Church in North Africa looks for a new beginning
North Africa, known as the Land of the Vanished Church, may be seeing a resurgence of Christianity. Ministries to the region say the church is strong and growing despite severe opposition.
...The Gospel took root in the region in the first century despite the opposition of Roman authorities. The church flourished, producing many martyrs and some of the most respected fathers of the church, including Cyprian and Augustine, and Tertullian, who said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."
...The region succumbed to Islam when Vandal and Arab armies invaded in the fifth and seventh centuries. The church failed to offer resistance, and virtually disappeared when the new faith was introduced. Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Libya have long been Islamic strongholds. "Centuries have passed with little visible Christian presence," the AD 2000 and Beyond Movement (see link #1 below) said. There are an estimated 10,000 known evangelical Christians and many more secret Christians in the region, AD 2000 said.
...North African churches believe a spiritual breakthrough may be occurring. Church leaders say they notice an increased interest in the Gospel and are asking Christians around the world to pray for them and lend their support.
..."We have seen great gains the past five years. More people are praying for us and that gives us confidence," church leaders told AD 2000. "The spirit of God is moving in currents across the Muslim world. We are living in pregnant days," another leader said.
...Muslims are having visions and dreams about Jesus Christ, and the experiences play a role in leading them to Christianity because they then ask questions about Jesus, AD 2000 said. Broadcast ministries "have sown much seed in North African hearts and a harvest is now being reaped on the ground," it said. International prayer events that focus on the region, including this month's Praying Through the Window IV, are crucial to changing attitudes that have been resistant to the Gospel.
...Berber tribesmen are responding to the Gospel. Church groups are sprouting among the 25 million indigenous North Africans who live in several nations, traditional churches are growing, and a network of house churches is expanding, a minister told AD 2000.
...People become Christians "one by one," a minister to the region said. It sometimes takes years for a ministry to bear fruit because North Africans are a relational people. "We had one say [that] the most significant thing we did to open his heart was our kindness to his children," said a worker whose ministry supplies milk and other needs for Bedouins, a nomadic Arabic people. "If you'll come to my village and love them the same way you loved me, you will win everyone."
...Christians in North Africa live with the constant threat of arrest, a U.S. minister who visited the region last month told Religion Today. Religious police keep close tabs on known Christians and are ready to punish evangelistic activity, he said. "We know the limits," a pastor said. "Exceed those limits and you simply disappear, never to be heard from again."
...Being a Christian in a restricted nation is like living a spy novel, the minister said. A church visitor could be a police informant, a phone call from a stranger could be an attempt to obtain incriminating information, and a child's inadvertent word to a playmate could bring a visit from authorities, he said. "This is the daily fear they face."
..."My wife and I wept and prayed with believers in city after city, town after town, throughout the countryside. The accounts were consistent: fear, suffering, marginalization, deprivation, oppression are the common experiences." Evangelism is illegal, converting from Islam is regarded as treasonous, building or repairing churches is restricted, and freedom of worship is suppressed, he said.
...Christians are "stalwart, indomitable, and fearless" in the face of oppression, he said. "They are unsung heroes for Christ, with a heaven-born determination, boldly providing leadership and being examples to their people." Despite opposition, they provide sanctuary for Christian refugees and orphanages for homeless children, and they quietly train people to minister the Gospel to those around them. "If we have food, we eat, if not, we pray," an evangelist told the minister.
...Christians are rebuilding a ministry facility destroyed by Muslims last year. The 90-acre site in the desert -- "an oasis carved from the sand" - was intended to encourage and train Christian leaders and to aid the physically and mentally handicapped, the ministry said. About 300 Muslims from a nearby army base attacked the site with bulldozers, tearing down buildings and physically abusing staff, he said. Christians are rebuilding the site, leaving in place huge piles of rubble as a testimony to their commitment.
..."They aren't going to let it stop them. They thanked God for preserving their lives and are busy at the business of restoring the ministry. They are energized by the Spirit of God," the minister said.
(Religion Today October 14, 1999)
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