Zamir has a dangerous job. He is one of the only Yemeni Christians broadcasting from the Middle East into Yemen, a country where converting to Christianity from Islam is a crime punishable by death. But danger is nothing new for Zamir. He was once a Muslim gun smuggler, and according to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley it was as the surprising consequence of beatings Zamir received from prison guards that he came to know Christ.
“There’s no point at which Zamir’s life wasn’t dangerous,” says Representative Foley, whose organization partners with persecuted Christians, including in the Middle East. “After losing his parents at a young age, he married in his early 20s only to see his wife die while giving birth to their first child, a baby boy, who also died.”
Depressed, struggling with alcoholism and angry at Allah, Zamir had reached a low point and needed income to support himself. Zamir told Voice of the Martyrs that it was around that time that he was recruited to smuggle weapons for fighters on one side of Yemen’s 1994 civil war.
“He was desperate for money,” says Representative Foley. “So he took a job transporting guns between his hometown and the large port city of Aden, on Yemen’s southern coast.”
Zamir told Voice of the Martyrs that on one of their trips to pick up a shipment of weapons, 25-year-old Zamir and his colleagues were arrested for smuggling, for which they each received 8-month prison sentences.
Zamir said that when his siblings learned of his crimes, they refused to talk to him.
“I felt sad and alone,” he told Voice of the Martyrs.
But while in prison, Zamir reached new depths of despair. The prison guards brutally beat Zamir and his friends, leaving them with scars and injuries that caused lasting pain.
“Authorities offered Zamir an early release if he could pay bail, but he had no family support and could not come up with the funds on his own,” says Representative Foley. “But eventually he received hope in the most unexpected way — through the ongoing torture.”
Zamir told Voice of the Martyrs that as the guards continued to beat him, his wounds required medical care. Authorities allowed volunteer doctors and nurses to provide care to inmates once a week under watch of the guards. Some of those volunteers were connected with a local church, according to Zamir.
“In Zamir’s case, those medical missionaries not only treated his wounds; they arranged for his bail to be paid and, upon his release, encouraged him to begin attending their church,” says Representative Foley.
Based on what Zamir had heard of Christian worship as a Muslim, he expected the church service to be a party with an abundance of alcohol and promiscuous women. To him, it sounded like a great time. But when he attended the evening service, he found something very different.
“I felt like, ‘Here is my night!’ you know?” Zamir told Voice of the Martyrs. “Then [a man] opened the door, and there is this old lady on the keyboard and really old people inside. There was no whiskey or any other drinks. Nothing.”
Zamir said he became even more disappointed when an elderly man began to pray and teach from the Bible in English. Zamir couldn’t understand a word he was saying. “I was shocked,” he said.
Still, Zamir was touched by the pastor’s care.
“The pastor told him he could stay at the church and help at the church-run clinic and pharmacy,” says Representative Foley. “But the church gave him more than a place to stay. They also gave him an Arabic-language New Testament.”
“I was excited to get the Bible because it is illegal in Yemen,” Zamir told Voice of the Martyrs.
Zamir recalls opening the Bible and reading a passage from the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus teaches his followers to love their enemies.
“My head became heavy when I read that because it was like I saw a movie in front of me,” Zamir told Voice of the Martyrs. “All the people in my life were in front of me, and this book said, ‘Love them.’ That was not easy to read.” Still, he continued to read from that afternoon until the next morning.
As he encountered Jesus Christ through God’s Word, Zamir said he conflicted about the teachings of Islam. “I had never seen such an image of God in all my life,” he told Voice of the Martyrs. “Before, I was afraid of God. He killed people and he put people in hell. I never saw this part of God. He is love. If I am guilty, he accepts me. [Before] that time, I felt very guilty, but I felt nobody would accept me.”
The next morning, Zamir told a co-worker he wanted to become a Christian. “I love Jesus,” he told the co-worker. “I love his character. I can’t explain it to you more than that, but his character is amazing.”
After the co-worker explained more deeply what it means to become a Christian, Zamir says he placed his faith in Christ.
Soon, Zamir started attending church regularly, despite the risk of his Christian faith becoming known.
“In Yemen, leaving Islam for another religion is considered apostasy, which is punishable by death,” says Representative Foley.
While walking to the clinic one day, Zamir noticed a car following him. Thinking it was probably the police, he started running and was able to get away from the car. He learned that some of his foreigner co-workers had been expelled from the country.
Zamir hosts a Yemeni-dialect Christian radio program, encouraging those curious about Christianity by talking about his own journey to faith in Christ.
Assuming that the authorities had been watching him and would pursue him for becoming a Christian, Zamir told Voice of the Martyrs he fled and eventually made his way back to his childhood home. There, Zamir’s oldest brother discovered Zamir’s Bible amidst the few belongings he had brought.
“When Zamir’s brother later confronted him about the Bible, Zamir explained that he had become a follower of Christ,” says Representative Foley. “Zamir’s brother became enraged by this news and told Zamir he would kill him if he wouldn’t return to Islam.”
With the help of his former foreign co-workers, Zamir fled to another country in the region.
“Zamir learned quickly that Muslim converts to Christianity face death anywhere they go in the Middle East,” says Representative Foley. “In the midst of attending Bible college, marrying a Christian Arab woman, and together having a child, Zamir and his new family ultimately had to relocate to several different countries in a short period of time.”
Still, Zamir’s heart remained in Yemen. So Zamir said he was delighted when he soon met some believers in a Middle Eastern country working for a Christian radio ministry. After telling Zamir about their plans to start a Yemeni radio station using the Yemeni dialect, they offered Zamir a job on the spot.
“Zamir took the job and today continues to host a radio show in which he reads Scripture and takes questions about the Bible,” says Representative Foley. “The radio broadcasts make God’s Word more accessible inside Yemen and also help believers like Zamir who have fled Yemen and now live in nearby countries.”
Zamir told Voice of the Martyrs that some of the Muslims who call his show are critical and even aggressive. He says he uses those calls as an opportunity to share the love of Christ over the airwaves. “Then they start to become more relaxed,” he says.
Zamir says that whenever he speaks with a new believer through the radio program, he makes sure they understand that they will likely face persecution. “I don’t want anyone to make this decision before they understand the cost, as Jesus did with the rich man,” he told Voice of the Martyrs. “[Jesus] told them, ‘If you want to follow me, go and sell everything.’ You don’t come to Jesus and your life is beautiful. It’s nothing like that. When you come to Jesus, you have to be ready. There is a cross on your shoulder; there is a cost you have to take. Sometimes it’s your life, sometimes it’s your country, sometimes it’s your family.”
According to Representative Foley, Zamir’s radio ministry continues to put him at special risk for persecution. “For more than a decade, the Lord has been using Zamir to reach people who were once like him in Yemen,” says Representative Foley. “That does not go unnoticed by enemies of the gospel. So we call on Christians everywhere to pray for Zamir as he continues to show love for his enemies by proclaiming to them the news that transformed him from an arms smuggler to a faithful witness for Christ.”
Individuals interested in a detailed update on the current situation of underground Christians in Yemen can find more information at https://vomkorea.com/country-profile/yemen/.