Yemen (MNN) — Yemen seems to be caught in a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Yemen’s Houthi militia, which is aligned with Iran, is battling Saudi Arabia and its allies for control of the country and strategic ports along the Yemeni coast. The two nations are also fighting for supremacy on military, diplomatic, economic, religious, terrorism and propaganda fronts.
Miles Windsor is the Advocacy and Development Director at Middle East Concern. “It’s a hugely difficult situation. Obviously, in Yemen that goes without saying because of the conflict, because of the humanitarian crisis. It should be said that these are situations which affect a huge amount of the Yemeni population.”
The conflict is aggravating both regional and international tensions. A power vacuum created by the fighting has allowed radical Islamist groups such as Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to gain significant influence.
Fighting has also produced another problem. According to the United Nations, more than two-thirds of the country is now struggling to feed themselves. Traders have stopped new wheat imports due to a shutdown in trade finance. As a result, Yemen’s estimated supplies of wheat will run out at the end of March.
This is the backdrop against which the Body of Christ operates in Yemen. Windsor explains Yemen is a tribal society and leaving Islam is seen as a betrayal of the tribe — leaving Islam is punishable by death.
“There are obviously also Christians from a Muslim Background. It’s very difficult for them. They face societal pressures as well, whether that comes from family or from neighbors, but obviously, there is also the threat from Al Qaeda and some of those other extremist groups.”
Four gunmen had reportedly attacked the home overseen by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity organization last March in the southern port city of Aden, where they kidnapped a priest and killed 16 people, including four nuns. On that score, Windsor says, “Father Tom Uzhunnalil has been kidnapped. His whereabouts are still unknown, although I know there are ongoing conversations at a diplomatic level about securing his release.”
For the most part, only converts to Christianity from Islam remain in Yemen, as communities of expatriate or migrant Christians (from the West, Africa and Asia). “There are established churches which are largely used by expatriate Christians,” he says, adding that now, “These are, obviously, less populated now, as a result of the fact that a great many expatriates have left the country as a result of the conflict.”
However, it is reported that many Muslims are turning to Christ. The violence perpetrated by ISIS and Al Qaeda horrifies them.
“A lot of them look at the example given of Islam by their leaders and say, ‘That’s not for me.’ Even though it’s a dreadful situation many of these people are living in, the horror of the situation has meant that a sense of inquiry, the sense of desire for something more, has led them to Jesus.”
They’re searching for hope and peace, and they’re finding it in the Gospel, even though they know that it will exact a high price. “People who see this truth are willing to give up so much, give up everything — even their lives. That’s hugely challenging, but it’s also encouraging to see, seeing how people are living out newly found faith.”
The takeaway: God is moving. Here’s how you can be part of it. “Prayer is the fundamental…way of supporting them, of loving them. Remembering our brothers and sisters in prayer is something that is hugely important to them, and it means we’re doing advocacy at the highest level — so [be in] prayer for them to keep going.”
Then, take heart. In sharing the stories of the Persecuted Church, you invest in the people behind those stories. Prayer and advocacy change things.
“When there are these conflicts, these situations which just seems to go on for years, we can get fatigued of hearing about it; we can get fatigued of thinking about the horrors of it all and want to not know. We need to be avoiding that situation where we don’t want to know.”