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Slaughtered Somali pastor honored on Day of Christian Martyr

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. (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 was realized when three assassins gunned him down in Garissa, Kenya, in 2013, two decades after he converted from Islam to Christianity.

As Christians worldwide celebrate the fifth annual Day of the Christian Martyr June 29, Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) is honoring Abdiwelli for his evangelism and sacrifice.

Abdiwelli’s sacrifice is widely remembered among the Somali diaspora, including those in the U.S., VOM spokesperson Todd Nettleton told Baptist Press.

“Everywhere you go and find Somali Christians, they know the story of Abdiwelli,” said Nettleton, VOM chief of media relations and message integration, and host of The Voice of the Martyrs Radio. “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 wider body of Christ. This is a hero of the faith.”

The Somali diaspora is a great mission field, Nettleton said, with only a small percentage of Somalis confessing faith in Christ.

Islam had been Abdiwelli’s generational family religion, such that he saw his heritage as synonymous with Islam. But he began to question his religion in college, began reading the Bible, converted to Christianity, and sought guidance from a Christian relative.

Abdiwelli married Helen, already a Christian. The two shared the Gospel with Somalis while conducting an agriculture development ministry.

“When I first met Abdiwelli,” Helen told VOM, “he told me, ‘I love the Lord and I’m ready to die for Christ.’ When we received death threats, we’d pray together and that would give us peace, because God said he would be with us.”

Abdiwelli died at noon on Feb. 7. 2013, as he spoke with a fellow pastor in the center of town.

Day of the Christian Martyr falls annually on June 29, the day church tradition marks as the day of the Apostle Paul’s beheading. To be a martyr as rendered in Greek biblical manuscripts, 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 the commemoration of those who have given their lives for Christ is important, alongside such days as the Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, held in November on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar.

“I think we’re encouraging a boldness that says, you know what, it is worth taking a risk,” Nettleton said. “Very few of us here in the United States take the risk of our lives to share the Gospel with our neighbors. It’s pretty unlikely our neighbor is going to kill us, or even beat us up.”

But in countries where the Gospel is forbidden or criminalized, modern martyrdom is more common than many realize, Nettleton said.

“It is hard to give a number, but it is more common than we think. It is not uncommon in the Christian world,” Nettleton said. “It is not always something that is reported as ‘this person was killed for their faith.’ In many cases, there are oppressive governments that certainly aren’t telling the rest of the world when they execute a Christian.”

Nettleton encourages Southern Baptists to pray for Abdiwelli’s widow Helen and their three sons.

VOM offers a free digital resource kit to help churches remember the day, including an inspirational video, bulletin inserts, a sermon outline, reflection prompts and artwork.

“This is a story that we can know and celebrate, the sacrifice our brother made to reach his own people,” Nettleton said. “Whenever we tell these stories, it’s going to be an inspiration to the people in our church.”