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Secrets of the Middle East underground

“There are no Christians in Yemen” was the response received after Maged Atalla of media ministry Leading the Way produced the first Christian song in Yemen. “The Yemini government was not so happy about this,” Atalla tells Eternity. “I got insulted big time, on social media with comments like ‘Oh, where are these coming from?’ We have no Christian in Yemen.’”

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But Atalla explains, “The underground churches contacted me personally to get a copy of those songs we produced. When you visit those churches, you experience how Christianity was when it started.”

“One thing they have in common. They love Jesus and are ready to sacrifice their lives for him.”

Atalla has spent a career broadcasting to the Arab world, firstly from Trans World Radio in Monaco, and now through Leading The Way’s ‘The Kingdom Sat’ TV service. When asked if there were underground churches in some of the most difficult countries in the Middle East, Atalla responded: “Big time, brother. I have personally visited underground churches in North Africa, in Morocco, Indonesia, and Yemen.”

“I could not hold back my tears when I attended ten of those churches in Casablanca and Marrakesh in Morocco.

“One thing they have in common. They love Jesus and are ready to sacrifice their lives for him.”

These underground churches meet in apartments, shifting location when they sense they are being monitored or risking a raid. They are kept secret from the government. “Once I was attending a service in one of these churches and it starts usually with singing. We here in the west have the privilege to sing loudly, and we enjoy it. But they were whispering the songs.”

“One of the songs, I heard which is common in Arabic and English is ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’. I can’t get the way they sang it out of my mind.”

Atalla demonstrates by singing into Eternity’s iPad in a whisper: “I have decided to follow Jesus.”

“Every Christian in the world needs to attend one service of those churches to value the freedom they enjoy.”

“The Lord comes to Muslims in dreams and visions.”

In the 80s and 90s, radio played the major role in helping people in these closed countries to hear of Jesus. But more recently TV has become more significant, according to Atalla, who is keen for western Christians to understand that God can work in special ways.

“Westerners often don’t understand that the Lord does not leave himself without a witness. So, he comes to Muslims in dreams and visions. I have heard this from the mouths of those people and unless I had heard it directly from them I would not have believed it.”

“Sometimes they hear through underground Christian friends. They play a major role.

The problem with new converts is that they can be easily tracked “because they share with everybody”…

“One of the big problems we face is new converts who have come from Islam. They cannot shut up. We beg them, ‘Please shut up until you are well established, well founded and the government does not find out about you!'”

The problem with new converts is that they can be easily tracked “because they share with everybody” and may lead the government to discover an underground church, or punish a legal church. The secret police are active. This unfortunately makes some churches wary about new converts. “So, the only hope for Muslims who turn to Christianity is to meet underground and to have their own gathering.”

“Sometimes they find a page from a Bible or a Gospel somewhere,” says Atalla, describing Gospels printed on thin paper for smuggling. “I had a programme on the radio and I used to read a chapter of the bible every day. And one of the letters I received from Yemen said ‘We don’t have a Bible here and we cannot find it anywhere. But we record your chapter that you read every day, and we collect it, and that is our Bible.”

“People write to pastors (on The Kingdom Sat channel) like Leading The Way’s Michael Youssef and say ‘you are our Church. We cannot go to church here. You are the only source of spiritual nourishment.’”

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