Hameedullah* works as a church leader in a country known for intense persecution of Christians.
When he was young, he lived illegally as a refugee in a Muslim country that didn’t want him or his religion, whose people are always looking out for non-Islamic activity. He even faced scrutiny from members of his own family, some of whom became radicalised and were recruited into terrorist networks.
Hameedullah grew up in the foothills of a mountain range, not far from the border with the country of his birth. He lived in a refugee village.
Both his parents converted to Christianity through meeting a Christian midwife. She showed them compassion and sensitivity, dealing with their physical and emotional needs as they settled into a new and hostile culture.
“We were in a foreign land that would never really be home,” Hameedullah says. “People spat at us and cursed us for coming to their country and living off the ‘blessings of their land’. We were thankful their government opened their borders to us. But the people were not comfortable with our language, our temperament and our ways.”
Baba Jani* – Hameedullah’s father – was given a copy of the Bible by the midwife. He didn’t know how to read so the midwife sent him to literacy classes.
“He was taught by Christians and noticed how they treated each other and worked together. He liked it and felt that’s how life should be. He and my mother were baptised. Naturally, I became a believer in Christianity too,” says Hameedullah.
Faith comes easy to children in the part of the Muslim world where Hameedullah grew up, but his faith was different from the majority of others in the refugee camp; some of his family joined extremist organisations and became terrorists.
Life was a constant struggle, keeping his faith hidden and hoping people didn’t notice some of the choices he made in the camp. He refused to marry more than one wife, refrained from readily-available drugs, and did not steal or engage in fraudulent behaviour.
“I was born a refugee so was often in turmoil about my identity,” he says. “But I did not want to break the law. I believed that the Jesus of the Bible stories we heard wanted us to act differently from the depravity and confusion that was considered normal and acceptable around us.”
Hameedullah met Qareem*, a missionary. Qareem’s life made Hameedullah think about telling others about his faith too, though he felt afraid about what might happen to him.
Ten years later Qareem was kidnapped and is still missing. Hameedullah says he thinks he was killed for evangelising in a place where people kill those who convert from Islam to Christianity.
“When brother Qareem disappeared, the fellowship group of secret believers was at severe risk and so we dispersed,” says Hameedullah.
He mourned the loss of his friend but longed to help other secret believers.
“They were languishing in loneliness, isolation and spiritual hunger. I joined an underground Christian organisation, helping it distribute Christian literature and translating their work. Often I went into the mountains of my homeland and explained Christianity to others who had converted too,” Hameedullah says. “Qareem’s death changed my life. I became an evangelist, just as he wanted me to be.”
As a pastor working in secret he helps thousands of Christians in a country that refuses to believe that Christians even exist. He trains other Christians to evangelise and care for new believers.
“Many of our lay-workers and young pastoral-care workers are involved in taking care of the widows and families of Christians killed because of their faith, or teaching in schools to influence young lives and minds. They are faithful and need the prayers of the global Church,” he says.
Hameedullah fears for his own safety, and also for that of young people tempted by radicalisation.
“Many of our children are recruited by extremist organisations, or become addicted to drugs. We are vulnerable to those who watch for non-Islamic activities and are willing to report to the authorities. This is how Qareem was found out by an extremist organisation and taken away from us,” he says.
*All names have been changed for security reasons.