We can’t show his face—but your gifts are transforming his ministry in East Africa

November 15, 2019 by Christopher Summers in Stories of Persecution

Somewhere in East Africa, a group of believers gather at a secret location. There are not many gatherings like this one. It’s so dangerous to be a Christian in this place that we can’t tell you the name of the country, or the city.

 

We can’t show you any faces. We can’t reveal any names to you.

 

But these are faithful men and women who follow Jesus, many of whom have risked everything—even their lives—to worship Him. And Open Doors was invited to be there.

 

Members of our field team were able to attend this meeting of Christians—they were invited because the gathering happened because of Open Doors support in the region. The meeting wouldn’t be completely impossible without outside support—but it would have been so much harder to continue, founder Muktar* tells the Open Doors visitors.

 

One Open Doors fieldworker, James, tells the story:

The believers arrive one-by-one at a secret location. Outside, it is sweltering, and inside it is not much better. The thermometer indicates well over 100 degrees, with over 80 percent humidity. Though a large fan is trying hard to bring relief, the heat and heavy air are suffocating.

But as soon as our meeting starts with the group singing God’s praises, my skin defies the heat and breaks out in goose-bumps. There are no instruments and no hymnals, but it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. “Worship and serve the Lord/He gave us life, Hallelujah!/Worship and serve the Lord. He gave us life, Hallelujah!” go the lyrics of the simple but profound chorus.

The Somali people are most commonly associated with Somalia, but they are a people group who make their home throughout East Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa region. Somalis are 99 percent Muslim, and leaving Islam can invite death. Yet here I am, among a group of them eagerly gathering to learn about Christ. Today’s teaching is part of a series on how to study the Bible and share your faith with unbelievers. There is lively interaction as the attendees share their experiences.

After the meeting, the believers linger for a precious few hours of fellowship. It is only when they are here, among other followers of Isa al Masih (the Arabic name for Jesus), that they can relax a little. It is a time to freely listen, read, discuss, pray and even hang out more casually together and get to know each other and Jesus better.

A diverse crowd, passionate about Jesus

Some people are too scared to talk to me, petrified of even greater persecution (one of them had a terrifying encounter with ISIS and begged me not to share any details). There are a few, though, who eagerly tell me about their faith journeys.

They are a diverse bunch. Most are from Somali tribes, but some are from different countries. All are in different stages of their spiritual journeys.

There’s Saleh*, a man in his 40s who has been attending this gathering since its beginning more than 10 years ago. He faced severe spiritual battles and felt the devil was pummeling him with fear and dread in the past. “Through the teaching at this fellowship, I found peace of mind,” he tells me.

There’s also Fistum*, an energetic young man of about 20. “As I grew up, I did not believe in God,” he says. “And I used to be addicted to drugs. After I lost my dad, I showed disrespect to everyone, including my mother ,who was a Christian. But one day I had a dream about John 14: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me,’ and realized that I was in darkness. I went to church and accepted Christ. From that day onwards, my life was stable.

“Here at the fellowship, I learned how to connect with God, how to read the Bible and how to share the gospel with others,” Fistum continues. “It has changed my life! I tell all my friends that God is our strength if we are His. I gave some of them Bibles and took them to church. A few received Jesus. I am so excited! What I learn here is certainly useful for me.”

Another member of the group, Aziza* has been attending for only four weeks. “Before I started attending, I never prayed or read the Bible; I just spent my time watching movies,” he says. “But now I understand how important it is to do these things.”

Birtukan* is a mother two who has also been coming to the gathering. “I was in a storm, especially when I got pregnant with my second child,” she tells me. “I could not tell my problems to anyone. One day I planned to throw my newborn into the ocean, but on my way to the beach I met a Christian woman who tried to preach to me. I told her, ‘I have no home, I have no job, I have argued with my husband … I am irritated; please don’t talk to me now. I cannot listen to your gospel now.’”

But the woman would not leave Birtukan alone and brought her to this fellowship. Since then, she has become a follower of Christ, and these people have been by her side and helped her all the way. She loves studying the Bible. “I did not think I would survive; I used to drink, I used to smoke … It’s Jesus that changed my whole life,” she passionately explains. “This fellowship has helped sustain my faith and has kept me close to the Lord.”

‘We always pray for you’

Muktar, the leader of this gathering, discerned his calling to help the Somali people many years ago while he was on the run from his family because he had become a Christian. He fled to this unnamed city, and it was here that his faith was given foundations.

“One day I read a letter from a missionary, asking people to pray for ministry workers among Somali people and I thought, This prayer is for me! I am the one to minister to Somalis,” he remembers.

After he was ordained as a pastor two years later, his work took him all over the region. But Muktar eventually returned to this corner of the Horn of Africa, convinced this was where God wanted him.

“The Word says in Revelation 5:‘…by Your blood, You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth (ESV),’” Muktar explains. “Our vision is to reach the Somali according to their language and culture and plant churches among them.”

Had it not been for your support, it would have been hard to keep this ministry going. Muktar was on the verge of giving up when Open Doors support threw his ministry a lifeline.

“When I met Open Doors, I was exhausted and discouraged,” Muktar tells me. “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.”

Your support has enabled Open Doors to provide practical and spiritual support. We helped Muktar fund his ministry by starting a business and provided different kinds of training, including the discipleship training presented to the believers here today.

Help ministries like these!

Projects like this one that helps this secret gathering in East Africa happen because of people just like you—people who are inspired to give to their sisters and brothers who risk everything to follow Jesus. Right now, Open Doors needs critical help before the end of the year to fund projects like these. We believe these projects are so vital for God’s people, which is why we’re asking for your support.

We need your help to meet these needs! Will you help?

Help now

ZemZem*, another believer at the gathering, also testified to the impact of this work in her life. “The training has impacted me in a big way,” she says. “My life and the lives of my people have changed because of it. 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.”

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

“I really admire your effort, compassion, conviction and happiness to serve these people,” Muktar finishes. “God bless you. Please pray for us. We always pray for all of you.”

*Name changed for security reasons

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