The following is an interview with a Christian co-worker about Yemen- the country on the World Watch List that we are focusing on this week.
1. We don’t always hear a lot of stories from Christians in Yemen. Is it because they are afraid to speak with foreigners? Is it because they are afraid that they could be easily discovered? Are there other factors?
The body of Christians in Yemen is not very large and there have been several hostile situations against Christians in the past, so indeed believers live with the fear of being discovered or being publicly exposed. Fortunately contact with foreigners is quite well possible for most believers. In these contacts, building a relationship of trust is very important.
2. What is daily life like for a Christian in Yemen?
Most believers in Yemen are first-generation Christians. This means that their family and clan are Muslim still. To better comprehend the situation, it is good to know that in Yemen the tribe is very important still and deemed more important than government rules. If there is a dispute inside a tribe or clan, the government typically will not intervene, not even when a tribe inflicts imprisonment or punishment on their fellow tribesmen. All of this forces Yemeni believers to keep a low profile and not to draw any negative attention to themselves.
Since President Saleh stepped down, there has not been any improvement. There is ongoing tension between North and South Yemen and on top of that, several Al-Qeada-linked groups struggle for power and have spread to regions where the government had previously maintained some kind of order.
Essentially, caution and keeping a low profile is part of daily life for a Yemeni Christian.
The economic situations remains challenging for all Yemenis, so compared to other Yemenis, Christians face the same situation as Muslims when it comes to jobs, housing and other needs.
3. It seems like Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) face the most persecution. Do Christians who are not from a Muslim background face persecution? If so, how is it different from MBBs?
Since there is practically no indigenous church in Yemen, if a believer in Yemen is not from a Muslim Background, then he or she probably is a foreigner.
Over the past few years we have seen and heard reports about both local believers, as well as foreigners being kidnapped or even killed. So honestly I wouldn’t say that the situation differs much from one background to another. One difference would be that foreigners can be deported by the government, as has happened in the past. MBB’s on the other hand can be ‘dealt with’ within their own tribe. In that sense, the tension for MBBs is very high. Family and extremist groups threaten apostates, with death when they do not come back to Islam.
For foreigners, evangelism is prohibited, but there is some religious freedom granted by the government. However a fundamentalist group would not be impressed by formalities, so if they have suspicion against a foreigner, it can be dealt with in their own way, including killing them.
4. What are the greatest needs for persecuted Christians in Yemen? Do they need Bibles, training materials, safe homes?
I cannot speak for all individuals, but in general I would say that a stable and safe country with more openness towards other religions would be a great and very basic need.
While practical support to the church is important, strategically the church would probably benefit the most from training to help the relatively the young church grow and mature. Local believers need good roll-models and Christians with the capacity to disciple believers and help them follow Jesus.
Another need would be strong fellowship among local believers. The risk of being betrayed or exposed by other Yemenis is a real one and cannot be overlooked. This may hinder the growth of trust and strong fellowships.
5. What is the best way we could pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Yemen?
Please pray that strong and secure fellowship of believers will be able to exist in the country and pray that no extremist groups or individual family or tribe members will harm these believers.
Pray that groups and individuals will stay safe and nothing that would harm their situation or even their lives would be disclosed.
Pray that the general atmosphere in the country will grow towards more acceptance of those who adhere to another religion than Islam and pray for more stability and restriction of extremist groups in the country.
Pray that the Lord will continue to bless efforts to reach out to those Yemeni’s who are searching for the truth about Jesus.
*Not actual photo