Easter In Yemen

In the Middle East & parts of Africa, with the regional violence that has become a fixture, there is a growing sense that unless something significant changes, Christians will continue to be slaughtered or driven out of their homelands and ultimately out of the region that was the birthplace of Christianity.

On account of the escalating conflict in Yemen and Easter’s rapid approach, it is worth pausing to consider how Christians are faring in the midst of all the chaos. Yemen is a small country with a population of 25.5 million people. The country which produced Osama bin Laden is nestled in between Saudi Arabia and Somalia. Archaeological studies indicate that the biblical kingdom of Sheba spanned modern-day Ethiopia and Yemen. Governed by President Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi (who has fled the country), persecution targeted at Christians is severe according to Open Doors USA, a Christian watchdog organization.

Yemen’s constitution declares Islam as the state religion and Sharia Law as the source of all legislation. Foreigners have some religious freedom, but proselytization is prohibited and Muslims are forbidden to convert to another religion. Those who defy this law will likely receive the death penalty. So, because Christian converts from Islam are at risk for brutal attacks, they generally practice their Christianity secretly. Similarly, Christian missionary activities by expatriates sometimes lead to detention or deportation. Most of the Christians in Yemen are expatriates (Westerners, South and East Asians, Arabs) or refugees (mainly Ethiopian). In Aden, there are a few churches, but in the northern part of the country no church buildings are allowed.

But, the Christians in Yemen utilize an underground network which involves meeting and worshipping in members’ homes on a rotational basis, as was done in the days of Roman persecution of Christians. During that era, Christians worshipped underground in the catacombs. There are approximately 2,500 indigenous Christians and between 15,000 and 25,000 non-native Christians living in Yemen. The non-natives are primarily from Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

According to human rights activist, Abdul Razzaq al-Azazi, “the government does not permit the establishment of buildings or worship places without prior permission,” and indicated that Roman Catholic officials, for instance, are currently awaiting a decision from the government on whether they will be permitted to construct a building and be officially recognized by the government in Sana.

And, all of this persecution is taking place despite the fact that the Yemeni government receives a massive amount of money from the U.S. government. It also does nothing to protect Christians from beatings and murders. Over the last century, according to the Pew Research Center, the Christian population in Yemen dropped from over 20% to under 4%.

Persecution.Org details a horrific account:

“A Yemeni woman who was a Christian convert received fatal burns at the hands of family members. Nazeera’s husband recounted the story of the sabotage that led to his wife’s death just days before they were to leave their homeland. Family members had pressured her for years to abandon her faith and choose to punish her rather than see her escape. This story demonstrates the daily struggles that thousands of believers across the Middle East face as a result of their faith.

And, Nina Shea, director of the Washington-based Hudson Institute’s Centre for Religious Freedom, points out that a goal of Islamic extremists is total Islamization. ‘This has nearly been achieved in Iraq, which a decade ago was home to one of the four most robust Christian communities in the Arab world.'”

And, to make matters worse, Reuters has reported that, “A week into Saudi-led air-strikes in Yemen, food imports into the Arab world’s poorest country are grinding to a halt as the conflict puts fragile supply chains under growing strain and commercial suppliers stay away.”

The article goes on to explain:

“Several ports are in rebel hands and fighting has made traveling by road perilous.
Yemen imports more than 90 percent of its food, including the lion’s share of its wheat and all its rice, to feed a population of about 25 million.

It has enough basic foodstocks for six months in all provinces and wheat stocks stood at 930,100 tonnes on the day air strikes began, the official Saba news agency said on Monday.

But the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said stocks could start to diminish quickly.”

As we celebrate Christ’s victory on the cross, Christians who are going through a rough time should bear in mind that Jesus has already won the victory–on the cross, when he said, “It is finished.” He also assured us that, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Difficult circumstances are temporary but a Christian’s inheritance is eternal. In the meantime, Christians all around the world, who are enduring adversity, can take comfort in Romans 8:35-37: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

He is risen.