Yemeni Christians: Suffering Is 'Our Reality'
Yemen is the Arab world's poorest country. With the majority of the Yemini people following Islam, the tiny Christian community there is under constant threat.
"Life for Christians in Yemen is very hard," a Yemini Christian named Sam told CBN News. "For that matter, across the Middle East, there's not a country where Christians are not suffering for their faith. This is our reality."
CBN News blurred his face and changed his name and his voice to protect his identity.
Sam was a Muslim, but he converted to Christianity. CBN News met him at an undisclosed location off the coast of North Africa. In an exclusive interview, he said if authorities discovered his real identity, he could be arrested or killed.
"All Christians in Yemen are from a Muslim background," he continued. "According to Islamic Sharia law, it is forbidden for Muslims to convert to Christianity."
Yemen's constitution provides for religious freedom, but Sam said it's a farce.
"The government says there is religious freedom, but that is not true," he continued. "Christians are routinely harassed. They face daily struggle and persecution, first from their family members; then from the government."
Some 25 million people live in Yemen. The majority follow the Sunni branch of Islam. No one knows for sure how many, but it's estimated there are a few thousand secret Christians.
Dr. David Curry is with Open Doors, a group that monitors religious freedom around the world. Every year, the group publishes a list of countries in which Christians face the most persecution.
"Can you believe in the 21st century it is impossible for any Christian in Yemen to own a Bible?" Curry told CBN News. "There aren't a lot of good options right now for Christians in Yemen. It's already 14th on the World Watch Open Doors ranking of the most difficult places for Christians."
Curry said this latest crisis involving Saudi Arabia and Iran will only make it worse for Christians there.
"They are caught between the ideologies of Iran and Saudi Arabia, neither of which allow the free expression of Christian faith," he said.
The Saudis, with support from 10 countries, have started bombing Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. The tension between the two countries has been in the making for years.
Saudi Arabia, the leading Sunni power, and Iran, the leading Shia power, are struggling against each other for influence in the Middle East. And now that fight is playing out in the desert sands of Yemen.
"Yemen has never had a stable government and this makes it an ideal place for terrorists to breed chaos," Sam explained.
Yemen is the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. Bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north and the Red Sea to the west, Yemen has become a breeding ground for radical Islam. Several terrorist groups, including al Qaeda and ISIS, have found safe haven.
"It's unfortunate, but they are playing with the souls of people. The simple Yemeni citizen doesn't want these groups with their Islamic agendas to influence the country. What ends up being destroyed is people's lives and businesses," Sam said.
He asks he world to pray for his country, especially for the secret believers who are standing in the gap in prayer for their nation.
"The message of Christ is touching hearts through television, the Internet and radio, and people are coming to Christ," Sam said. "This is our hope!"