The Maltese Cross

1 Nov

Sharing God’s good news with local people and foreigners on Malta gives the cross a whole new meaning.

MaltaCrossThe cross is a cherished and significant symbol for one particular island in the Mediterranean Sea. Malta is not only one of the smallest and most densely populated countries in the world, it is one of the most Catholic. Almost everyone is baptised into the Roman Catholic Church at birth. Tourists are struck by the prominence of crosses and images of saints all over the island.

 Malta took a strong stand for Christianity when the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked on its shores, but countless battles have been fought on its soil. It was thanks to the Knights of Malta, whose symbol is the Maltese Cross, that the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire were halted from their advance into Europe. During World War II the island served as a British outpost, and King George VI awarded the people the George Cross for their valiant stand, helping to free Europe and North Africa.

The cross has also been the underlying motivation for Dutch workers on Malta, Dirk and Wil Knies. While serving on board OM’s ship Logos II in the Caribbean during 1996, the couple were in a car accident that left both of them badly injured. Forced to leave the ship ministry, the Knies moved to Malta in 1998 to start something new

Evangelicals in the MinorityMaltaSea

Dirk estimates that there are perhaps 800 to 1,000 believers and 12 to 14 evangelical fellowships on the island, although some are tiny and meeting in garages or homes. He believes that visits by OM ships over the years have helped to break the religious ice. But, he adds, “The church is still small. The ground is still hard. Catholicism is an important part of life here. A Maltese who steps out and becomes an evangelical Christian will be isolated from his family.”

Last Easter Dirk and a few friends shouldered a giant wooden cross and carried it across the island for eight days, stopping frequently to talk with residents.

“To most people Easter is just a traditional religious feast,” he observes, “they don’t know what the cross is really about. But six people came to Christ!”

Dirk and Wil found themselves focusing more and more of their concern on new arrivals from the Middle East and North Africa. Malta lies only 176 miles east of Tunisia and 207 miles north of Libya, and its proximity has lured thousands of men, women and children to chance the perilous sea crossing. The UN’s refugee agency estimates that approximately 8,400 migrants and asylum-seekers landed on the coasts of Italy and Malta during the first six months of 2013 alone. Often these desperate people pay $1000 or more for transport in unseaworthy boats. While Malta’s search and rescue efforts have saved many lives, almost 500 people were reported dead or missing at sea in 2012 alone. Those who do manage to reach Malta may be sent back to their home countries or held indefinitely in a detention camp.

“We get boats all the time,” relates Dirk, “people arriving in horrible shape.”

Finding Refuge

Distressed by the condition of such refugees and seeing many Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East hiding in fear of authorities, the couple began to help them both practically and spiritually. They even took some of the men into their home for long periods of time, assisting them to find asylum in other countries. They have also had the joy of seeing Muslims discover a more permanent spiritual refuge in Jesus Christ.

MaltaDirk1Over the years Dirk has volunteered to lead OM teams into North Africa. He often takes along a Maltese flag; using the cross that it features to share about Jesus’ sacrifice. “I’ve been pulled into the police station a few times, but not imprisoned.” He shrugs. “I’ve never really suffered.”

The Cross in a Box

This summer Dirk hosted his fourth OM Transform team on Malta. One of the evangelism tools he has designed for their use is the “Little Big Gift,” a cross with pictures and Bible verses from Romans that folds into a small box.

“I love to train people and put stuff in their hands that works,” he says. “We need to multiply our efforts so that more will get out there to evangelise. I’ve tried the Little Big Gift everywhere and given away 1500 or 1600. Nobody has ever really refused, even in the Middle East. I used it once to share God’s gift with a lady at a bus stop and after 10 minutes she said, ‘I understand! I want Jesus in my life.’ She got on the bus a new person.”

Dirk calls himself “a pipe through which God’s love, grace and blessings flow.” “For over 40 years I’ve witnessed to the average man on the street as well as presidents, princes, police and others in authority. I’ve shared in palaces, government buildings, schools, factories, shacks, tents and on hundreds of streets in the darkest countries of the world.

 “At times I’ve felt like quitting,” he admits. “Believers with a Muslim background often hurt us; many times we’ve been cheated, deceived and in some ways stabbed in the back. There are times that I’ve failed too. I’ve let down my Lord and my family. But the one thing that has always kept us going was continuing to look to Jesus. ‘For us, to live is Christ; to suffer for Christ is honor; to die for Christ is gain‘” (Phil. 1:20-23, 29, 30).

Dirk values your prayers as he continues to shoulder the cross on the island of Malta.

 

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