Because persecution in Somalia is so severe, it is estimated that as little as 550 Christians are currently part of the underground Church in Somalia.
The Christian community of Somalia is one of the most persecuted and secretive populations in the world. Because of intense levels of persecution, it is estimated that the numbers of Christians in Somalia may be as little as 550 individuals. Most are forced to worship at clandestine Bible studies conducted at the homes of other believers. Living in a failed state and in a society that is openly hostile towards Christians, underground churches are in desperate need of educated leaders, Bibles in the Somali language and other basic Christian resources.
Christian Persecution in Somalia
In 1991, Somalia’s government collapsed. The power vacuum that followed created the failed state that exists today. This vacuum was especially troublesome for Christians because it allowed Islamic extremist groups to gain control over much of Somalia. In 2006, al-Shabaab, the Islamic terrorist group, took control of most of Southern Somalia, including the capital of Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab imposes a strict version of Islamic law (Sharia) over the people it rules, including Christians.
According to al-Shabaab, all people who are ethnically Somali are by default Muslim. Anyone who is not Muslim is therefore persecuted and punished. Because of this persecution, underground churches in Somalia had to retreat even further underground or flee Somalia altogether. “Being Muslim is part of the Somali culture,” an ICC contact said. “When you are no longer Muslim, you become an infidel and, according to [al-Shabaab’s] teachings, you are to be killed. To become Christian is very difficult because you have to separate yourself from everything—your family, your friends and your culture—or risk being killed.”
Need for Trained Leadership
This intense persecution has left the Somali underground church needy. Among the most important needs of the underground church is that of trained leadership. Many fellowships are led only by lay pastors. This lack of trained leadership is a legacy of al-Shabaab’s campaign to wipe out everything it considers “un-Islamic.” Scores of leaders have been killed in the last decade.
Missionary work within Somalia is also very difficult. Not only does al-Shabaab oppose any sort of Christian evangelism, the Transitional National Government (TNG), backed by the United Nations, is opposed to Christian evangelism as well. This is evidenced by Article 29 of the proposed constitution. It reads:
“Every person shall have the right to freedom of conscience and freely to profess his own religion and to worship it subject to any limitations which may be prescribed by law for the purpose of safeguarding morals, public health or order. However, it shall not be permissible to spread or propagandize any religion other than the religion of Islam.”
With Christian evangelism illegal both formally (by the TNG) and informally (by al-Shabaab), Christian leaders in Somalia have very little resources for training.
Missions to Somali Christians
There is something being done to assist to growth of the underground Church in Somalia. ICC supports two ministries that are focused on bringing the Gospel to Christians in Somalia and on training Christian leaders.
ICC is working within Somalia itself. However, since this is a public newsletter, it is too risky to share what we do.
ICC also supports Christian radio/internet broadcasts in the Somali language. These broadcasts not only reach Christians living in Somalia, but also the millions of Somalis that have fled the country due to civil war and famine. A recent convert from Mogadishu said, “[Through this ministry] I am able to read the Bible. Someday I would like to be well-known for spreading Christianity [in Somalia].”
Although small and secretive, the underground Church in Somalia should be counted among the most resilient Christian populations. Praying for Somali Christians is a good place to start helping for anyone looking to get involved. The next step is supporting ministries that reach out to this highly persecuted group willing to risk their lives to follow Jesus Christ.