Yemen and the Spread of Al Qaeda

April 1983 – a scared 20-year old landed, all alone, in Sana Yemen – two days late because he had been “detained” by the police in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, so the man who was supposed to meet him, wasn’t there.

That person was me.  I was there to help rebuild some Yemeni villages which had been destroyed in the Christmas earthquake of 1982. I didn’t know anyone there, I didn’t speak Arabic, and I knew nothing about rebuilding stone houses – other then that, I was ready to go.

I lived for three months in a tent in central Yemen – what was then known as North Yemen. My first day “on the job” was quite a fright. When the one jeep we could find dropped us off, it seemed the whole village erupted in a fight. Men yelling, women hiding – and then a machine gun came out. I thought this was the end of my short-lived “missionary” career. The next thing I knew, about 5 men jumped into the back of the jeep which had just dropped me off and raced over the hill (there was no road). Then I heard gunfire. Ten minutes later, the jeep raced back and they invited me for lunch.

Naturally, I asked what was going on – they casually responded that the “evil tribe” over the hill had been caught stealing a sheep and they went to take revenge. I didn’t ask what kind of revenge. Then we sat down to eat (sheep, by the way).

In 1983, as now, Yemen was/is a country stuck in the 12th Century in many ways. There are reasons for this. Their main crop and “export” doesn’t actually  go anywhere – they grow it and then sell it to themselves. It’s called “Qat.” It’s a mild narcotic leaf that you chew. So….they have no economy, and they’re all slightly buzzed.

Yemenis are the best people in the world. They are the most hospitable and generally friendly people I’ve ever met. But they are poor with no hope of anything other than a lifetime of poverty. It’s similar to the slums you’d find in Gaza, or Cairo or parts of Baghdad – not just economically without, but politically poor. No hope, and no hope for hope.

Insert into this scenario some radical Islamic teaching, and kabang – you can easily recruit someone to commit an otherwise unthinkable act of terrorism! This issue is not new and it’s not “Islamic.” It’s the Drug Cartels of Columbia (Catholic). It’s the mass murders in Congo (Animist). It’s the Buddhist regime of Myanmar. It’s the past in Rwanda (Christian and Animist). It’s wherever you find hopelessness.

So what can we do? Bring hope! Be Hope Brokers! Ultimately, that hope is found in the good news of Jesus Christ. And we can begin by giving some initial hope to places like Yemen by supporting them in three ways. I call it the “Three E’s of National Success.”

•    Economic Development. Help with micro-enterprise strategies.
•    Educational Reform. Go teach. Help teach the teachers.
•    Entrepreneurial enterprise. Think. Help a nation like this with the unique gifts God has blessed you with. It’s not that Yemenis are dumb – not at all. They’re just stuck.

Being a Hope Broker is fun. It’s adventurous and doesn’t take us much work as you might think! Go for it…


  1. al ballard says:

    Greetings brother, thank you for your story which enlightened my fear, as from time to time, I navigate through my spiritual walk in the world of the conservative american christians and there can be land mines. Praise Jesus, I gain strength through the word, Col. 2:6-12; the fellowship and teachings of the Canon City Vineyard, dear brother Cory. There are land mines everywhere in the traditional conservative community, ie, when Bush Jr. was President I made some bad comments and was counseled to pray for him; which i repented and did. Thank you Lord for cleansing my heart. Just recently the same man who chastized me was bad mouthing Obama, so I ask him if he remembered his counsel to me. He angered up, called me a “liberal,” and walked away. Wow, I guess we can pray for one political party and not the other, 🙂 “land mines everywhere.”
    Thank you for your service, your website, tools to help us walk for Jesus. Blessings.

  2. Sara says:

    Hi! New here. Just read your entire blog. Thank you for sharing so much hope and all your stories. Can’t wait to listen to the webinar tomorrow and read the new book with Ted Dekker too. God gave me a heart for Arab muslims as an elementary school kid after I read a silly book set in that part of the world. I asked my sister to show me “Arabia” on the map and she told me “Arabia” wasn’t a country. I started bawling and told her I was heartbroken because I loved it and wanted to go there. So she pulled out the globe and looked at it with me. She said, “How ’bout Saudi Arabia?” I said, “That’s good. It’ll have to do.” Ever since that day I’ve known my life would be linked with that part of the world. Since being a kid I’ve prayed that God would direct my steps. For the past ten years, I feel like he’s been taking me on the scenic tour. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like I was benched, and I was just watching my team-mates play in the game. However, this year, I’ve had the light shined on the places in my heart that were lazy or dissatisfied, and I’m taking steps toward engaging with the many many Muslims in my local community of Austin, Texas. I will be back here often for advice and encouragement. Keep up the great work!