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Yemeni house churches grow in spite of civil war

07 April 2017


Survival skills: women collect recyclable items at a landfill site on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, on Monday

Survival skills: women collect recyclable items at a landfill site on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, on Monday

CHRISTIANITY is surviving in Yemen, two years after a func­tion­ing government ceased to exist and a civil war broke out between rival Islamist factions.

The charity Open Doors has reported that, although Yemen re­­mains a strictly Islamic country, house churches there are continuing to grow, and new believers are being baptised.

Jamil (not his real name), a con­vert to Christianity and a pastor in the Arabian Peninsular state, told Open Doors that, para­doxically, the advent of war in 2015 had boosted faith there.

“Before that, most house churches were heavily dependent on foreign Christians,” Jamil said. “Local Yemeni Christians couldn’t match their theological knowledge, abil­ities, and funds, and simply didn’t need to take responsibility them­selves. Now the foreigners are mostly gone, we actually had to take the lead ourselves.”

At first, the house-church move­ment seemed to be dying out, but, over time, Yemeni Christians started taking more responsibility and rebuild­ing the Church from the ground up.

A civil war has been going on since 2015 between the Iran-backed Houthi movement and Saudi Arabia-backed government forces. Islamist militants from Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda are also seizing territory. About 10,000 people, includ­ing 4000 civilians, have been killed.

Although persecution from the government had largely stopped since the war started, Jamil said, the greatest threat now came from Islamist extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and IS.

“Some time ago, one of these groups posted the names and addres­ses of a group of known Chris­tians online, effectively endanger­ing their lives and forcing many of them to go into hiding,” he said.

His prayer was that, as a new generation of believers took over the Yemeni Church — made up largely of Christians born into Christian families rather than converts — the movement would grow, and ultim­ately be “accepted into society”, so that Christians would be allowed to practise their faith openly alongside their Muslim neighbours.

“That is my dream: that in the next decades Christians in Yemen can worship God freely,” he said. “I know that people are willing to give their lives to get there.”

But, for now, Christians were suffering as much as other Yemenis during the fighting: “We have lost so much; we reach out to the everlasting peace that [Jesus] will bring one day — hopefully soon,” Jamil said.

The UN reported last week that children were paying the heaviest price in the civil war in Yemen: in the severe food shortage, mil­­lions of them were malnourished.

The UN’s emergency relief co-­ordinator and under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, said: “During my third visit to Yemen, only weeks ago, I saw the terrible and terrifying evidence of looming famine: in the hospital ward, the complete stillness of the tiny malnourished child whose eyes focus on nothing; the grim realisation that these patients were the fortunate ones who could access a hospital, and might sur­vive.”

Nineteen million Yemenis — two-thirds of the population — needed humanitarian assistance, he said, and seven million were facing starvation.

UNICEF estimates that, every ten minutes, at least one child dies in Yemen as a result of prevent-
able causes such as malnutrition, diarrhoea, or respiratory-tract infec­tions.

Only half the hospitals and health facilities in Yemen remained open, the UN said, and there was a severe shortage of medicines and trained medical staff.

Some of the munitions dropped on Yemen by Saudi Arabia were British-made, but the Prime Min­ister defended the UK’s alliance with Saudi Arabia this week, during a visit to the country.

The humanitarian situation was Britain’s top concern, and had been raised with Saudi officials during the trip, Theresa May told reporters. The British Government had given £103 million, so far, to help aid agencies in Yemen, she said.

But the partnership with Saudi Arabia was also vital for the UK’s defence and trade interests. “As I said when I came to the Gulf at the end of last year, Gulf security is our security, and Gulf prosperity is our prosperity,” Mrs May said.

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