|Written by Jewel Showalter|
|Thursday, 09 September 2010 13:58|
|MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin – Whether sipping tea with Muslim sheiks in Nairobi, Kenya, or teaching a class on peacemaking in North America, Ahmed Ali Haile seems equally at home.|
Born in Bulo Burti (Dusty Village) in central Somalia, Haile was the son of settled nomads. When he was 17, the Sudan Interior Mission hospital in his home town saved Haile from almost certain death from cerebral malaria.
The Bible stories he began reading during his recovery gripped his heart, and he was fascinated to discover new dimensions to stories he’d first discovered in the Qur’an.
“When I was memorizing the Qur’an as a young boy, the imam told me that Jesus did miracles,” he said. “That made me curious about Jesus. As I read the Bible I found that Jesus fulfilled the questions and spiritual yearnings I had as a Muslim.”
Haile became part of an emerging Somali believers’ fellowship that grew up around the SIM and Eastern Mennonite Missions’ (EMM) schools and hospitals during this politically tumultuous time. Eventually he made his way to Kenya and the U.S., where he graduated from Western Mennonite High School (Oregon), Goshen College (Indiana), Indiana State University, and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Indiana).
Missionary doctor Marc Erickson, who now leads Eastbrook Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, discipled Haile as a young believer in Somalia. Friendships like those continued to focus Haile’s passion and heart on his own Somali people – even as the country continued to unravel and plunge headlong into anarchy. Haile also met and married his wife, Martha, at Eastbrook Church.
After several stints back into Somalia and a second near-death experience where he lost his right leg in a rocket attack, in 1994 the Hailes accepted EMM’s invitation to teach and develop a Peace Studies curriculum at Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya.
In reflecting on the past 15 years in Nairobi, Haile said, “Our years in Nairobi were very good! We were perched on the edges of the high drama unfolding in Somalia. Yet from that perch were able to engage in the call of God to serve as ambassadors of the gospel of reconciliation.”
Although the Hailes’ primary assignment in Nairobi was teaching at Daystar University, a rapidly developing pan-Africa Christian university with several thousand students, their nearby home quickly became a hub for Somali friendships.
“We went through 50 kilos of sugar in a month,” Haile joked, as a steady stream of Somalis – many refugees from their deteriorating homeland – stopped for an ever-present cup of sweet, cardamom-laced Somali tea. In the midst of their open home, the Hailes parented three children, Afrah, Sofia, and Gedi. Martha taught church history at Daystar while Haile focused on peace studies and Islam.
The early believers’ fellowships Haile joined in Somalia and then later in Kenya had included only young men. More recently in Nairobi it was thrilling to see their friendship circles also include women and children.
“Families need a community to belong to,” Martha said. “I loved hearing the joyous voices of the children as part of the mix in our Nairobi home.”
He experienced the birth of the modern Somali church when the first believers were baptized in 1965, and has been part of the church ever since. “No matter what happens there, we must not forget Somalia,” Haile said.
And though admitting that the Somali church – like the country – has often been a fractured community he added, “We are a people redeemed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Other highlights of their time in East Africa included several retreats for Somali believers who came from more than a dozen countries. One such gathering included at least one person from each Somali clan.
“Something happened we had never witnessed before,” Haile said. “Persons representing each clan confessed their sins of hostility toward the other clans, and then prayed for forgiveness and reconciliation.”
At one gathering Somali believers asked forgiveness from EMM representatives for the killing of Merlin Grove, an EMM worker who had been stabbed to death in 1962 while registering students for English classes in Mogadishu.
“Heaven was touching earth as we shared in that marvelous gathering,” Haile said.
“We’re so grateful for the fifteen years God gave us in Nairobi to connect with the large Somali community.”
Although religious freedom does exist in Kenya, sharing the good news is not without risks. Haile frequently committed his life into God’s hands, remembering how God had raised him up from near death at least twice before.
“My life belongs to Christ,” he said. “Nothing that is outside his shepherding care can assail me. If my calling to be an ambassador of the gospel of reconciliation results in death, I am ready to accept that for the sake of Christ. I am captivated by the redemptive suffering love of Jesus on the cross. So death carries no fear for me.”
In the summer of 2009 when the Haile family left Nairobi for the U.S., they faced a different kind of threat – a cancer diagnosis for Haile.
But during the past year even as he faced severe health challenges and an uncertain future, Haile and Martha took time to minister to Somali communities in the United States.
In April 2010 they travelled to Kenya and Djibouti to say goodbye to the Somali fellowship and bring closure to their 15 years in East Africa.
Not knowing how long he has to live, Haile has also focused on writing his memoirs, calling on the help of his long-time friend and co-worker in Somali ministries, David W. Shenk.
“I want my testimony for Christ to continue among Muslims and the Somali people,” Haile said. “I want people to know that Jesus fulfilled the questions and spiritual yearnings I had as a Muslim. I will never speak critically of Islam because Islam prepared me to believe in Jesus Christ.”
“When I prayed and committed my life to Christ, I knew immediately that I had come home. Christ and the church are like a nomadic hut. The center pole is Jesus crucified and risen. The curved wooden ribbing is each one who believes. We meet one another at the top of the Center Pole, who holds us all together in fellowship and unity.
“The woven mat, the roof of the hut, is the grace of God in Christ that covers us all. I have never departed from this home. I have come from an Islamic Somali society and I know where I am going. Whether I live or die, I am at home in Christ.”
“Ahmed’s impact on Somalia and the Muslim world is profound, and cannot be measured,” Shenk said after he and his wife Grace completed a week’s worth of interviews with the Hailes. “It has been the highest privilege of our lives to help tell this wonderful story.”
His memoir, My Name is Ahmed: Ambassador of Peace within the World of Islam, is scheduled for release by Herald Press next summer.