RLPB 494. Somalia: bleeding into Kenya
— by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
Somalia is a failed state and one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. The population is 99.8 percent Muslim and the Christian charity, Open Doors, has placed it third on its World Watch List 2019, describing the persecution as ‘extreme’. Whilst Islamic State (IS) does have a presence in Somalia, the main terror group operating there is al-Qaeda-affiliate, al-Shabaab [see RLPB 411 (21 June 2017)]. Both groups hunt down and execute Somali converts to Christianity, often with the assistance and support of thoroughly radicalised local Muslims who view Christianity as the religion of the colonisers (Italy and Britain) — a religion that has no place in an independent Somalia. In September 2008 Mansuur Mohammed (25) became the first ethnic Somali convert to be martyred for Jesus Christ by al-Shabaab in Somalia. Since then, dozens have been martyred. There are 25 entries for Somalia in the RLPB archive and almost every entry tells the story of yet another ethnic Somali Christian martyr. They have names like: Abdishakur, Abdikhani, Farhan Haji, Juma Nuradin, Hassan, (Ms) Asha, (Ms) Fatima Sultan, Abdullah, Ali, Hussein, Sheik Mohammed, Maaddey, Osman, Abdikarim and (Ms) Sofia Osman who survived despite being flogged almost to death. These are names in the Lamb’s Book of Life! Christians tend to flee Somalia. However, despite its small mustard seed-like size, Somalia’s buried/planted, ‘underground church’ has taken root and is growing. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab is recruiting both across Somalia and in Kenya, allegedly tempting disgruntled and unemployed youths with the offer of a ‘hefty’ salary.
Civil war (commenced 1991) has resulted in a whole generation of Somalis being lost to displacement and famine. The Somali Diaspora (overseas communities) is estimated at being more than one million. Those with means fled to the US and EU; those without means crossed the border into Ethiopia or Kenya. At its peak the Dadaab refugee camp, in eastern Kenya’s Somali-dominated Garissa County, housed around 500,000 displaced Somalis. While more than 100,000 have accepted assistance for voluntary repatriation in the past two years, Somalia is still anything but stable. At least in the refugee camps Somalis have access to Kenyan and international aid workers and teachers, many of whom are Christian. Likewise, the city of Garissa is home to many courageous, mostly Kenyan Christians who work tirelessly and sacrificially to minister to ‘harassed and helpless’ ethnic Somalis in a place of freedom (Matthew 9:35-38).
That said, even inside Kenya, Christians ministering to Somalis must be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16), for the work is incredibly dangerous. After all, most Somalis who flee to Kenya bring their fundamentalist Islam and hatred of Christianity with them. Like a shield encapsulating the heart, it requires a breakthrough of the Holy Spirit to breach and finally shatter it. Fortunately, the Spirit of God is there with grace and in power, both in war-wracked Somalia and in Kenya’s Somali-dominated eastern regions. Al-Shabaab has repeatedly targeted Kenyan Christians in Garissa County, especially teachers whom it assassinates because they might influence ethnic Somali youths as they receive an education in Kenya they could not receive at home [see RLPB 411 (21 June 2017)]. The worst single attack occurred on 2 April 2015, when al-Shabaab attacked Garissa University College, slaughtering 148 Christian students and wounding a further 79 [see RLPB 304 (8 April 2015)]. Despite all the obstacles, an ethnic Somali Church has taken root inside Kenya and is growing. Though it might have freedom in Kenya, that does not mean it is safe.
Pastor Abdul (30) is an ethnic Somali living in Garissa. He is married and the father of three children, aged 8, 5 and 3. He is also a pastor who cares for a fellowship of about 30 Somali converts. Because it is too dangerous to meet openly or all together, he meets with the believers in small groups in various places regularly for worship, prayer and Bible study. Recently his secret work was discovered by Somali Muslims who had grown suspicious. On Friday evening 8 March, Pastor Abdul was walking home from a prayer meeting when the Muslims confronted him. They told him they knew of his ‘evil plans’ to lead Somali Muslims into Christianity. They then beat him severely with wooden clubs. Neighbours found Abdul unconscious and lying in a pool of blood and rushed him to hospital. He has a broken thigh bone and numerous deep bruises, causing severe pain all over his body, but especially his legs, waist and back. ‘I’m almost unable to bear the pain,’ he told Morning Star News, adding, ‘My family is in great fear, and Christians have re-located us to another place. Our prayer for now is to get a safe place for my family. My life and that of my family is at stake.’
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL
* mercifully intervene in Somalia to bring peace and freedom; may al-Shabaab’s financial backers be exposed; may all financial backing cease; may all lines of supply be severed; may al-Shabaab’s life-source dry up. ‘Break the arm (mechanism of action; source of power) of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.’ (Psalm 10:15 ESV).
* lovingly bless, sustain and protect the vulnerable, underground Somali Church and all who serve her, both inside war-wracked Somalia and in eastern Kenya’s Garissa County.
* faithfully walk with Pastor Abdul, his wife and their children, to guide, deliver and comfort them as they make decisions about their future; may the Lord protect and provide for his flock in Garissa.
* graciously raise up and send out more labourers into his harvest field of ‘harassed and helpless’ ethnic Somalis. We pray especially that the Church in Kenya might be seized with the urgency of this mission. ‘For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power’ (1 Corinthians 4:20 ESV).
We might ask, ‘Is it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a Somali Muslim to enter the kingdom of God?’ But Jesus answers, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ (Matthew 19:23-26)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
SOMALI CHURCH BEING ATTACKED
Somalia is one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a Christian. Al-Shabaab hunts down and executes Christian converts. Somali Muslims maintain that Christianity has no place in Somalia. Civil war and famine have forced hundreds of thousands of Somalis to flee into Kenya, where they have access to Kenyan and international aid workers and teachers, many of whom are Christian. A small and vulnerable ethnic Somali Church is taking root both inside war-wracked Somalia and in eastern Kenya’s Somali-dominated Garissa County. Kenya might offer freedom and opportunity, but the work among Somalis is still incredibly dangerous. On 8 March Pastor Abdul (Somali, aged 30, married, father of three) was severely beaten in Garissa by Somali Muslims. Though relocated, his family fear for their lives. Please pray for the Somali Church.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).