Saleh has a courageous ministry in Yemen, one of the hardest places in the world to follow Jesus. It’s not often that we can hear stories from Yemeni believers – but today you can meet a bold and faithful believer who spreads the gospel in the face of extreme opposition.
Sometimes the death threat came as a text message.
Other times, it was a phone call.
But the message was always the same:
They are searching for you and will find you soon.
You are dead.
Your days are numbered.
We know what you are doing; stop it now before it is too late.
Saleh* was used to the risk of death for his faith. Because of his Christian ministry, Saleh’s name is on the ‘wanted’ list of extremists in Yemen. The authorities would actually grant a reward to anyone who is able to hand him in. Being hunted was nothing new.
"The authorities have my photo and my name." Saleh
“The authorities have my photo and my name,” he explains. “I usually do not move around much and I do not roam the streets freely at night. I try to be as wise as possible when travelling for ministry.”
But this time, the threats were different. Saleh knew he was in real danger, and he’d been in hiding for two months. His family was urging him to leave the country. The authorities had his friends in custody– and their phones, with Saleh’s contact information.
What was he going to do?
Of course, Saleh has not always been on Yemen’s most wanted list. He didn’t even follow Jesus until he left home to study and heard the gospel for the first time. He was nervous to tell his parents – but discovered that his father was already a follower of Christ! He’d hidden his faith from his son, which is a common practice in the region, where people can face extreme persecution if their child accidentally reveals their faith.
Once Saleh decided to be a Christian, there was no holding him back. Even though evangelising is very dangerous in Yemen, Saleh and his ministry partner Fawzi* would stand in front of their local mosque and tell people about Jesus. As time went on, they expanded their outreach and ventured outside of their hometown, visiting various places around the country to spread the message of Jesus and salvation.
But persecution for this kind of boldness is inevitable in a country like Yemen. The pressure initially started within their hometown. Saleh and Fawzi were interrogated and accused of apostasy (converting from Islam): a charge which can carry the death penalty in Yemen. Thankfully, Saleh’s tribe stood with him – and that is fundamentally important in Yemeni culture.
As Saleh and Fawzi journeyed throughout the country, this often led to surprising encounters. “As new believers and potential future leaders, we got the opportunity to attend essential trainings and workshops outside Yemen, [some run by Open Doors partners],” Saleh says. “The training sessions promised to equip us with the necessary tools for our ministry and help us delve deeper into the Bible.”
"The training sessions promised to equip us with the necessary tools for our ministry." Saleh
One day, at the airport, as Saleh prepared himself for to travel to one of these training seminars, he was arrested. “A wave of confusion and disbelief crashed over me as I was led away to a stark room for questioning,” he remembers. “The authorities were relentless, searching for answers. Why was I attempting to leave the country? What secrets did I hold? Did I have any relationships with the ‘West’? To my surprise however, rather than detaining me, these agents made a proposition. In their pursuit of security, they sought to enlist me in their ranks. They believed me to be a valuable asset.”
Saleh refused – but, after that, decided it was wiser to do training and discipleship online.
Eventually, because of the ongoing war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Saleh made his way to a neighbouring country. Once he arrived, Saleh stayed in a camp with numerous other Yemeni refugees. There, he spoke openly about Jesus and many people came to Christ.
“I became known as the person ‘who knows Jesus,’” he says. “People were interested to speak, listen and debate with me. We would converse for hours. There were some deep conversations and many people there came to know Christ as their Saviour. Eventually, I encouraged those who believed to go back to Yemen and serve there.”
"I became known as the person 'who knows Jesus'." Saleh
Yemen was always in Saleh’s heart and on his mind. He loved his native land, and began to ask God how he could continue to reach Yemen for Jesus. The answer was to start a house church network in the country. About 70% of believers in Yemen aren’t able to meet regularly with other believers, either for security reasons or because they do not know of other Christians. House churches are the only way to have Christian fellowship in Yemen.
“We started a church in a ‘safer’ area in Yemen where leaders could come together, study the Bible, pray, get encouraged, get trained and be launched into ministry,” Saleh says. As Saleh knew, any kind of work for Jesus in Yemen carries a risk, but Saleh still says it’s worth it. “If we sit at home and do nothing, we would be safe. But what kind of Christians would we be if we weren’t risking our lives for others to know Life?”
Saleh began traveling from his home to Yemen, continuing his ministry by going back and forth to establish and strengthen the church in Yemen.
And that’s why he found himself in hiding in Yemen, getting death threats on his phone.
Saleh’s brother, Issam*, and his close friend Mussa* were travelling to a group of new believers who wanted to be baptised. Because Saleh was known to the Yemeni authorities, they decided it was safer if he didn’t travel with Issam and Mussa. “I was in constant contact with them throughout the entire journey,” he says. “One day, they messaged me, telling me they had boarded the bus and were en route. After that text, I lost all communication with them.”
Saleh later learned that police had boarded the bus and arrested Issam and Mussa for their Christian activities. They took away their mobile phones and identity cards, blindfolded them and took them to prison.
For Christians in Yemen who have converted from Islam, such incidents are common. They are arrested, interrogated, threatened, imprisoned and even killed for practising their faith – let alone for preaching and baptising others in the name of Jesus. So while Issam’s and Mussa’s arrest was unsurprising, it also drove the Christian community to their knees in prayer and fasting.
When a man from the church heard the news, he came to Saleh and asked if he could be imprisoned in place of either Issam or Mussa. “The man wanted them to be out of prison to continue their ministry!” Saleh remembers. “He volunteered to be imprisoned instead of them! This request was very shocking yet encouraging for me. It showed me how united we are in Christ and how His love brings us together.”
Saleh was worried that he and others were particularly vulnerable, now that the authorities had their names and contact information on Issam’s and Mussa’s phones. His family urged him to leave Yemen. Everyone knew it was dangerous for him to stay.
“I was battling with my own thoughts,” he remembers. “If I run away, what kind of example will I be setting for the church? I couldn’t leave the church and walk away. I was encouraging the Christians to be strong and courageous, reminding them that we knew this would happen to us once we chose to follow Jesus. It was our time to be good witnesses.”
"It was during those dark times when I felt God’s presence with me." Saleh
For two months, Saleh hid in a safe house in Yemen. “Those were indeed difficult days for me,” Saleh remembers. “I cried in my room for hours. There were days when I was hopeful and strong and other times when I felt weak, guilty and depressed. It was during those dark times when I felt God’s presence with me.
“In those tough moments, I would receive a call from someone and they would pray for me, or I would receive text messages from brothers and sisters from the global church, encouraging me that they were praying with us and for us.”
God answered the prayers of the church! After about eight weeks, Issam and Mussa were released from prison.
“God did a miracle,” Saleh says. “He changed the heart of a person of influence who initially wanted them dead. This man eventually helped them to get out of jail! It was after they were freed that I realised why God allowed all this to happen. Issam and Mussa continued their ministry inside the prison and God brought several prisoners to Him through them. That is when I personally experienced how God turns bad situations into good ones, according to His perfect will.”
"God turns bad situations into good ones, according to His perfect will." Saleh
To this day, Saleh continues to travel into Yemen and other countries where the Yemeni diaspora reside. He travels to disciple, to teach, to encourage, to listen, to help and to pastor. “The church in Yemen is living in very harsh conditions but is growing nonetheless!” he says. “I hope that soon there will be Christians in every corner of the country, that Christians in every village and city will go out to share the gospel in word and deed. My dream goes further than the borders of Yemen; I pray to see the church spreading from Yemen to the outside.”
Saleh currently serves about 70 families in Yemen. With the help of Open Doors partners, he is able to provide meeting spaces for Christians, provide medical help and transportation, give out food packages, conduct baptisms, train leaders and help set up essential trainings, including trauma counselling, persecution preparedness and discipleship.
“We are grateful for your support,” he says to Open Doors supporters. “Without these resources we won't be able to grow and to serve the church in Yemen. Your prayers are important and uplifting to us, giving us strength and encouragement to keep going.”
Open Doors partners help Christians in Yemen through prayer campaigns, food and medical aid, rental assistance for house churches, discipleship and leadership training and more. Your gift today can help Christians like Saleh continue his work to strengthen and grow the church in Yemen and other countries where Christians face extreme persecution for their faith – you can be part of this bold, risk-taking ministry alongside those who truly count the cost of loving Jesus.
*Name changed for security reasons
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