Christian church growing despite persecution in Tunisia

Persecution of Christians in the North African country of Tunisia has grown in the past year, but Tunisian believers are optimistic the gospel will continue to be heard in the predominantly Muslim country.

“Our church is a very young church,” says Mustapha, a former civil engineer who now works in full-time Christian ministry in Tunis. Mustapha said the growth of Christianity began after 2000, and since then many Muslims have converted to Christianity.

“We were six to eight people at most at the start, but the Lord has worked a lot with our church,” Mustapha told Open Doors USA, an organization that works to empower and equip persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries. “Now we have 90 members with several couples and there are children of all different ages. We have all generations in church.”

Tunisian Christians typically meet in house churches. In 2006 the Church in Tunisia was given permission to use an existing church building where previously only foreign workers had met together for worship.

Those foreigners first brought Christianity to Tunisia in the 1970s, but it was the rise of satellite television and the Internet that allowed the gospel to spread in the 99 percent Muslim majority country. The influence of Islam is a challenge for Mustapha and other Christian leaders in the country.

“In the Muslim world, people know the mosque; that is our background,” Mustapha told Open Doors. “It’s the place where people go to pray, to do their religious duties. New converts don’t understand that they are part of the Church and that Church is about people, members, about ministry, about giving and not only about receiving.”

Past teachings

The attitudes of Muslim Background Believers toward the Bible also are influenced by past religious teachings, Mustapha said.

“They look at it like they did at the Quran, a book with the law of their religion but not a book that you should relate to. With this background it’s difficult to convince someone to have a true relationship with the Bible, to let it change your life, to ‘eat’ the Bible. It’s not just to listen to or to put it under a cushion before sleeping, you have to know it and have a real relationship with it.”

Mustapha said another problem is that many in Tunisia and the surrounding countries don’t read for anything other than information. New converts must learn to read the Bible and to take pleasure in reading, he said.

Mustapha recently finished a training offered by Open Doors for church leaders from Algeria and Tunisia.

An Open Doors manager said the organization is working to make the Bible and the New Testament available for new believers.

“We know the importance of the Scriptures for the believers,” the manager said. “We also offer discipleship training. There we motivate the participants to read and study the Bible.”

Music is another method the church is using to contextualize the gospel for Tunisian believers.

“There exist Egyptian songs. They are in Arabic, but that’s another Arabic than we speak,” Mustapha says. “So we started to make up our own songs in the Tunisian dialect. When we sing Tunisian Arabic people are more at ease, these songs motivate the people.”

Even though Mustapha carries a smile on his face, that doesn’t make his task easy. Some days the weight of living in a predominantly Muslim country is overwhelming.

‘“We’re working in the middle of persecution, rejected by society,” he said.

A major challenge for Mustapha and others like him is that he has many duties, including managing the worship group, planning discipleship courses and sometimes teaching and preaching.

“We’re in the stage of laying a foundation. We don’t have a model to follow or a system to work with. We’re setting up, creating our system, the administration, and also our own theology, our training, the courses we organize, discipleship training, preaching. It’s all up to us,” he said.

The work can be overwhelming, Mustapha said.

“When I am confronted with all the work, with all these challenges, I become demoralized or depressed,” he said. “I do all this work, but I don’t see the fruit straight away. Pray for me, that I may hold fast, that I will keep my eyes turned towards the Lord and above all that I will listen to his voice and will not do something by my own intelligence. Truly we are at the point where we just have to do what God tells us.” (TAB)