“You saved my life” are heartfelt words Michael Yemba shared with former United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan. Their story began before their first meeting. Years before, Yemba’s stepfather, a Christian leader (in Muslim Sudan) and his mother were forcibly taken from their home and shot to death. Yemba escaped to Saudi Arabia, starting him on his journey to cross paths with Ambassador Jordan.
Yemba worked in Saudi Arabia in hotel security in the late 90s. He was a man of deep Christian faith who held religious services in his home in Riyadh. These types of services were allowed as long as they were held privately according to Ambassador Jordan, yet for unknown reasons the Saudi religious police burst into Yemba’s home and forced him into prison. Serving months in solitary confinement, he was never charged with a crime. A friend of Ambassador Jordan approached him with the story of Yemba and the concerning plan that he would be released from prison but not allowed to stay in Saudi Arabia. Instead they were going to deport him back to Sudan where he was certain to face death as a result of the earlier persecution of his family.
Ambassador Jordan’s friend implored him to intervene on Yemba’s behalf. It’s unusual, to say the least, for an American ambassador to intervene on behalf of a non-US citizen. “But Michael touched my heart” Ambassador Jordan writes in his book. “No one from Sudan, or anywhere else, was going to save him. I knew it was up to me to find a solution to avoid sending him back to a death sentence.” Through his position, Ambassador Jordan asked a favor of a high ranking Saudi cabinet minister and prince. That favor was for a 30-day delay of Yemba’s deportation so that arrangements could be made for him to come to the US with his wife. This favor was granted through the long-standing relationship Ambassador Jordan had with the Prince. Through contacts with the State Department, Ambassador Jordan secured a visa for temporary religious workers for Yemba. Further connections were made with a seminary in Pennsylvania so that Yemba and his wife could relocate to the US. Yemba completed his divinity degree, obtained his Master’s and relocated to Dallas where today he pastors a church, serves as Director of Strategic Leadership Opportunities at Empower One and as a member of the Board of Trustees of Harvesters Reaching the Nations.
Quotes above are from Robert Jordan’s book, Desert Diplomat: Inside Saudi Arabia Following 9/11. (Potomac Books, 2015). For more details on Yemba’s story and others read Ambassador Jordan’s book, Desert Diplomat: Inside Saudi Arabia Following 9/11.