What are Southern Yemeni Arabs’ greatest struggles?
What is God doing among Southern Yemeni Arabs?
Roughly 9 million Southern Yemeni Arabs speak Ta’izzi-Adeni Arabic, a combination of two regional dialects. Yemeni culture, like much of the Arabian Peninsula, is tribal. There is a definite social hierarchy, often distinguishable by dress, from the wealthy and powerful down to the underprivileged. The symbol of male honor is a curved dagger, the janbiyyah.
Most Southern Yemeni Arabs are Muslim, including Zaydis, a Shia sect of Islam known for its warrior traditions. Others are Sunni Muslims who follow the Shafi’i school of Islamic law.
Yemen’s strategic location at the southern entrance to the Red Sea has been both a blessing and a curse. Centuries ago, it was a fertile and prosperous land, benefitting from ancient trade routes and in control of the market for valuable commodities. But as new global trade routes grew, Yemen’s prosperity shrank. Though just miles from some of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East, Yemen is now the poorest country in the region.
A complicated, catastrophic civil war now rages in Yemen. It began in 2011 when the longtime, Saudi-backed, authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted in the wave of the “Arab Spring.” The upheaval has grown into a sectarian Sunni-Shia clash and proxy war between world powers (Saudi Arabia, UK, USA, and Iran, among others). The powers continue to fight over the control of resources and the balance of power in the Middle East. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State also contribute to the terror and instability of the country.
As in all conflict, the most vulnerable suffer the greatest. Since 2015, civilian targets have been regularly bombed, killing thousands and displacing millions. Their currency is collapsing. Dengue fever and cholera are reaching epidemic proportions because of a lack of clean water. Farmers use what’s available, including wastewater, to irrigate their small vegetable plots, and the sickness is spreading. Corruption and mismanagement prevents aid from reaching those who need it most. Children are starving to death in what the UN calls “the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.”
While most people live in rural areas, they have smart phones and internet access. Resources in the southern dialect include the JESUS Film, The Prophets’ Story, and other radio and internet resources that have been very fruitful. If a southerner hears something evangelistic in a northern dialect, it creates a barrier to belief. If they hear it in Lebanese or Egyptian Arabic, Christianity is considered foreign. With resources in Yemeni dialects, people see that it’s possible for Yemenis to follow Jesus.
Most believers, a tiny fraction of the country’s total population, live in southern areas. Life in Yemen is difficult for everyone, but Christians have always faced added challenges. Believers in the south have learned how to live out and share their faith in a way that is leading family members and friends to faith. In spite of the devastation of war, the number coming to faith is increasing each year. One report notes that even those who come from very different tribes and backgrounds meet together in a spirit of unity and have a vision to help others grow spiritually.