Sometimes the death threat came as a text message.
Other times, it was a phone call.
But the message was always the same:
They are searching for you and will find you soon.
You are dead.
Your days are numbered.
We know what you are doing; stop it now before it is too late.
Saleh* was used to the risk of death for his faith. Because of his Christian ministry, Saleh’s name is on the “wanted” list of extremists in Yemen (ranked No. 5 on the 2024 World Watch List
). The authorities would actually grant a reward to anyone who is able to hand him. Being hunted was nothing new.
“The authorities have my photo and my name,” he explains. “I usually do not move around much and I do not roam the streets freely at night. I try to be as wise as possible when traveling for ministry.”
But this time, the threats were different. Saleh knew he was in real danger, and he’d been in hiding for two months. His family was urging him to leave the country. The authorities had his friends in custody—and their phones, with Saleh’s contact information.
What was he going to do?
Dreams and a purpose
Of course, Saleh has not always been on Yemen’s most wanted list. He wasn’t even born into a Christian family.
His parents weren’t very religious or strict and his childhood was spent growing up in an essentially secular home. Saleh’s interest in Christianity began when he was studying in a city away from his hometown. He was afraid of how his family would respond to his newfound curiosity. But when he mustered up the courage to talk to his father about his interest in Christianity, he discovered his father was already a follower of Christ—and was ready to help him answer all the questions he had! His father had hidden his faith from his son, a common practice in the region, where parents can be endangered if their children disclose any faith outside of Islam.
Later that year, Saleh accepted Jesus as his Savior and decided to follow Him.
Watch Saleh's story:
As a teenager, Saleh had a recurring dream where he is singing on a stage and people are applauding. He didn’t understand the dream until after he became a Christian. When Saleh started attending church meetings, he discovered that his father was a songwriter of worship songs. Now that they were both followers of Jesus, Saleh and his father decided to record a CD together. The album consisted of 13 tracks, all written by Saleh’s father and sung by Saleh.
Saleh realized this was the meaning of his dream: he would use his talents to sing for Jesus! And so began his calling as a church leader in Yemen.
‘Crazy guys’ in Yemen
Saleh and his ministry partner, Fawzi, were referred to as “the crazy guys” in their hometown. They would regularly evangelize in front of their local mosque, a dangerous activity in Yemen. As time went on, they expanded their outreach and ventured outside of their hometown, visiting various places around the country to spread the message of Jesus and salvation.
But persecution for this kind of boldness is inevitable in a country like Yemen. The pressure initially started within their hometown. Saleh and Fawzi were interrogated and accused of apostasy—a charge which can carry the death penalty in Yemen.
However, Saleh’s larger family, his tribe, had his back. And in Yemen, that sometimes matters more than anything. Loyalty to the tribal bloodline is one of the most important things in Yemeni culture. Although many people in his tribal group disliked the activities of Saleh and his fellow Christians, they were hesitant to confront them directly and often helped them out in tough situations.
"I thank God for online meetings ..."
As Saleh and Fawzi journeyed throughout the country, this often led to surprising encounters. “As new believers and potential future leaders, we got the opportunity to attend essential trainings and workshops outside Yemen, [some run by Open Doors partners],” Saleh says. “The trainings promised to equip us with the necessary tools for our ministry and help us delve deeper into the Bible.”
One day, at the airport, as Saleh prepared himself for to travel to one of these training seminars, he found himself under arrest. “A wave of confusion and disbelief crashed over me as I was led away to a stark room for questioning,” he remembers. “The authorities were relentless, searching for answers.
[They asked:] Why was I attempting to leave the country? What secrets did I hold? Did I have any relationships with the ‘West’? To my surprise however, rather than detaining me, these agents made a proposition. In their pursuit of security, they sought to enlist me in their ranks. They believed me to be a valuable asset.”
Saleh refused. He apologetically declined their job offer and said: “I am but a humble farmer. My heart yearns for a simple life; I have nothing to do with the world of military and security. This industry is not for me.”
After that incident, Saleh remained in Yemen and proceeded to attend online trainings and discipleship meetings. “I thank God for online meetings which were sometimes the only alternative for us getting trained and equipped,” he says. Saleh’s desire was to serve a higher purpose—a divine calling that could not be compromised.
A person who ‘knows Jesus’
Saleh did eventually have to flee Yemen—but it was because of the war, not because of persecution. He rubs his hands together slowly, lost in thought as he remembers the days of the beginning of the Yemeni civil war
. “When the house right next to ours was struck by a missile, the pressure from the impact caused all our windows to shatter; yet miraculously, no one was harmed,” he says. “A few days later, our water tank on the roof was hit by another missile, and again, astonishingly, we survived. But this time, we decided that it was time for us to leave and relocate to the city.”
Eventually, he made his way on a ship to a neighboring country. Once he arrived, Saleh stayed in a camp with numerous other Yemeni refugees. There, he spoke openly about Jesus and many people came to Christ.
"What kind of Christians we would be if weren’t risking our life for others to know Life?”
“I became known as the person ‘who knows Jesus,’” he says. “People were interested to speak, listen and debate with me. We would converse for hours. There were some deep conversations and many people there came to know Christ as their Savior. Eventually, I encouraged those who believed to go back to Yemen and serve there.”
Yemen was always in Saleh’s heart and on his mind. He loved his native land—which was now known around the world as a place of profound sadness and despair. And he began to ask God how he could continue to reach Yemen for Jesus.
Saleh decided to start a house church network in Yemen. It was time to pastor and start a community, something that most Christians in Yemen lack. Seventy percent of believers in Yemen do not (or cannot) meet regularly, either for security reasons or because they do not know of other Christians. House churches are the only way to have Christian fellowship in Yemen.
In a country crippled by war and extremism, starting a church is different than many other regions. To start a church in such a community means motivating people to meet—it means finding a safe place, helping others overcome their fear of meeting others and building trust among members. It means helping believers recognize the value and the joy of fellowship as one body of Christ.
“We started a church in a ‘safer’ area in Yemen where leaders could come together, study the Bible, pray, get encouraged, get trained and be launched into ministry,” Saleh says. As Saleh knew, any kind of work for Jesus in Yemen carries a risk, but Saleh still says it’s worth it.
“If we sit at home and do nothing, we would be safe,” he says. “But what kind of Christians we would be if weren’t risking our life for others to know Life?”
Saleh began traveling from his home to Yemen, going back and forth to establish and strengthen the church in Yemen. And that’s how his ministry continued.
And that’s why he found himself in hiding in Yemen, getting death threats on his phone.
In hiding in Yemen
Saleh’s brother, Issam, and Mussa—who Saleh regards as his “spiritual son” that he led to Jesus when he’d fled Yemen—both served with Saleh in the house church.
In 2022, a new group of Yemeni believers asked to be baptized. Issam and Mussa decided to go visit, disciple and then baptize the Christians. However, Saleh had his doubts about this trip.
Despite his misgivings, Saleh didn’t stop Mussa and Issam from following God’s call to spread His Word across the country. Because of Saleh’s notoriety with the Yemeni authorities, both Issam and Mussa preferred to go alone. “I was in constant contact with [Issam and Mussa] throughout the entire journey,” he says. “I actually wanted to join them, but they didn’t let me. They told me that I’m more of a danger for them than a help.”
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As Issam and Mussa ventured off to serve their new brothers and sisters, a surprise awaited them. “It wasn’t until the last day of training when they decided to go to a nearby seaside city for the baptism,” Saleh remembers. “They messaged me, telling me they had boarded the bus and were en route. After that text, I lost all communication with them.”
Saleh sensed something bad had happened. Even now, after more than a year, Saleh’s eyes fills with tears as he remembers that day. He can barely continue his sentences, and he looks down. “I felt guilty,” he says. “I was the one who encouraged them to go. Why did I let them go?”
The police had boarded the bus and arrested Issam and Mussa. They took away their mobile phones and identity cards, blindfolded them and took them to prison. The two men couldn’t contact anyone.
“After [Mussa and Issam] stopped responding to my messages and calls, I informed my father and sister, and together we initiated a search,” Saleh says. “Each of us reached out to various individuals, hoping to find anything related to them and their whereabouts.”
The family eventually discovered that Issam and Mussa had been arrested for apostasy and for their Christian activities. The local authorities tried to keep the arrest quiet, planning to get rid of them without making a scene. When Saleh learned about the arrest, his whole household along with the church community started fasting and praying for the safe return of the two men.
For Christians in Yemen who have converted from Islam, such incidents are common. They are arrested, interrogated, threatened, imprisoned and even killed for practicing their faith—let alone for preaching and baptizing others in the name of Jesus. So while Issam’s and Mussa’s arrest was unsurprising, it also drove the Christian community to their knees in prayer. It’s what they know to do when the situation seems hopeless, and they yearned for the release of their brothers who had been so courageous in the midst of pressure.
When a man from the church heard the news, he came to Saleh and asked if he could be imprisoned in place of either Issam or Mussa. “The man wanted them to be out of prison to continue their ministry!” Saleh remembers. “He volunteered to be imprisoned instead of them! This request was very shocking yet encouraging for me. It showed me how united we are in Christ and how His love brings us together.”
"It was during those dark times when I felt God’s presence with me."
Since the authorities had Issam and Mussa’s mobile phones, they could gather information such as names and numbers of many other believers. Saleh worried that others might be also caught and taken for questioning—including Saleh. Because of this, Saleh’s family urged him to leave Yemen. Everyone knew it was dangerous for him to stay.
Saleh and other members of the church discovered that their names had been distributed across the country and being caught at a checkpoint was very probable. Saleh was torn. “I was battling with my own thoughts,” he says now. “’What shall I do? If I run away, what kind of example will I be setting for the church?’ My family wanted me to leave Yemen. However, I couldn’t leave the church and walk away. Especially in such a situation. I acted as if I was not afraid, but deep down, I was. I was encouraging the Christians to be strong and courageous, reminding them that we knew this would happen to us once we chose to follow Jesus. It was our time to be good witnesses.”
For two months, Saleh hid in a safe house in Yemen. His brother and Mussa were in prison and he was trying his best to get them out, especially since they hadn’t done anything wrong. “Those were indeed difficult days for me,” Saleh remembers. “I cried in my room for hours. There were days when I was hopeful and strong and other times when I felt weak, guilty and depressed. It was during those dark times when I felt God’s presence with me. In those tough moments, I would receive a call from someone and they would pray for me, or I would receive text messages from brothers and sisters from the global Church, encouraging me that they were praying with us and for us.”
God used His Church to shine into Saleh’s dark moments. This rollercoaster of good and bad days matured Saleh’s relationship with Jesus. And after approximately eight weeks, God answered these prayers when Issam and Mussa were miraculously released from jail.
“God did a miracle,” Saleh says. “He changed the heart of a person of influence who initially wanted [Issam and Mussa] dead. This man eventually helped them to get out of jail! It was after they were freed that I realized why God allowed all this to happen. Issam and Mussa continued their ministry inside the prison and God brought several prisoners to Him through them. That is when I personally experienced how God turns bad situations into good ones, according to His perfect will.”
‘I hope … there will be Christians in every corner of [Yemen]’
Eventually, the danger subsided and Saleh was able to return to his home outside Yemen. But even now, Saleh continues to travel into Yemen and other countries where the Yemeni diaspora reside. He travels to disciple, to teach, to encourage, to listen, to help and to pastor. “The church in Yemen is living in very harsh conditions but is growing nonetheless!” he says. He knows how dangerous it is to return to Yemen—but he sees what God is doing in his home country.
He even sees the war as another way that God can redeem bad situations. “Extremists make our ministry easier!” he says. “Because of them, people reject and are horrified by what is being done in the name of ‘religion.’ They start searching for the truth and we are there to tell them about it! We are there to show them God’s love and mercy. We witnessed a wave of people coming to Christ since 2014 [the start of the Yemeni Civil War]. Of course, we don’t want war and violence, but the church has learned to surrender to God. We have seen how we can bring our concerns to God and that He always provides.”
Saleh’s vision is broader than his own church network. “I hope that soon there will be Christians in every corner of the country, that Christians in every village and city will go out to share the gospel in word and deed,” he says. “My dream goes further than the borders of Yemen; I pray to see the church spreading from Yemen to the outside, to parts of Africa, and to the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.”
Saleh currently serves about 70 families in Yemen. With the help of Open Doors partners, he is able to provide meeting spaces for Christians, provide medical help and transportation, give out food packages, conduct baptisms, train leaders and help set up essential trainings, including trauma, persecution preparedness and discipleship.
“We are grateful for your support,” he says to Open Doors supporters. “Without these resources we won't be able to grow and to serve the church in Yemen. Your prayers are important and uplifting to us, giving us strength and encouragement to keep going.”
Don’t expect the ongoing risk to keep Saleh from following God’s calling. Whether facing a dangerous war, airport interrogations, or death threats on his cell phones, Salah will continue to follow the path of Jesus. “I’m usually nicknamed the ‘madman,’ for [Yemeni Christians] know of all the threats I receive and the things that happen to me,” he says. “All these incidents renew my determination and encouragement to proclaim the message of Christ in Yemen. We need brave servants to proclaim the message of God in this country.”
Open Doors partners help Christians in Yemen through prayer campaigns, food and medical aid, rental assistance for house churches, discipleship and leadership training, and more. Your gift today can help Christians like Saleh as they seek to be salt and light in the places around the world where it's hardest to follow Jesus.