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Forced to choose between faith and family in Somalia

After years of drought and civil war, more Somalis live outside of this country on the horn of Africa than within it. More than 99 per cent of its 12 million population are Muslims. It is extremely dangerous to be a Christian here. Believers risk being killed by al-Shabbab terrorists or their sympathisers, or even their own families.

For Lula, like so many other Somalis, believing in Christ forced her into a stark choice: her faith or her family.

Her father declared in public: 'If you see her, kill her.'

Lula fled to another country, but she was followed by her brothers. She went into hiding for months and lived with the fear of discovery at any moment.

Then one day, while she was praying, Lula felt the Lord ask her how long she would hide. So, she left the house and went to the market. And it was there that she met her brother.

He threatened Lula, but she warned she would scream if he tried to harm her. Lula was able to walk away from the encounter and testify that God had delivered her from her fear of human beings.

Even then, her family continued to pursue her. One day, she returned from work to find her house had been demolished and everything taken.

And yet Lula's love for her family was undiminished. When her father died, she found a way to attend the funeral, despite the obvious risk to her life.

Like many other Christians from a Muslim background forced to live in a foreign land, Lula was regarded with suspicion by the local churches, who feared she was a terrorist or a spy.

But then Lula met 'Abdul', a partner of UK-based Release International, which supports the persecuted church around the world.

Abdul found Lula a job bringing milk to local schools. He helped her build a new house and introduced her to other like-minded believers. Lula is now helping to translate the Bible into her mother tongue so her own people can read it.

'The Lord has been with me throughout my journey,' she told Release International, 'and in all my bad times.'

Underground cell

Samuel is a former imam, who came to know Jesus through the work of a missionary doctor. After telling his father about his new-found faith in Christ, he tied him up and threw him into an underground cell, until a group of Christians could set him free.

Samuel was able to leave the country and begin a new life. He married, had children, and served his local church as a pastor and evangelist. Through his ministry, many Muslims came to know the Lord.

But then a group of Somalis tracked him down and bribed his wife with thousands of pounds to leave her husband and take the children back to Somalia.

'It was then that things really started,' said Samuel.

After an open-air religious debate, militants beat Samuel and left him for dead. And when the terrorist group al-Shabbab discovered where he was living, they issued a call to kill him. They pasted his story on billboards and posted a video of Samuel preaching on YouTube.

'God used that to preach the gospel to those I could never reach!' said Samuel.

Members of his church began to melt away from fear, leaving Samuel alone and in hiding. But Release International partner Abdul and his team were able to befriend Samuel and offer him support and protection. And when the immediate threat to his life had passed, Samuel began to rebuild the community of Muslim-background believers.

Samuel now shares his home with a young believer who, like him, was abandoned by his wife and children because of his Christian faith.

'I will share my house and my food with our brothers who come to me,' he told Release International.

'We want a safe place where our brothers can feel loved, and know they have a family and a community.

'Somalia used to be a closed door,' he added, 'but now it is much more open. People are hungry. They are tired of war. They have been shaken, and now there is space for them to hear the gospel.

'Every time I am persecuted, I see the Lord's hand in the midst of it.'

'Dirty place'

As a Muslim, Amanda had been taught that Christianity was evil, and Christians were mean. But then she met Muslim women in her community who had converted to Christianity who were generous and kind.

Eventually, Amanda summoned the courage to tell her husband about the Christians. He forced her into the shower and ordered her to wash.

'You've been to a dirty place,' he said.

But Amanda was determined to meet these Christians again, and gave her life to Christ.

Back home, her husband was waiting. He beat her, locked her in a room, and prevented her from seeing her son. This went on for a year until her husband left her.

Release International partners have helped Amanda set up a shop to make a living. And, despite the risk, she still reaches out to women in the Muslim community to tell them about Jesus.

Murdered by militants

As a child, Andrea used to mock Christians.

'We would pick up stones and throw them at them. We would push the Christians over or make them wear veils,' she said.

But then Andrea came to faith in Christ herself. She was cared for by the pastor of an underground church. He helped Andrea and others to escape Somalia, until militants murdered him for his faith in Christ.

Undeterred, Amanda is doing more than ever to spread the Christian message.

'I call my work the seed of hope. I believe the Lord is planting seeds in peoples' hearts,' she said.

Release International's partners are supporting these new Christian believers, and share the Christian faith in Somalia via radio and social media.

'These courageous Christians are a challenge to all of us who live in relative comfort,' says Release International CEO Paul Robinson.

'We may never risk death threats, imprisonment or beatings, like so many persecuted Christians. But the question remains: will we use our freedom to hide away, or to be as bold as our suffering brothers and sisters?'


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