“I believe I am where I am today because of prayer.”
Prayer changes things. Years ago, a man placed his hand over Yemen on a world map and prayed that people in the country would know Jesus as their Saviour. He said he would know his prayers had been answered when he had a friend from that nation. His friendship with David* today is an answer to that prayer.
It was not easy for David to get to this place in his faith. If not for God’s grace and the prayers of Jesus followers, he says he may have given up looking for answers. But he faithfully continues to serve God among the Yemeni diaspora, encouraging communities of Jesus followers to grow in their faith and reach out to others around them.
David grew up in a Muslim family in Yemen. As a teenager, he befriended Sam*, a young foreigner who lived next door to the mosque he prayed at. Over time he got to know Sam’s family and spent time in their house. There was something different about them. David had an open-minded family with loving, caring parents, yet he experienced a peace he could not understand inside Sam’s house. He began to skip prayer at the mosque to spend time with the family. One day they invited David to a fellowship meeting, which met in a house in his city. He was able to visit twice before Sam’s family left Yemen. Before they departed, they gave David an English Bible, but he could not understand it, and when his father found it, he threw it away.
David did not know where to turn. He asked a friend for guidance and was told he had gone against Allah by participating in Christian worship. “I felt I needed to do more good deeds to make up for my sins, and I started to be more committed to my Islamic faith. I prayed more, I started to memorise the Qur’an more, I spent more time in the mosque as well,” remembered David. But the more he studied, the more contradictions David found and he questioned what he believed. He decided he had two options: to be an atheist or a Christian –– though he was not sure what that meant. Deep inside, he knew that there was a God, and because of his experience with Sam's family and all the teachings in Islam about Jesus Christ, he chose to seek Christ.
This began a difficult time of searching and learning. It took David almost a year to find where he could find a group of Jesus followers. When he asked foreigners if they were Christians and if they knew where a church met, most of them said ‘no.’
On Christmas Eve 2004, David finally found a fellowship with the help of a foreign friend. At the end of the service, a lady asked him what he was doing there; no one in the meeting had invited him. David faced suspicion as church members did not know how to react to this stranger, a Yemeni, in their midst. Gradually he was accepted, and later David attended Bible school in Egypt, where he began to understand the basic theology of Christianity, faith, scripture, what it means to be a Christian and the Great Commission.
Finding acceptance in community
Due to war, famine and persecution, many Yemenis live outside of their nation as part of the vast diaspora of migrants and refugees. David is serving the Lord away from his home country and is involved in various translation and prayer projects alongside spending time with a community of Yemeni Jesus followers in the country where he now lives. Regular Bible studies take place with one group, and he is working on starting a meeting with another. David described Yemenis as community-orientated and one of the biggest challenges he faced when he became a Jesus follower was finding a community to belong to. Yemeni believers need to find a place of acceptance where they can grow and be nurtured and loved. Once they know people care for them and are honest with them, they will feel comfortable David explained. In the diaspora, cultural differences between the host country and Yemenis can bring more challenges. These differences increase when those from Yemen become followers of Jesus. Many have been hurt because of the way they have been treated by their own community and their host nation.
The acceptance of David into Sam’s family’s house without any questions greatly impacted him in his search for the truth. When he was questioning Islam, extremists approached David and asked if he was as sure of his salvation as martyrs are and spoke of destroying their enemies. In contrast, David remembered when he and Sam met with believers. Though he did not fully understand everything going on, he saw how the group prayed for Yemenis and Muslims –– that God would show them the way and would have mercy on them. This was so different from how Muslims prayed and helped David to see Jesus was the way. It also emphasised the value of prayer and how people pray.
As people meet Muslims in their communities, David believes that it is key to show love, and to live in a way that reflects Christ. John 13:35 reads: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV). David explained that helping people to be part of a community can break down barriers. “Building relationships is key,” he said. “If you are close to people and honest with them, they will know you care for them and listen to the message you bring. And above all, pray.”
“Keep praying,” David continued. “Pray for countries even if you don’t know anyone there. Be obedient to what God wants us to do. If we can’t go, pray. Pray for workers to go to the harvest.”