Shino and Shania Gabo don’t keep track of how many hours they work. In fact, they’re uncountable. “At home we’re working; [when we’re] out we’re working; in the bus we’re working; all the time some person wants to connect with us,” Shino said.
Why? Because the story of Jesus transforming their lives stands out among Somali people everywhere. Both born in Mogadishu as Muslims, Shino and Shania today are followers of Jesus, and they want everyone, especially Somalis, to know. “God has given us a desire and passion to share the good news with others,” Shino stated.
At an OM conference this year, the couple spent their breaks with earbuds plugged in, huddled over their phones, responding to the dozens of messages they receive daily from Somalis interested in the gospel of Jesus. After dinner one evening alone, they took four calls—two from Somalis who were saved after discovering their ministry and planned to get baptised the following year, and two from Somalis seeking truth.
Over the past couple of years, the Gabos have created a database of Christian Somali resources on their website, jidka janada (way to heaven). They film videos about various topics and questions that often come up in their discipleship conversations and post them online. “We know the questions. We always answer the questions from the Bible. We never talk about Islam; we just share the love of Christ and the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Jesus,” Shania explained.
One of the videos they made was about divorce. “For the Somali people, it’s normal to divorce,” Shania said. “We made this topic, talking about [how] God wanted one man and one woman together forever, and [how] He hates divorce.”
In the video, which they posted on Facebook, Shania used the everyday example of a young Somali girl in her early 20s with four kids, each with a different dad. Within half an hour of posting the video, a Somali girl called her, crying. “Guess what?” she told Shania. “The person you were talking about is me.”
With three children from three different husbands, and a fourth on the way from yet another man, she grabbed onto Shania’s message: “I never hear [that] God hates divorce and God wants the family together. I want to be a follower of Christ. Can you pray with me?”
“She just watched that [video], and God changed her heart,” Shania said. “She’s still following Christ…She’s still loving the Lord and is a Christian, but her husband, not yet.”
When possible, the Gabos advise new Somali believers living in western countries to connect with local fellowships for further spiritual growth. But for those living in Muslim countries or Somalia itself, “we are their church,” Shino explained. “We disciple them through Skype, WhatsApp, email, different things…I say we have a church without walls.”
The same tools Shino and Shania use to disciple new believers — social media, messaging apps, the Internet — are also used to threaten and intimidate them. “Sometimes you don’t feel [persecution] physically, but psychologically you feel it. If you open Facebook or messenger, people will give you a threat and send you a [picture of a] knife or a weapon or a head cut off,” Shino said.
These virtual threats are reminders of the very real attacks they face on a regular basis. In Somalia, “if you convert to Christianity, the sentence is death,” Shino said. “Anyone who sees you can kill you because you convert to Christianity.” Although the Gabos now live in the West (having immigrated from Somalia with their families in the ‘90s), Somali religious authorities have still issued orders to shut them down.
“You know you are working for the Lord when you see arrows on your back. You are going a different way. Those arrows on your back, they are not from the enemy, they are from your own people because the enemy is in front of you,” Shino said.
As Shino and Shania disciple young Somali believers, they likewise prepare them to suffer for their faith. “This is not an easy way. It has consequences,” Shino stated. “The family will cut you off; some people will lose their jobs, especially living in Africa [or] working for Muslims… Not only that, even imams nowadays, they try to stop the wave of Christianity—they issue fatwa against Christians, especially those who are leading, those who are bold enough to come out on YouTube and social media. It is a dangerous way, very scary. …We trust in the Lord, but it is costly, and every day, we are carrying our cross.
Peter*, a long-term OM worker in Europe, who has championed a gospel movement among the Somali diaspora, encouraged an early believer to gather with other Somali Christians. Shania, the first believer in her family, initially connected with that believer as well as three other Somali believers in an Internet chatroom. But when she was invited to meet with them in person, she said no. “We were not trusting each other; we were using fake names,” she remembered.
That year, only Peter and three Somali believers met for face-to-face fellowship. Two years later, after continuing to develop the relationships online and building trust, Shania joined the annual meeting, where 10 Somali believers gathered. From the beginning, Peter encouraged them to lead the conference. “When we gather, it is our way. How we pray, how we worship, how we teach and preach, the Somali language—it’s a blessing from Peter,” Shino said.
“Peter 100 per cent supported us, and without him, we wouldn’t be here, him and his wife. We need each other, especially we need them,” Shania added. “We will call him and his wife, and they start praying straight away and encouraging us, giving us advice and wisdom and prophecy. They are a mom and dad for all Somali Christians.”
That support is vital, Shino explained: “When someone converted to Christianity as a Muslim, he loses his family, and he wants a new family, starting with us. Seeing each other personally, it is a wonderful thing.”
The annual gatherings, which started with three people, have dramatically expanded. “If we had a place, we could host 300-400 people,” Shino estimated. “Somalis are softening in their hearts now. They are fed up with Islam. They don’t have another way to follow God.”
Since 2015, Shino and Shania have partnered with OM to reach Somalis around the world. Everywhere they go, they have enemies—and they also find Somali believers. “We are seeing God’s hand in our ministry, in our family and in our people as well,” Shino said. “This time we live in is a historical time. God is building his church. Jesus is building his church among Somalis.”
Pray for Somali believers’ protection as they grow in faith and boldly share truth with their families and communities. Pray that the Spirit of the Lord touches more Somalis’ hearts. Pray for unity and love among Somali believers. Pray that God would raise more workers to share the good news with the Somalis.
Nicole is a world traveller and writer for OM International, based in the US. She’s passionate about partnering with believers to communicate the ways God is working across the globe. In her free time, you’ll find her biking, paddle boarding or curling up with coffee and a good book.