.”

Every £25 could put Bibles into the hands of five believers in the Horn of Africa.

A vision to reach the Somali people

Muktar* leads this group of secret believers. He had to flee to escape his family when he became a Christian, but was eventually ordained as a pastor, and felt called to serve the Somali people.

Being a church leader is always challenging, but being a church leader in a part of the world where that makes you a target for Islamic extremists seems completely impossible. Incredibly, God has given Muktar the vision and courage to carry out this dangerous work. Muktar says, “Our vision is to reach the Somali people according to their language and culture and plant churches among them.”

For some of these believers, Muktar’s church is the only place where they are safe to read the Bible.

At one point, he was close to giving up but your gifts and prayers have helped him to keep going. He says, “When I met Open Doors, I was exhausted and discouraged. I was trying to fund my ministry myself and had run out of money. I believe it is God who helped me by bringing me into contact with your ministry at the right time.”

Open Doors has helped Muktar start a small business to fund his ministry, and provided him with training to help him to be more effective in reaching out to secret believers and discipling them.

Muktar says, “What I love about Open Doors is that you know the culture and are focused. If there were four Somali believers, you would still go and serve those four. You adapted to the culture and understand how to reach them. You discipled me in ministry.”

Every £34 could provide training to help a secret church leader like Muktar to be effective in their outreach and know how to care for new believers facing persecution.

Stand with your secret church family in the Horn of Africa

Thank you for enabling Muktar to continue courageously reaching out to Somali people in the Horn of Africa, and for providing a church family for believers like Zemzem. Your support and prayers are enabling them to keep going, despite the huge risks they face.

But the dangers faced by believers in the region won’t disappear overnight, as the influence of radical Islam only appears to grow. Please continue to stand with them in prayer. Muktar says, “Please pray for us. We always pray for all of you.”

You can also give a gift to help Open Doors’ secret network to reach the most isolated and vulnerable believers in the Horn of Africa with vital support, and the love of their global church family.

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