From Muslim heritage, a Christian ambassadorBy John A. Lapp
Ahmed Haile, a Somali Christian, is a remarkable saint of our time. Just over a year ago he died after a valiant five-year struggle with cancer. He dictated this memoir during the last months of his life.
He wanted both Muslims and Christians to know his story. He said, “Jesus Christ called me to be his ambassador.” He wanted to make it clear that “my Muslim heritage prepared me to hear and believe the gospel.” He also wrote this passionate story for his children and future grandchildren in the hope that they would “cherish the Christ who is the center of my life.”
Although this is a short volume, as memoirs go, it is packed with information on growing up Muslim in Somalia. Born to a relatively prosperous family in 1953, Haile lived through the growing Soviet influence in the Horn of Africa, which culminated in a Marxist-oriented revolution in 1969.
The Sudan Inland Mission established a hospital and elementary school in the small Somali town of Bulo Burte in the early 1950s. An inquisitive boy, Haile became a friend of the missionaries. When he left for secondary school in Mogadishu, the capital city, he became friends with workers at the Mennonite mission there. His network of mission friends later suggested he leave the country for higher education.
Missionaries David and Grace Shenk helped him make connections that led to his going to Western Mennonite School in Salem, Ore., in 1974. There he mastered English and completed studies begun in Somalia.
I first met Haile when he was a new student at Goshen (Ind.) College in 1975. There were quite a number of Somali students in Mennonite colleges in the 1970s and early 1980s. Majoring in economics, Haile quickly demonstrated his leadership and academic skills.
He calls Goshen College an oasis. He says Assembly Mennonite Church formed his theology. Earning a master’s degree in peace studies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, he points to John H. Yoder, Roelf Kuitse and J.R. Burkholder as influential in clarifying his calling to work as a Christ-centered peacemaker. He also attended Indiana State University.
For Haile, North America’s cultural and social diversity was almost overwhelming. He observes that the “collision of the Marxism and Islam of my youth seemed a distant echo in the dissonant themes of the American context.” He knew that amid the cacophony of voices one needs to find a center: “The direction of my journey is my home in Christ, and the church is the community of reconciliation that Christ is creating.”
Haile returned to Somalia in 1982. For five years he worked with World Vision, Mennonite Central Committee and the development program of Eastbrook Church, a Milwaukee congregation closely linked to Sudan Inland Mission. An Eastbrook friend, Martha Wilson, and Haile were married in 1987.
Throughout the mid-1980s Haile participated in a small group of believers in Mogadishu known as “People of the Messiah” or “The Believers Fellowship.” They were reluctant to use the term “Christian,” with all its historical and political connotations.
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