Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Eternal home for a Somali nomad: Ahmed Ali Haile dies at 58

Written by Jewel Showalter   
Thursday, 05 May 2011 12:27
MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin – Twice before, Ahmed Ali Haile had approached death’s door. A bout of cerebral malaria almost felled him as a young teen. Then years later a rocket mortar shattered his leg, but he lived to father a third child and continue peacemaking work.

But on April 26, 2011, there was no reprieve. The beloved 58-year-old Somali church planter and peace teacher died in his Milwaukee home, after a six-year battle with cancer.

He is survived by his wife of 24 years, Martha Wilson, and three young adult children, Afrah, Sofia, and Gedi.

A Haile
Ahmed and Martha Ali Haile and their family attended an EMM appreciation luncheon last summer, celebrating the completion of 15 years of service among Somalis in Kenya. Left to right: Ahmed, Elizabeth Nissley (friend and MST member), Sofia Haile, Martha Haile, and Darrel Hostetter (co-director of Human Resources at EMM). Photo credit: Tammy Evans

In a April 30 funeral service at Eastbrook Church of Milwaukee, senior pastor Marc Erickson welcomed the former Mennonite missionaries to Somalia, Christian and Muslim Somalis, and other family and friends who had gathered to pay tribute and reflect on Ahmed’s unusual life that straddled worlds, cultures, and religions like few others.

Marc and Nancy Erickson had served as missionaries in Somalia from 1969-71 before returning to found Eastbrook, a 2,500-member, suburban/urban, multi-ethnic, multi-racial congregation.

“Ahmed got a lot more out of that body than most people do,” Erickson said, with a loving glance at the casket in the front of the auditorium. The coffin, handmade by Old Order Mennonites, per Ahmed’s request, was transported to Milwaukee from Goshen, Indiana, by his longtime mentor and friend J.R. Burkholder and his wife Susan. Also at his request, Ahmed’s body was shrouded in a traditional white Somali burial cloth.

Erickson, who had led Ahmed to Christ in Somalia in the early 1970s, moderated the moving service that included tributes from the Haile children, Martha’s sister, Ahmed’s brother, and longtime friends. Worship included special Somali praise music and a sermon by Erickson.

In the 1970s when Ahmed and another Somali came to Erickson with the simple request, “We want to be Christians,” he had countered, “But do you know you will be rejected by your people, persecuted, and maybe killed?” When they persisted, Erickson said he realized that God had prepared this young man to come to Jesus in radical surrender.

Erickson described Ahmed’s intellectual brilliance, his voracious reading of thousands of books, his careful integration of all he learned into simple Christian discipleship. He came to the West and encountered all its diversity, which made him realize how his own 3,000-year-old Semitic heritage had prepared him: the sacrificial lamb’s blood, smeared on the doorposts of his father’s Somali house, had readied him to meet Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Ahmed’s spiritual journey was built squarely on this ancient Somali heritage, and what he had learned from Islam when, as a child, he memorized the whole Quran accurately and with much meaning. Without fear of death Ahmed went back into the heart of his Somali community to bear witness to these truths in 1982.

Then from 1994 to 2009 Ahmed and Martha Haile and their family served as EMM workers in Nairobi, Kenya. While their primary assignment was teaching at Daystar University and helping to launch a peace studies program, their home quickly became a hub for Somali friendships and the nucleus of a Somali believers’ fellowship.

A. Haile
At an appreciation luncheon last summer, Clair Good, EMM Representative for Africa (until the end of 2010), hands Ahmed a certificate of appreciation for 15 years of service with EMM. Ahmed’s youngest son, Gedi, assists his father. Photo credit: Tammy Evans

Martha said it was not unusual to go through 50 kilos of sugar in a month as a steady stream of Somalis – many refugees from their deteriorating homeland – stopped for an ever-present cup of sweet, cardamom-infused Somali tea.

Many of the memorial tributes to Ahmed, both in the service and during the open microphone lunchtime, focused on Hailes’ hospitality and the way Ahmed would talk with anyone about anything without pressure. “My father always had five guests,” Gedi joked.

His daughter Sofia shared a moving poem, “…Watching my Dad fight was like: Watching the before and after of a land going through drought, Body wasting away, but spirit devout…”

Glenn Kauffman, EMM’s director of Global Ministries, remembered that on a number of occasions after Ahmed learned that his cancer was terminal, he had told EMM leaders, “When Orie O. Miller [early Mennonite mission leader] was dying he said, ‘Don’t forget the Somalis.’ I want to say the same thing. Do not forget the Somalis.”

Kauffman and Richard Showalter, who represented EMM at the funeral, said that the experience wove together the EMM and Eastbrook strands of the Hailes’ life and ministry. “We discovered a common heart impacted by Ahmed’s profound life among us and linking us together,” they said. “May the Lord be gracious in showing the next steps he is asking of us, including workers to send.”

Ahmed’s memoirs, Teatime in Mogadishu: My Journey as a Peace Ambassador in the World of Islam, were penned with longtime friend and associate David W. Shenk; the published book arrived at his home the day after his death.

The book is selling for $14.99 (in Canada $17.25) and can be ordered 
online or by calling 1-800-245-7894. Also, find a final interview of Ahmed Ali Haile by David W. Shenk, shot in January 2011 during the editing process for the book.

A memorial service for Ahmed Ali Haile in the Lancaster (Pa.) area is planned for June 18 at 4:00 p.m. at James Street Mennonite Church. 

Source: Eastern Mennonite Missions, 2011


  1. I knew him as a teacher in the late 80s at the University of Commerce in Mogadishu. I was shocked to see him on a TV with one leg in Mogadishu in the 90s and saddened to have heard him die as a Christian. A very very sad news indeed. As Muslims we love Jesus Christ, the prophet of God and may peace and blessings be on him, more than any body else out there. And that is the true reality....like it or not! I have no idea how an intelligent man like him was led to believe other wise. I pray that his kids and his family to that matter see the true light of the prophets of God, Mohammed, Jesus, Ibrahim and Moses, may peace be on them all.

  2. Answer from John
    My friend dore@hotmail.com (who commented as anonymous on March 18, 2012 at 3:32 AM) remarked that Haile was an intelligent man.
    I strongly agree with ‘Dore’ as Haile happened to be my lecturer at Daystar University, Nairobi.
    Nevertheless, I would strongly encourage ‘Dore’ to ask himself why an intelligent man left the perfect religion (Islam) to embrace the Christian faith.
    If my friend ‘Dore’ is sincere, he would definitely agree with me that the majority of Muslims are Muslims not because Islam is the right religion but simply because they were born in a Muslim family or land.
    Even for you my friend ‘Dore’ who is feeling sorry for Haile (and other Christians) I have no doubt that you are a Muslim because Somali = Islam. In that way, you were first ‘informed’ by your parents then by your ‘madrassa’ that Islam is the best religion according to Quran 5:3. This is the same belief you seem to hold until today...

    Friend, you say that ‘intelligent’ people should be Muslims because Islam = Truth? Am I right?
    Since you want to reason the intelligent way, I will leave you with a homework.
    Surat Al-Baqarah 256 (Qur’an 2:256) says: “let there be no compulsion in religion, TRUTH stands out clear from error”. Meaning: just teach people about the true religion (and don’t force them to adhere to it) and they will go for it! So far so good! This is indeed the intelligent way of thinking and doing things.
    Unfortunately, it seems like whoever revealed (or received) the Qur’an was scared that people may use their God-given intelligence and then choose a ‘different truth’ from the compulsory ‘Islamic truth’. If not, in your opinion, why the command to ‘slay’ anyone who discovers any other ‘true’ truth and decides to leave Islam behind!
    Since I am a Christian, I might have misinterpreted Sura An-Nisaa 89 (or Qur'an 4:89) that states: “... But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them". You or any other Muslim who knows better than I may explain to me.

    While I wait for your reply, I maintain that the late Haile used his intelligence and realised he could no longer betray his conscience. Probably this is how he became a Christian. I would therefore beg you to follow his footsteps and investigate your own religion. You will not give god an excuse that you were born in a Muslim land on that day of judgement...you still have the responsibility to make sure what you inherited from your parent was the truth.
    Here the last message from Haile here:

    Since the issue here is not about Haile but rather about finding out the true ‘strait’ way to God (as in Sura Al-Fatiha 6 or Qur’an 1:6) it would be fair not to unnecessary mention Haile in our future discussions.
    I would be glad to discuss further this issue about the way to God (and other matters related to religion) with anyone interested. My name is John and my email is john316peter@yahoo.com