July 1st 2007 1 comment so far
In leaving Tunisia for London, our African adventure truly did come to an end. We’ve seen the southernmost and the northernmost countries of this vastly complex, even inscrutable, continent where different histories, geographies, and climates, form an intricately chaotic mosaic of cultures, tongues, and peoples.
You can quickly fall in love with wanting to understand Africa through broad sweeping generalizations. Our minds crave the simplicity of such overstatement. Our hearts tell us a different story. Africa, per se, defies explanation. Life here requires the humility to live with unanswered questions, the courage to live with the uncertainty, and the compassion to live for Africans.
Life here requires the humility to live with unanswered questions, the courage to live with the uncertainty, and the compassion to live for Africans.
Three scenes from yesterday’s activities seem to summarize what we’ve experienced with our friend in Tunisia.
Scene 1: Ruins of the Roman Amphitheater in Carthage
Just north of Tunis lie several excavated sites of ruins of the ancient city of Carthage. You may remember that, at one time, Carthage was one of the most powerful states on the Mediterranean rim and a fierce enemy of the Roman empire. Hannibal’s famous trek with elephants over the Alps to attack Rome was launched from Carthage. It eventually fell to Roman power and, what’s more interesting for believers, became a center for the growth of the early Church.
Early Church Fathers such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine lived here. Until it’s conquest in the eighth century by Islam, Carthage was one of the most important centers for early Christianity. Yesterday’s first stop, however, reminded us that the Church was not just built through magnificent cathedrals and powerful Church Councils. Christianity flourished in the soil of persecution through the blood of martyrs. In the ruins of the Roman amphitheater we read the story of Perpetua and Felicitas, two young women who died in that amphitheater solely because they would not deny their faith in the risen Christ. In North Africa, faith in Christ has always born a cost.
Scene 2: Ruins of Cyprian’s Church
Standing majestically on the most prominent hilltop in Carthage is the Presidential Mosque. Its design breathes power and strength. Immaculately cared for, the mosque stands brooding over its domain. None would dare challenge its authority over this culture and its people. Just down the hillside below the mosque lie the ruins of a church where Cyprian, an early Bishop, ministered.
The ruins are unkempt; weeds sprout between random bits of trash strewn throughout the site. Here you can see an early baptismal pool where North Africans would declare their allegiance to the risen Christ. But the mosque stands ever vigilant above, reminding us that, for the moment, Islam has won this land. Its splendor only magnifies the disarray and defeat of the Church, a reminder that there are powers in this world that oppose to the end the purpose of God.
Scene 3: Iwan’s Announcement
Laughter and kisses and excited greetings marked our entry into a friend’s home. We had come to celebrate the graduations of two daughters, one from the university, the other from high school. Our friends have know this family since the beginning of their time here. They have spent hours with the older daughter, Iwan, counseling and befriending her, and patiently explaining the truth about Jesus. She asked earnest questions and carefully considered the answers.
Last night she announced that she and her American boyfriend were going to get married. Even more, she said, he had decided to convert to Islam and that she, too, was convinced that Islam was the only true religion. She said that she believed in only One God and that the Trinity proved that Christianity did not. We all kept smiling and laughing and kissing and eating, but our hearts were broken. That’s ministry here. Hours and hours of relationship building and sowing; sparse reaping.
Final Thoughts on North Africa
Has Islam conquered North Africa? Yes. Twelve centuries of Islamic domination have erased any vestiges of the living and vibrant faith that we hold so dear. Has the Church disappeared from North Africa? No. Believers still gather as they can, still pray with fervency for their friends, and still worship the One True God, the Lord Jesus.
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