How a former Muslim took the gospel to other Yemenis and nearly lost everything in the process

As a devoted Muslim, Ibrahim was always ready to defend the Quran. So when a man walked into his small store in Yemen one day in 1997 and asked him a startling question — “Have you ever read the Bible?” — he proudly told the man that he believed the Bible was full of error and distortion.

At the end of their conversation, the man gave Ibrahim a New Testament and urged him to read it for himself. Ibrahim agreed, intending to make note of every problematic verse he found. But the more he read the Bible, the more problems he saw with the Quran. “I was trying to help him become a Muslim, but it caused me a headache,” Ibrahim recalled.

After reading Jesus’ teachings to “love your enemies” and “bless those who curse you,” Ibrahim considered leaving Islam. He knew, however, that following Jesus Christ would bring shame to his family and endanger his life. At the man’s urging, he continued to study the Scriptures more deeply and ask God to reveal the true way to him. Finally, about a year later, he placed his faith in Christ. “In my heart I felt peace to accept Jesus,” he said. “I accepted Jesus the month before Ramadan.”

Becoming an Infidel

The peace Ibrahim felt in accepting Jesus Christ was soon joined by an extreme fear of being discovered as a Christian. For four years, he hid his Bible in the backyard and studied it in secret, expecting each day to be caught by his wife or someone else. Ibrahim had every reason to be afraid; in Yemen, Christian converts from Islam can be sentenced to death. Muslim families consider it extremely shameful for a family member to become a Christian. And extremist groups like al-Qaida and conflicts like the ongoing civil war in Yemen have further complicated life for believers.

Then, one day, he decided the fear made no sense. “I was tired of fear and I asked myself a question: ‘If I believe in Jesus and this is true and He grants me eternity, why should I fear?’ So if they came then to kill me I was ready to say, ‘Welcome.’ God changed my extreme fear to extreme boldness.”

After being baptized, in 2002, Ibrahim felt led to establish a church in Yemen, so he finally decided to share his faith and vision with his wife, Fatima. When he told her, she was furious that he had left Islam to become a kafir, or “infidel,” and she worried about how their Islamic community and her family would respond. “I was looking at Jesus as somebody who ruined my home and family,” she said. For Fatima, it was more about betraying her family roots than just leaving Islam. Her grandfather had kept a handwritten genealogical record that traced the family back to Banu Hashim, the clan of the Prophet Muhammad.

Fatima wanted a divorce, but Ibrahim refused because it went against his Christian beliefs. As she and Ibrahim learned to live with their differences, Fatima couldn’t deny the changes in her husband’s behavior. He had stopped flirting with other women and had started showing her greater respect. The couple soon reached an agreement on how to live peacefully together; they divided their home into separate living areas, and Ibrahim agreed not to pray before dinner anymore. Their youngest son had emulated his prayer at Fatima’s parents’ house once before, sending Fatima into a near panic.

Eventually their extended families learned about Ibrahim’s faith in Jesus Christ, and both families disowned them. Ibrahim’s family even began telling their neighbors that he had been killed in an accident; they couldn’t live with the shame of people knowing their son was an infidel.

Price to Be Paid

After Ibrahim shared his vision of planting a church with others in Yemen, they suggested he visit a city where many Muslims were coming to Christ. He began making frequent trips there to disciple Christian converts from Islam, but in 2009 Islamic extremists spread Ibrahim’s name and personal information, including the location of his store, on the internet. They dubbed him the “leader of the Yemeni church” and claimed that he had forced people to stomp on the Quran.

Ibrahim has shared the gospel with Yemenis all over the world, helping lead them into a deeper relationship with Christ.

“This was not the truth,” Ibrahim said. “They said this to get to me and to harm me.”

Fearing for his life, Ibrahim decided to flee Yemen. After weeks of praying and waiting on God’s direction, he felt called to settle in a neighboring country. He left behind his homeland as well as his wife, their two boys and the church he had worked so hard to establish. Other Yemeni Christians took leadership of the church, which had grown to more than 60 believers. Although Fatima had conflicting feelings about Ibrahim’s move, she knew it was best for their family. “I was sad, but in one sense I got rid of the problem,” she said.

After settling in the neighboring country, Ibrahim focused on two things: getting a job and praying that his wife and sons would come to know Jesus Christ. Using his business background, Ibrahim started working for a Muslim shopkeeper. And when he wasn’t working, he shared the gospel with Yemeni immigrants at the market. Over time, he led three Yemenis to faith in Christ, and after several months they started a house church.

Fatima, meanwhile, had begun taking English lessons from an American woman in Yemen who urged her to read the Scriptures in order to learn something about her husband’s religion. The more Fatima compared Jesus’ lessons on love, forgiveness and mercy with the Quran’s teachings on revenge, the more she was drawn to God’s Word. She considered becoming a Christian but feared her family would kill her. “I felt like I was breaking from and betraying my family,” she said, “and it was terrifying.”

Everything changed for Fatima one night in February 2010, however, when she dreamed about a man in white who reassured her with the words, “Do not be afraid.” She woke up trembling. Reasoning that the dream could have come only from God, Fatima prayed and accepted Christ as her savior, despite knowing the potential consequences. When she called Ibrahim to tell him the news, she was met with joyous cries of “hallelujah” through the tiny speaker in her phone. Fatima and the boys joined Ibrahim two months later.

“When my family came from Yemen, the question I asked myself was, ‘Are you ready to sacrifice your family for the sake of Jesus?’” Ibrahim said. “I told my wife there is a price to be paid if you follow Jesus.”

Enduring the Unthinkable

Ibrahim and Fatima struggled to raise their boys, Yousef and Omar, as Christians in a nation where Islam is the official state religion. Their only option was an Islamic education, and Yousef, their older son, felt increasing pressure to participate in Islamic prayers at school and return to Islam.

Ibrahim told Yousef’s teachers that as a Christian family they didn’t want their son praying Islamic prayers, but the teachers said he had no choice since it was an Islamic school. While it was difficult being the only believer his age in the school, Yousef tried to remain faithful to Jesus Christ.

Then, one morning in January, Yousef received a startling phone call. “Today is your birthday, and we don’t want you celebrating with unbelievers,” the caller said menacingly. Thinking his friends were playing a prank on his 17th birthday, Yousef laughed it off, said goodbye to his mother and left for school.

Around noon, Fatima received a voice message from Yousef ’s number. “We killed your son and we will kill you, too,” a man said. Ibrahim and Fatima rushed to the school, but Yousef wasn’t there. They then went to the police, fearing the worst for their son. “I was saying to the Lord, ‘I trust You, but this is really hard for me to bear,’” Ibrahim recalled. “When I was encouraging Fatima to calm down, I myself was not able to do it.”

Fatima felt hopeless. “I was just thinking, ‘Give me my son’s body,’” she said. Hours after receiving the voice message that her son had been killed, intense doubts crowded Fatima’s mind and she wondered if Allah had punished her for leaving Islam. Sobbing, she stopped herself. “No!” she cried out, falling to her knees. As she prayed for God’s help, she felt His peace wash over her. For the first time, she felt as if He was in control.

That evening at about 6 p.m., Fatima received a call from Yemen. “Mom, I am here,” Yousef said. “What I am telling you is the truth.”

“I just cried,” Fatima said. “I had wanted my son’s dead body and then he was alive.”

Extremists had kidnapped Yousef and flown him to Yemen, where his captors beat him and threatened to hunt down his family if he didn’t return to Islam. They held him there for three days until, terrified, Yousef agreed. The extremists then let him go, on the condition that charges against one of Yousef’s friends, who had been arrested for informing the extremists about Yousef, were dropped.

Wary of further Islamist attacks, Ibrahim, Fatima and their younger son, Omar, fled to a country in Africa, and Yousef joined them a few weeks later.

New Purpose

Ibrahim and his family struggled during their first months in the new country. They didn’t know anyone; they didn’t speak the language; they had trouble finding jobs; and they had no money. And adding to those difficulties was Yousef’s resentment toward his father, whom he blamed for his suffering at the hands of the extremists.

“It was the hardest two months I’ve been through,” Ibrahim said.

Without the ability to fellowship with others, the family started their own church. Every Thursday, they ate lunch together, read the Bible and worshiped the God who had brought them through so much, trusting He continued to have a purpose for them.

As Ibrahim’s visa approached expiration, he applied for refugee status, which he was later granted. During the process, he met other Yemeni refugees. “I said, ‘Thank you, Lord. Now I understand why you sent me here,’” he recalled. Ibrahim’s family church soon grew into a house church, as some Yemeni and even a handful of Sudanese refugees began to join their Arabic worship services.

Ibrahim’s family has, at times, experienced great need of provision from the Lord. They have often seen Him provide through the body of Christ and frequently share whatever they have with other believers. “Everything is from God,” Ibrahim said. “I knew I was working with Jesus and He would provide.”

Ibrahim’s church labors faithfully among Yemeni refugees, meeting their needs, witnessing for Christ and distributing Bibles.

Today, one room in Ibrahim’s house serves as storage for food items, which he distributes to 50 refugee families on a weekly basis. The ministry also pays school fees for 20 refugee children and distributes Bibles and memory cards loaded with digital Bibles and Christian literature. In addition, Ibrahim takes great pride in a Yemeni youth soccer team that he provided with uniforms and equipment as an outreach to Muslims. “The purpose for all of this is for Jesus to be glorified,” Ibrahim said. “We want to show them that we are their brothers and sisters, that we are Christians and we love them. We want to show them love.”

But not everyone is grateful. When Ibrahim started paying students’ school fees, some Yemenis grew angry, claiming he was trying to lure children away from Islam. “They accept the help because they are desperate,” he said, “but the Muslims who are fanatical are a source of headache for us. They accuse us of giving food just so people will change their faith.”

Thinking Bigger

Since 2013, Ibrahim’s ministry team has baptized 13 Yemenis, and they expect to baptize three more soon.

Yemenis have scattered throughout the world since the outbreak of civil war in 2015, and Ibrahim has since begun reaching out to Yemeni refugees in many nations. Supported by a team of six workers, he also helps plant churches in these communities and visits them when possible.

In 2018, Ibrahim’s son Yousef joined his ministry, serving Yemeni refugees and helping plant churches. Yousef, now in his twenties, earned a degree in biblical studies and is now studying social media and video so he can use those tools to better share the gospel and promote the church’s events.

Ibrahim sees this as a “time of harvest” among refugees, especially those from Yemen. He said he has never seen an openness to the gospel like what has occurred since the outbreak of civil war. “It is sad that there is a war in Yemen,” he said, “but there is another side to it that I am happy about. This war really shook Islam, the Quran and all these things. [Now] it is not difficult to tell somebody about Jesus. I am convinced this is a time not to keep silent. It is time to talk, to be active.”

Until he can return to Yemen safely, Ibrahim will continue pursuing Yemeni refugees with the gospel and the love of Christ wherever he can find them, even if he and his family face persecution along the way.

Son of Yemeni Convert Kidnapped by Islamic Extremists
Categories: Stories from the Field

Get more stories like Son of Yemeni Convert Kidnapped by Islamic Extremists with a subscription to VOM's Award Winning Magazine

Claim Your Free Subscription