BARTLESVILLE, Oklahoma (BP) — When Abdiwelli Ahmed met his future wife Helen, she recalls, the first thing he confessed was his love for Christ and his willingness to die for him.
Abdiwelli’s commitment came to fruition when three assassins shot him dead in Garissa, Kenya in 2013, two decades after he converted from Islam to Christianity.
As Christians around the world mark the fifth annual Christian Martyr’s Day on June 29, Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) honors Abdiwelli for his evangelism and sacrifice.
Abdiwelli’s sacrifice is widely remembered within the Somali diaspora, including that in the United States, VOM spokesman Todd Nettleton told The Baptist Press.
“Wherever you go to find Somali Christians, they know Abdiwelli’s story,” said Nettleton, VOM’s media relations and message integration manager, and host of The Voice of the Martyrs radio station. . “His story is told among Somali Christians in South Africa, certainly in northern Kenya, in East Africa, even in Minnesota, here in the United States, in the Somali community there.
“He is very well known among Somali Christians. So we wanted to kind of spread that out into the larger body of Christ. He is a hero of faith.
The Somali diaspora is a large mission field, Nettleton said, with only a small percentage of Somalis confessing their faith in Christ.
Islam was Abdiwelli’s generational family religion, so much so that he considered his heritage to be synonymous with Islam. But he started questioning his religion in college, started reading the Bible, converted to Christianity and sought advice from a Christian relative.
Abdiwelli married Helen, already a Christian. Both men shared the gospel with Somalis while leading agricultural development ministry.
“When I first met Abdiwelli,” Helen told VOM, “he said to me, ‘I love the Lord and I’m ready to die for Christ.’ When we received death threats, we prayed together and it brought us peace, because God said he would be with us.
Abdiwelli died at noon on February 7, 2013, while talking with a fellow pastor in the center of town.
Christian Martyr’s Day falls annually on June 29, a day that Church tradition designates as the day of the beheading of the Apostle Paul. To be a martyr, as the Greek biblical manuscripts translate it, Nettleton said, simply meant to be a witness or to tell others. The idea of giving one’s life is the modern interpretation.
Nettleton said commemorating those who gave their lives for Christ is important, alongside days such as the Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, held in November on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar.
“I think we encourage a boldness that says, you know what, it’s worth taking a risk,” Nettleton said. “Very few of us here in the United States risk our lives to share the gospel with our neighbors. It is unlikely that our neighbor will kill us, or even beat us up.
But in countries where the gospel is banned or criminalized, modern martyrdom is more common than many realize, Nettleton said.
“It’s hard to give a number, but it’s more common than you think. This is not uncommon in the Christian world,” Nettleton said. “It’s not always something that’s reported as ‘this person was killed for their faith’. In many cases, there are oppressive governments that say nothing to the rest of the world when they execute a Christian. »
Nettleton encourages Southern Baptists to pray for Helen, Abdiwelli’s widow, and their three sons.
VOM offers a digital resource kit to help churches remember the day, including an inspirational video, newsletter inserts, sermon outline, prompts for reflection and illustrations.
“It’s a story we can know and celebrate, the sacrifice our brother made to reach his own people,” Nettleton said. “Every time we tell these stories, it will be an inspiration to our church members. »