Select Page

Growing up as a devout Muslim in Ethiopia, a country often thought of as a Christian-majority nation, Jemal despised followers of Jesus Christ.

He eagerly debated Christians, smugly pointing out what he considered biblical fallacies. He trapped Christian students with controversial questions about the Scriptures, causing them to doubt their faith and pointing to the Koran as the source of ultimate truth.

In eighth grade, he even taught other

Muslim students how to draw Christian
converts back to Islam.

When Jemal was in high school, he met a former Muslim named Yonas who travelled throughout the area sharing the Gospel with Islamic leaders. Whenever Yonas was in town, Jemal would debate him and ask him questions about the Christian faith.

Over time, Yonas’s answers began to make sense to Jemal. “I learned from Yonas and the Bible about Christ,” he said.

“Also, I was looking in the Koran. When I compared them, I started to leave the Koran and gradually started to love the Bible.”

TESTED FAITH

Jemal shared what Yonas had taught him about Jesus and the Scriptures with local sheikhs and imams, hoping they could debunk Yonas’s claims. But surprisingly, they had no answers. They merely warned him about the dangers of meeting with a Christian who was trying to trap him.

For several years, Jemal read his Bible and met with Yonas in secret. Then, when he turned 20, he decided it was time to place his faith in Christ. “It took many years to decide,” Jemal said. “I was afraid to come to church and talk about Christ because if [Islamists] heard and knew I converted to Christianity, immediately they would shoot me.”

Eventually, Jemal’s family began to notice changes in his character. When his father learned about his meetings with Yonas, he gathered the rest of the family to confront Jemal.

“Are you a penti?” one of his family members asked, using the derogatory term for a biblical Christian. “I am,” Jemal replied.

With their father’s approval, Jemal’s brothers and some other men from the village beat and tortured Jemal in an attempt to persuade him to return to Islam. But Jemal’s love for Jesus, which had been growing for years, sustained him through the persecution.

“I would rather die than deny Jesus,” he told his brothers.

HUNTED BY RADICALS

Realising his son wasn’t going to return to Islam, Jemal’s father called off the beatings. He told Jemal that he wanted to kill him but didn’t want to be arrested for it. So instead, he ordered Jemal’s brothers to gather his possessions and burn them. Then he told Jemal he never wanted to see him again.

“If I see you,” his father told him, “I will burn you alive.”

Jemal fled to another town, where Yonas had prepared a small room for him at his church. Yonas welcomed him as a brother. “If I have something to eat, you can have it,” Yonas told him. “If I don’t, we can pray for something.”

Eventually, Jemal entered a training programme for Christian converts from Islam and soon began full-time ministry work. After completing his training, Jemal married and returned to the town where he had previously lived. However the persecution wasn’t over.

In 2017, Jemal’s father sent a mob of young radical Muslims to hunt him down and kill him. Although the mob was unable to find Jemal and his wife, they found their house and burned it to the ground.

Following the arson attack, a Christian organisation in Ethiopia petitioned to have a new home built for Jemal so that he could live and serve among them, and also so his father couldn’t find him. With assistance from VOM, Jemal and his wife received a new home. “Praise God for the support you have given me,” he said.

TRUSTING IN JESUS

Jemal said he has heard that his father and brothers are still trying to find him, but he hasn’t talked to his family since the attack. “They won’t give me a chance just to sit together so I could tell them about Christ,” said Jemal, now 27. “But they know that the Lord has helped me and has stood beside me.”

Jemal said the Lord has helped him see his enemies in a new light; he refuses to hate them. “Even though they were hating me and they are still trying to kill me,” he said, “something in my inner being said, ‘Love.’ God has another reward for me. My portion is just to love them and reach out to these people.”

Jemal said he takes special encouragement from 2 Corinthians 4:8–9, which he read to VOM workers from his Bible: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Paraphrasing verse 10, he continued, “We always carry in our body the death of Jesus, so the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body.”

Although Jemal lost his family, home, land and belongings, he said Jesus is worth it. He said he hopes God will use his new life for His glory.

“The first thing that I’ve got is eternal life,” Jemal said.

“Even now, if they are coming to kill me, to behead me, I’ll give myself for the sake of Christ. If Muslims – after they saw that I was beheaded for the sake of Christ – believe through that, it is worth it to give my life to Christ.”