By Suzanne See
To serve well in the Arab world, we need to understand the regional politics and recent history. With the more obvious conflicts in Syria and Iraq, we may easily overlook another very significant and somewhat complex battle currently raging in the Arabian Peninsula. Though the death tolls may be somewhat smaller than Syria’s, their significance in the eyes of their Creator is no less great. Understanding the conflict in Yemen is to understand an issue of great concern to the Lord. It will also help the ministry among Muslims greatly, as Yemen’s war is a microcosm of the conflicts raging across the region.
YEMEN’S CONTINENTAL CONGRESS
Before the Arab Spring, Yemen, much like Syria and Iraq, was home to a lengthy dictatorship. President Ali Abdullah Saleh had been ruling for over 30 years. Over the course of those years, he had frequently bombed and contained the Houthis (a Shia group in the North of the country) and had survived a civil war with the South. In exchange for favors from the U.S., he had also contained Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But, he was also verifiably corrupt.
When the Arab Spring broke out, the people of Yemen valiantly protested and drove Saleh from power. His Vice President, Mansour Hadi, took the helm while the country engaged in a “national dialogue.” President Obama deemed Yemen the model of the Middle East because of the “Continental Congress” flavor of the dialogues. It looked like the modern-day Yemeni Washingtons and Jeffersons hashing out a representative government. Unfortunately, the dialogues went on too long. Eventually, the Houthis pushed southward and took over the capital, Sanaa.
The Houthis are a Shia group and favorable to Iran. Their rise to power in Yemen deeply troubled Yemen’s northern Sunni neighbor, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In response, the Saudis began an attempt to crush the Houthis and reinstate Hadi as president of Yemen. As an observer, we must note that the Saudis (an American ally) are not being careful when they bomb and that hitting only Houthis is virtually impossible in a country so complex. Over 10,000 people have died as a result of the Saudi bombs and city sieges – thousands and thousands of innocent civilians, including many, many children.
Under the unifying experience of being bombed by an outside country, the old dictator Saleh has crafted an odd alliance with his historic foes, the Houthis. Saleh and the Houthis are now united and at war with the Saudis. The thousands who participated in the Arab Spring, dreaming of a representative democracy, are now hunkered down in their homes just hoping not to be bombed.
HOW TO BUY PEACE
Even if someone surrenders, Yemen has the longest road imaginable to truly achieving peace. There’s a brewing North-South conflict, a rift which never truly healed after a civil war in the 90s. AQAP and ISIS have made themselves at home. And various historic political parties and tribal groups still harbor old grudges.
On top of all of the power-grabbing, even before this horrific war, Yemen was home to every single humanitarian crisis you can imagine: a decimated infrastructure, land mines, water shortages, narcotic addictions, child marriage, malnutrition, lack of education, lack of adequate medical care, and the list goes on and on. To address these enormous social and environmental problems, Yemen desperately needs aid and the leadership to steward that aid into fruitful solutions.
Can you imagine a country more in need of good, unified leadership than Yemen? And yet, can you imagine a country with less hope for it?
If we look with human eyes, Yemen seems hopeless. Even if we poured billions of dollars into Yemen, we can’t buy peace among hate-filled hearts.
But, isn’t buying peace for hate-filled hearts just exactly what Jesus did for Yemenis? “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in Heaven, by making PEACE through His blood, shed on the cross.” (Col. 1:19-23)
Deep in the heart of Yemen lives Yemen’s breathing hope, the body of Christ. Purchased Peace rules in their hearts. They love, yet, they are hated. In fact, the only thing the Houthis, Saudis, AQAP, ISIS and other factions agree upon is that Christians deserve death. They are persecuted, pursued, and driven away by the darkness that doesn’t understand them. And yet, they shine. They can’t help it. After all, no one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. And like yeast quietly working its way through the dough, they grow and change the consistency of everything around them. They make Yemen rise.
WHAT CAN THE SEMINARIAN DO FOR YEMEN?
When God brings Yemen to your mind, let your thoughts immediately rest on your Yemeni brothers and sisters. May you pray for them as you would your own flesh and blood, because they are the flesh and blood of Jesus. As you read your Bible, pray passages over them. Pray also for their thousands of Muslim neighbors’ hearts to soften towards them and towards the Prince of their Peace. Pray along with a community of us who pray regularly for Yemen by registering at 7600feet.com and following @7600Feet on Twitter. To learn more about Yemenis and pray along with us, use this guide: We Walk Afraid.
And as you pray for them consider this. Think also of how hungry they must be for more discipleship. I recall a conversation with one Arab brother who asked me hopefully if I could use the internet to print articles about church history for him. He explained that as a Muslim, Islamic history had been an important way of understanding himself and his religion. But, now a member of our body, he wanted Church history, so that he could understand His new history. And think also of this – The war and persecution have left Yemeni believers isolated and alone. When you consider the wealth of what He is surely bestowing upon them, the depth of faith wrought by the oceans of doubt that surround them, don’t you want to sit at their feet and learn? How much they have to offer to us!
As we pray, let’s ask the Lord how we can dip into our vast reservoirs of Bible training, theological thinking, and spiritual encouragement to offer to them richly whatever the Lord has given to us in the global church. The Yemeni church is hungry for training and teaching and the larger Arab church is mature and prepared to offer it to them! Let us pray that the Lord will raise up and train many Arab Christians to rush in and offer such teaching as soon as they are able. And as we pray, we ought also to work to ensure that they have every Arabic resource at their disposal.
Suzanne See and her family have served as missionaries in the Middle East. She holds a master’s degree in History and Systematic Theology from Wheaton College.