Points North

North Africa is dominating the news headlines. Recent events in the region have challenged the status quo, but problems remain. Below we tell just one story, highlighting the difficulties for workers in the region.

‘Expansive deserts, exotic medinas, ancient Christianity, modern Islam. It’s fascinating and diverse landscape is home to 165 million people, yet the number of people who know Christ there is less than one percent and closer to 0.1 percent in most places. Despite the region’s ancient Christian heritage, Jesus is not only unknown there, but great barriers to know Him have been erected by the governments, with their extreme control over many aspects of life. While a few of these countries have an official freedom to exercise religion, this really only applies to foreigners. Locals who desire to follow Jesus will most certainly be expelled from their family and community and risk imprisonment… or worse.

I had the opportunity to live for two weeks in an ancient medina in one of these countries, which I can’t name. I’ve been to the region a handful of times and probably half my trips throughout Africa are to Creative Access Nations. I am well aware of the security and political considerations one must make as a Christian entering these countries. I know the list of words I can’t use over the phone, the sites I can’t visit on the Internet, the email domains I can’t send or receive from. I know I have to leave my regular occupational identity back home in East Africa, and that here I am simply a photographer, a filmmaker, a tourist, who happens to be a serious Christ-follower. I don’t have to be afraid of that label.

“Locals were arrested and questioned, and an American was being taken to the airport and deported.”

This trip reminded me that we, as Christians, are engaged in a spiritual battle, not a physical battle. The people I met in North Africa were generous and hospitable and lovely. Yet somewhere underneath the surface is a sense of suspicion. As a member of the religious minority, there were many tourist places that were off-limits to me. Similarly, there are subjects of conversation that are off-limits, even by law. Religious subjects that will earn you an armed escort to the border of the country and a swift kick out. Within the society, it is unlawful to challenge their world-view with another perspective. Separating their religion and their culture is not a choice they are given. One night, while gathered together with some other Christians for worship, a phone call came with news of an overwhelming police and military force having broken up a Bible study. Locals were arrested and questioned, and an American was being taken to the airport and deported.

points-north-facts

3 Facts about Islam:

  1. Islam means ‘submission’.
  2. No room for questioning or challenging what the Qur’an says (giving only some allowance for scholars to interpret).
  3. Islam declares that all mankind are actually Muslims unless they opt out.

3 Facts about Muslims:

  1. Are still Muslims even if they don’t practise.
  2. Are usually extremely sincere about their beliefs (even if they don’t really understand them).
  3. More Muslims are coming to faith in Christ than at any other point in history.

The result of a government intercepted text message, most likely. I realised just how serious a spiritual battle we are engaged in and how high the stakes are, particularly for the local believers who will have to live with the consequences and aftermath. I was reminded that while we, as foreigners, risk deportation to share Christ with others here, the local believers risk much more. We need to be actively praying and petitioning the Lord on behalf of the believers and foreign workers in these countries. We need to pray for wisdom and courage for believers and for growing numbers of Muslims to seek not only religious and political freedom, but true freedom, which Christ alone can give.’

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