The grim image painted by the news is an accurate reflection of the gravity of the situation on the ground in Yemen. The tension has been festering below the surface for years as many factional groups in Yemen have spread terror and fear.
Throughout Yemen, tribal society remains a dominant force, and the government is a secondary institution to the traditional authority of tribal governance. As such, there are many areas in Yemen where tribal elders enforce law and justice according to their Islam-based traditions regardless of what the national Constitution or government says. Moreover, the government is unlikely to intervene in intertribal conflicts, even if tribe authorities are physically harming or imprisoning members. Tribal law and customs prohibit members of the tribe from leaving the tribe, even through marriage, often with the punishment of death or banishment. Islam is an overarching identity of all of the tribes in Yemen, and it is often the tribe that delivers retributive “justice” for those who seek to leave Islam.
Forces loyal to current President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, exiled in Saudi Arabia, have been in battle with rebel forces loyal to former President Saleh (supported by Iran). The country of Yemen seems to have become the most recent Sunni-Shia battleground, with both Iran (Shia Islam) and Saudi Arabia (Wahhabi, a branch of Sunni Islam) intervening in the situation in Yemen and essentially fighting a proxy war on Yemeni territory.
However, even the Sunni-Shia divide does not explain the full picture of this conflict. There are a number of factions involved: former President Saleh and his supporters; the Houthis, followers of current president Hadi; al-Qaeda factions; southern separatists (Al Hirak); Ansar al-Sharia and other smaller groups.
How has life been impacted for the Yemenis and for the few Christian believers inside the country? In some places, normal daily activities are at a standstill, and local Yemenis are struggling to maintain some sort of normality; in other places, the daily routine continues – but fear for the future is a constant thought.
The handful of believers in Yemen, both nationals and expatriates, have refused to be paralyzed by fear, choosing instead to remain active in gathering to encourage one another and reach out to their surrounding communities. Although the body of believers in Yemen is small, the Holy Spirit can use this time of upheaval and war to strengthen believers in Yemen and bring about growth.
Pray that through this time of crisis, the seeds of the gospel will be scattered and take root in the lives of unbelievers. Pray that the believers will be able to disciple new believers and show Christ’s love to the people around them. We know God is still at work; pray for the Kingdom of God to advance and for lasting peace to come to the nation of Yemen.
Father, in the midst of this crisis and uncertainty in Yemen, we pray that You will draw many to Yourself through dreams and visions that point the way to Jesus and Your Word, and through the faithful testimony of believers. Through Your Word, speak to their hearts the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. We pray for the believers; that they will continue to meet together and encourage one another with their sure hope in Jesus. Father God, we pray for the unity of believers in Yemen and the support of the global church through faithful prayer and support. In the name of Jesus, who binds us together as His unified church, Amen.