by Lela Gilbert
October 27, 2020
The East African country of Somalia is best known to most Americans for three unsettling reasons. First of all, many learned about Somalia thanks to the tragic “Black Hawk Down” battle—the event, the book, and the film. The country is also infamous for attacks by Somali pirates on international shipping routes. And, today, the ruthless terrorist group al-Shabaab continues to torment its Somali homeland as well as the surrounding African nations.
Is Somalia a place for intrepid American tourists to visit? On October 5, 2020, the State Department scored it as a “Category 4” risk with a concise comment: “Do not travel to Somalia due to COVID-19, crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health issues, kidnapping, and piracy.”
And what about being a tempting site for Christian missionaries eager to reach out to Muslims? Sharia law prevails in most of the country, and where it is not officially enforced, the fierce implementation of apostasy and blasphemy laws (whether official or unofficial) is handled by locals, and particularly by those who support the anti-Christian goals of al-Shabaab—whether officially affiliated with the terror group or not.
The U.S. State Department 2020 report explained:
Al-Shabaab continued to impose its own interpretation of Islamic practices and sharia on other Muslims and non-Muslims, including executions as a penalty for alleged apostasy in areas under its control, according to media and UN sources. According to the BBC, by October this year (2019) was one of the deadliest on record for fatalities from al-Shabaab attacks, with numbers already more than 1,200.
With all that in mind, I was shocked to hear from an alarmed representative of New Covenant Missions about a Christian family that had recently been arrested in Hargeisa on September 21. The Somaliland Police accused the couple of abandoning Islam, and even more dangerously, of evangelizing the people of Somaliland. According to a report about the incident from Somali Bible Society, “The spokesperson’s speech was peppered with threats against local Christians.”
The report went on to say that the arrested man had been tortured; his wife had delivered a baby by C-section just weeks before the arrest and required urgent medical attention, and the baby was in need of maternal care and breastfeeding.
I wasn’t particularly surprised to learn that Christians were attacked in Somalia. More amazing to me was that after so many war-torn years and violent incidents, any Christians remained there at all. And not only do they remain, but according to reports, there are hundreds of new believers who continue to worship in secret underground churches—small gatherings comprised entirely of brave and faithful local converts from Islam.
But what about that imprisoned family? What can any of us do in the face of such a tragic report? Of course, to begin with, let’s agree to pray for this couple and their baby. For reasons of security we should simply call the parents “Mohammed” and “Nebiyat.” And let’s also thank God for the holy light of Christian lives shining in such a dark place. What amazing courage these new believers have!
And finally, let’s not fail to pray for the brave outreach groups from the United States and elsewhere—groups like New Covenant Missions. They are operating in one of the most dangerous and chaotic places on earth. Let’s pray for all concerned—prisoners and ministers alike—and for their safety, encouragement, and inspiration to carry on their heroic ministries.