Yemen's constitution does not protect freedom of religion, according to a State Department report, but Christian charity organizations have long been active in the country. The Catholic Missionaries of Charity, along with a handful of Protestant charities, have openly worked in the impoverished country since the 1970s, and habit-bedecked sisters are an occasional sight on the streets of some Yemeni cities.
Members of the sizable African Christian expatriate community in Yemen's capital of Sanaa are mostly able to quietly practice their faith without issue, and colonial-era churches continue to hold services in the southern port of Aden, a British possession until 1963.
Shrum and his wife, who had two small children, arrived in the city of Taiz two years ago. He hailed from a family with strong Christian roots, according to reports from newspapers in his Pennsylvania hometown. He and his brother, as well as other relatives, had previously traveled to Latin America to engage in "church-related" mission work, one report said.
Shrum had worked as an English-language teacher for the International Training Development Center, a Swedish nongovernmental organization that has provided vocational training in the southern city of Taiz since 1969. It is registered with the Swedish Free Mission.
A source with relatives in Taiz said Shrum was known to openly discuss his Christian religion, but said that he was widely seen as a beloved figure who was greatly devoted to his work.