In the Scandinavian country where they are growing up, many young Somalis encounter Jesus through their classmates and friends, according to long-term OM worker Bertil, who facilitates a global network of Somali believers. “We see some young people who are really coming up strong in the Lord,” he declared.
Manaar*, a 21-year-old Somali woman, first heard about Jesus from a classmate. Wanting to know more, she read the Bible, comparing it with the Qur’an. “In the Qur’an there is no love. In the Bible there is the love of Christ,” she concluded.
When Manaar became a believer, word quickly spread among her family and fundamentalist Islamic neighbourhood. Even an aunt living in the States got involved. “You’re a shame to the family. You must come back to Islam,” she wrote her niece.
Despite the pressure, Manaar didn’t budge. “Have you even read the Bible?” she challenged her family members. “Do you even know what you’re talking about? Have you read the Qur’an?” In fact, they had not read either book, so Manaar sent them electronic copies of both to study for themselves before chastising her.
Her mother, however, would not give up pressuring Manaar to return to Islam. She arranged for three men to speak to her daughter: a 25-year old Somali Muslim, a former Hindu-turned-Muslim, and a Swedish theologian who had also converted to Islam.
Manaar agreed to speak with the men on one condition—that her mother come with her to church. The mother accompanied her daughter to a service, but she was not impressed with the African congregation. Likewise, Manaar was not swayed by the arguments the three men proffered. “You don’t know the Qur’an and you don’t know the Bible. What are you talking about?” she argued.
Later, she overhead one of the men in the kitchen telling her mother, “This will be a hard nut to crack.”
Following the failed attempt with the three men, Manaar’s mother also asked the local Imam to speak to her daughter. Again, Manaar agreed with a condition: that the Imam join her at church.
“I think that’s exciting,” Bertil exclaimed. “She’s 21 years old and a really bold witness. God is doing great things.”
Ali*, a 21-year-old Somali man, met Jesus while trying to persuade other young people to follow Islam. When he was younger, Ali’s family—all practicing Muslims—immigrated to Scandinavia. In the small town where they settled, Ali discovered there were no Qur’anic classes, so he started a group, beginning with a few children and reaching up to 30 individuals.
“He was quite well known, and he was eager,” Bertil recounted. “He wanted to get people really to understand who God is.” Ali attended a local school and learnt the language, “but he tried to get his friends to understand Islam, to become Muslims,” Bertil said.
One day, Ali decided to visit the church down the street from his house. “This would be a good place to go and speak because they already believe in God,” he reasoned. So he went to the church and began having long discussions with people he met. Because he was extremely social, Bertil noted, he also made many friends. Ali attended youth meetings with his new friends, and, one night, found himself with raised hands during worship. Although he pulled his hands down as soon as he realised his posture, Ali continued listening to the speakers and started to believe in Jesus.
Soon, some of the Christian youth invited Ali to join them at a retreat over Easter weekend. Ali agreed and “started to grow more and more in his faith and belief,” Bertil described.
When people at the camp asked Ali if he would like to accept the Lord, he said, “Yes.” Ali returned from the camp as a believer, but for a while, he kept his faith hidden from his family. Nonetheless, rumors spread through the community that something had happened to him.
After meeting with a different group of young believers, including another Somali, Ali felt challenged to witness to his family. The next morning, he asked his father if they could talk. “You know, I’ve actually become a Christian,” he said.
“I suspected that,” his father responded. “Why?” Ali asked.
“Because I have to really work hard to get you out of bed every morning for school. But Sunday mornings, you’re up early, you wash, you get ready, you dress nicely, and then you disappear and don’t come back until evening.”
Although Ali’s father did not immediately challenge his son’s new faith, when his mother found out, Ali had to leave home. At first, he lived with a Christian family. Then, when that family needed to leave, Ali’s parents invited him home again, as long as he did not speak about religion.
Now, Ali has enrolled in a Bible school where he also studies leadership. In addition to the three languages he already spoke, Ali has begun learning Dari and Farsi to reach out to other immigrants. “He is mightily used by God, especially among immigrants,” Bertil said. “God is taking [him] and using him in his context.”
Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with believers to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.