by Donald R. Rickards
The people of God often get caught up in secular thinking with regard to frontiers. When both the north and south poles had been conquered, when the highest mountains had been climbed, and when the floor of the oceans had been charted, everyone turned toward space as a new frontier.
The people of God often get caught up in secular thinking with regard to frontiers. When both the north and south poles had been conquered, when the highest mountains had been climbed, and when the floor of the oceans had been charted, everyone turned toward space as a new frontier. The moon became the supreme test of whether earthlings could ever break into space as a whole.
How exciting it was when former President Nixon announced at the conclusion of man’s first walk on the moon’s surface, "This is the greatest day in the history of earth." Many people agreed with him.
There were those who did not agree, however, and with good reason. One might almost say, "Man looketh on the outward frontier; God looketh on the inner frontier." The question is forced upon us, "Have we, the people of God, broken through all the spiritual frontiers of our world?"
In 1910, at Edinburgh, the Latin American frontier was willfully ignored. Since that gathering, the Latin American frontier has been so successfully penetrated that the Christian population is growing at a rate three times as fast as the total population. In some countries, such as Guatemala, the rate of growth for Christians is so rapid that if it continues, it is foreseeable that the entire country will become Christian.
Before Angola and Mozambique became independent socialist states, missiologists were saying that by the year 2000, the entire continent of Africa would be Christian. Admittedly, this was too inclusive a use of the term "Christian," but their optimism was not totally unfounded. In the year 1900, there was one Christian to every 75 Africans; today there is one Christian to every 2.5 persons on what formerly was called "the dark continent." The African frontier has been equally penetrated.
What about the Asian frontier? Throughout the past century and a half, people movements-small and large-have abounded on the Indian sub-continent. The church of India is a strong church with outstanding leaders, and thousands of national missionaries are serving the Lord, financed by the "shoestring" principle.
Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos have all experienced the impact of the gospel. There are Japanese churches, Malaysian churches, Filipino churches. Indonesia has been the scene of one of the greatest movements of God’s Spirit in history. When we turn to the Communist frontier, we are thrilled to witness 10 percent of the Russian people attending church on a given Sunday (in contrast to only 4 percent of the Britishers). The director of the Bible Christian Union returned from an extended trip in Russia and reported packed services everywhere, over a large area of western Russia.
There are churches in every Communist country in eastern Europe. Poland has given permission to publish a new edition of the Bible, and a large Bible bookstore contains Bibles in 23 languages (all but Russian). Hungary has just experienced a Billy Graham campaign. Czechoslovakia has just published a new edition of the Scriptures. Admittedly, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania remain difficult to penetrate. In Red China, some observers say the church as a whole has doubled under the Bamboo Curtain. In some places, it is said that the church is four times as strong as it was in 1949. So much for all the frontiers except one. This last one is a block of nations where no minority Christian church exists, nor has existed since the 12th century: North Africa is the last frontier.
We are speaking of Morocco (17 million population), Algeria (17 million population), Tunisia (6 million) and Libya (3 million). Among these 43 millions of people not one local, organized church exists! In what was in centuries past the granary that fed the Roman Empire, and in what was the stronger part of the church during the Roman Empire, nothing remains of that greatness which produced an Augustine, a Tertullian, a Cyprian.
Not that God is not moving among North Africans today. He brought the attention of the world to focus on these countries as each successfully experienced its revolution for independence. Subsequently, several hundred thousand Muslim Arabs emigrated to Europe from their national homelands. Can we not perceive in this move the cry of the Sprit to the Christians in Europe to share the gospel with them?
With the energy crisis, God has again underlined the existence of a nation such as Algeria, perhaps in order to focus our attention on its needy millions. There are about 750 visible Christians today in these four countries, some 200-250 of them in Algeria. Scattered, intimidated, as yet not a local church, many of these national believers are living lives of amazing faith through their stand for the truth in Christ.
Morocco has approximately 350-400 believers and their individual stories of heroic faith make our hearts sing with praise for what the Lord can do in such circumstances. There is not, however, one local church here from which a missionary could walk away and leave it standing to the glory of God.
Tunisia has perhaps one hundred believers throughout the countryside. While there are several worshiping groups, there is no local church as of this date. Libya contains one unbaptized national believer among its three million people.
To quote the apostle Paul: "If you sow sparingly you will reap sparingly; if you sow bountifully you will reap bountifully. " One hundred missionaries are not able to cope with these 43 millions of persons. The need for believing prayer is heavily underlined, but personnel and money are also needed in large doses. Muslim North Africa is a frontier that must be penetrated by the church of Jesus Christ.
The law of apostasy in Islam eliminates in fearful fashion any nascent boldness in the convert°s heart. When elders have been appointed to lead the flock of God in Algeria and Morocco, they have been beaten up before arriving at their homes. They speedily resigned. The law of apostasy demands the death of the apostate from Islam within thirty days, i£ he has not recanted his new allegiance.
In the experience of one veteran missionary in Algeria, eleven men who met together weekly to break bread were all in oblivion after two years; some were poisoned, others went insane, some were stabbed to death, while the rest simply disappeared.
In spite of the enemy’s opposition, the number of converts today is ten times greater than at any time previously. A combination of correspondence courses and radio ministry has served to evangelize and identify many who have persisted to study the Word of God in secret, then openly. Recently in Algiers, five men and one girl were baptized in the name of Christ. Theological Education by Extension has been introduced in three North African countries where groups gather on a regular basis to have their lessons checked. One woman who was illiterate only a short time ago now is doing rather deep lessons in the Word.
We can sum up the vitality of these wonderful believers with the example of one recently released from a Moroccan prison, where he had been sentenced because of his faith. During his incarceration, believers throughout Morocco sent gifts both in kind and financial. So much came in that his family was fully sustained as though he had been working. When he was let go, he told the missionary to please take the excess of money which he didn’t need and send it to the widow and family of Dr. Byang Kato, who shortly after being appointed as Director of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar drowned off a Kenyan beach.
That is the kind of faith which the free church must match in Muslim North Africa. The national has it; the international Christian must demonstrate it. This frontier, too, must be conquered by the grace of God.
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