The Gospel is at Work in North Africa
19 September 2023
The Gospel is at Work in North Africa
by Bruce*, Pioneers' Regional Leader for North Africa
The North Africa Region is a vast area comprising everything from Mauritania across to the Horn of Africa, with the exception of Egypt and Sudan, which are part of the Middle East region.
There is a huge variety of ministries across the ten countries and different types of approaches are needed to get workers into these countries. However there are a few common strands across the region.
Firstly, most of the countries have a strong Muslim majority – perhaps 97 to 99%. There is a significant Christian presence in a couple of the countries but even there, our workers are focusing on Islamic people groups. It’s a highly Islamic region.
A second reality would be that, with a couple of exceptions, there is no historic church. The exceptions really are Chad, especially in the south where there are established Christian denominations and churches, and in Ethiopia where the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest and largest Orthodox Churches in the world. There was an ancient church in North Africa – early church fathers such as Augustine of Hippo, Tertullian and Cyprian were North Africans (probably Berber rather than Arab) – but when Islam moved across northern Africa in the sixth and seventh centuries, the ancient church was pretty much wiped out.
Another common thread in the region is that, with very few exceptions, our workers are working as tent makers, or business professionals. They have to find a way of getting residence through some sort of secular job or business. And related to that, it’s very difficult for them to actually get jobs through which they can get residency visas. So a lot of workers have to start their own business and that’s a very viable way of getting a residency visa. There is definitely a lot of red tape but it is very doable.
A Change in the Wind
In recent years in some countries there has been increased polarisation. On the one hand many Muslims are becoming more fundamentalist and yet on the other hand many are becoming quite modern and secular. The number of those in the middle is perhaps even reducing.
For those who have become Christians, who have come to faith from a Muslim background, they are becoming bolder and in some cases publicly declaring their faith in Christ. This can bring a level of social persecution and social ostracism from their families. A few years ago there was a big movement on YouTube where local believers were sharing their testimonies. There are still many believers who are still quite undercover, quite secretive, but we are seeing more and more share their faith openly with others.
In North Africa, there are fewer death threats and imprisonments but ironically, where there is an existing church, there is quite a bit of persecution of believers. This is targeted towards those who have come to faith from a Muslim background and often comes from the family – uncles, cousins and even fathers and brothers.
Much to Encourage...
Every time I go to visit our people in the Northern Africa region, I’m hearing testimonies from our teams there. It is so encouraging to hear stories of people coming to faith. We’re not seeing large numbers coming all at once, but we’re hearing an increasing crescendo of ones and twos coming to faith, which is just really exciting.
Just last year the language tutor of some of our workers came to faith and has since been baptised. It feels like every time I travel and talk to our teams in these various places I hear these stories of individuals and so while they’re still coming in ones and twos I feel like there’s more and more of these ones and twos coming to faith.
Another encouragement is obviously the increased boldness of these new believers in sharing their own faith with their families, their neighbours and being open about following Christ.
There are also so many people that are finding truth by just searching online and finding our own media ministry and many others involved in smaller outreach projects. We cannot ignore the significant role that the internet and social media is playing in this increasing crescendo of ones and twos coming to faith.
I get the sense that God is at work, God is doing something across the region and now is the time to act. But we need more workers and more prayer – coupled with social media and media ministries. It’s all God, all by His grace, and it’s a blessing that He uses us in anything but I want to make sure that we acknowledge that the internet and social media is playing a huge part in it.
...And Some Challenges
Even as we see people coming to faith, we also see disunity among some of the existing underground house churches and fellowships. People fall out with one another; there is jealousy and internal conflicts between believers where there isn’t resolution, and they might walk away from that fellowship or from all fellowship with other believers. Sometimes conflict can lead to a multiplication of new churches because they’ll walk away and start a new fellowship, but it’s really disappointing to see new fellowships starting on a foundation of bitterness or unresolved conflict. We know that our enemy is very sly and scheming and he knows that if he can divide Christ’s followers and sow seeds of mistrust then he can severely weaken the church. It’s nothing new – but it’s still a reality.
Prayer is Vital
I think it would be safe to say in every single country in every single city there are challenges of disunity among the local fellowships – so pray for unity where there’s brokenness, conflict and mistrust. Pray too for the ongoing continued boldness for the local believers; may they continue to stand firm and be bold in their faith. Local believers can be so effective in reaching their own family, neighbours, friends and circle of influence for Christ – maybe more than us as outsiders.
I’m hesitant to ask for prayer for less persecution because generally believers in persecuted countries don’t ask for that. They typically ask for grace, strength and boldness to stand up under the persecution.
Another prayer request is for more workers. This is a vast region and there are still so many corners that are completely untouched by the gospel. We have barely scratched the surface; there are still so many cities, towns, whole provinces, remote mountain villages, whole areas that are completely beyond reach of the gospel right now. And there are people groups, such as nomadic groups for example, who are beyond the reach of social media, the internet and access to the gospel. Please keep praying that the Lord of the harvest will send out more workers across this region.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2023 edition of Reach Magazine, The Arab World.
The call hasn’t changed in the two thousand years that separate us from the first mission sending church and their missionaries, Saul and Barnabas. We are still called to Give, Pray, Send and Go. The question we must each ask ourselves if we’re really serious about following in Jesus’ footsteps is, "Which part of ‘Go ye therefore and make disciples’ am I meant to fulfil?"
Our landlord’s daughter-in-law has been busy, as she is every morning, ensuring she fulfils her duty of offering puja to the gods on behalf of the household. She carries the burden of the spiritual wellbeing of the family; if something bad befalls them, she simply must not have worshipped enough.