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Awakenings

3 Feb

Zanzibar is an island paradise that could use much more of the Son

ZANZIBARsailboatsTourist brochures call the Zanzibar archipelago the Spice Islands: the ultimate, exotic Indian Ocean experience. For centuries, however, Zanzibar was more of a favored destination for Arab traders than tourists. The islands were a transit hub for ivory, spices and hundreds of thousands of African slaves.

Zanzibar won independence from Britain in 1963 and a year later joined with Tanganyika to create the country of Tanzania. Unfortunately, the relationship has often been uneasy and one party, the Citizen’s United Front (CUF), has made it their goal to reestablish Zanzibar’s independence. Ninety-seven per cent of the 1.3 million population is Muslim and a radical faction within the CUF called Uamsho, meaning “Awakening” in Swahili, also wants to see the islands return to Sharia law and the Muslim way.

Pioneering

Early in 2011, two Christians formerly with Campus Crusade for Christ moved to pioneer new work in the small, 90 by 30 kilometer island in the sun. Theo* and Astrid were already aware of the rise of radical Islam. During their first years several church buildings were damaged or burnt down by extremists, and a Catholic priest was shot dead. This August Zanzibar hit the headlines again when two 18-year-old girls from England, volunteer teachers for underprivileged children, suffered severe burns from an acid attack.

In September the violence came even closer. An elderly Catholic priest was attacked with acid just after leaving an internet café; very near the Christian couple’s apartment. This made the fifth attack since last November, and although no group claimed responsibility, suspicions have focused on Uamsho and external radical influences.

“According to rumors, Uamsho has sent some young men to the Middle East for jihad training,” report the couple. “Intimidation and radical speeches are sowing fear and division. The vast majority of locals want peace, but when they are forced to make a choice they will go with Islam. Many are illiterate and will do whatever their imams tell them to do.

“The government is looking into all these matters,” they add, “and they are making progress. Death threats against pastors are being dealt with successfully and according to reliable sources, perpetrators have been arrested in Tanzania where the attacks been orchestrated.”

The minority church

Local Christians, however, are still scared. “The majority do not have assurance of faith and we sense some strife between different denominations on the island,” says Theo. “Many pastors have not received any training, theological or otherwise. TV Christian channels are their teachers. Leaders are in need of skills to develop projects, coach individuals, plant churches and handle many other aspects of shepherding God’s flock. Believers have a great need for guidance in discovering their talents and potential vocations.”

After immersion in the culture and learning some Swahili, Theo and Astrid started a street church. Because people are so dependent on the tourism industry it is hard for them to find time for discipling believers. Theo has learned to fit his time around their different schedules, regularly visiting new Christians and following up the many contacts he makes with non-believers on the streets. Theo is enthusiastic about this ministry and says, “I can’t wait to see what the Holy Spirit is going to do!”

At the beginning of 2013 Astrid started what she calls the Butterfly Project, teaching Christian and Muslim ladiesZANZIBAR2women basic skills in first aid, nutrition, sewing, knitting and other subjects. The idea is to develop some women who will take over the project and teach others: reaching individuals, then reaching communities. So far this idea has met with great success.

Astrid and Theo ask prayer that a greater hunger for truth will emerge among Zanzibar’s Christians and that they will demonstrate more unity. “Christians need to be able to give the answers that Muslims are seeking for when they ask questions about Jesus. Those who receive revelation and new life must have a safe refuge to go to. Pray that Christians will be ready to receive new believers into their homes.”

Although slaves are no longer bought and sold from this beautiful island, the majority of people know what it is to suffer spiritual bondage. Ask God to bring a different kind of uamsho or awakening: one that will lead to life rather than destruction.ZanzibarBoy

*Names changed

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Angola: Training up a nation

20 Nov

Helping a war-ravaged society heal itselfAngolaFlag

Why should a country that exports oil and diamonds have to import half its daily food? Over a dozen years after the end of a brutal civil war, Angola’s economy is slowly rebounding. Yet residents can only expect to live an average of 54 years, and child and maternal mortality rates remain among the highest in the world. This country clearly has a long way to go; so does the Church.

AngolaTeam2Yet after many years of investing themselves in this southwest corner of Africa, Wessel and Joan van der Merwe say that their hearts overflow with joy to see a dream come true: Angolans are becoming missionaries in their own country. Marta, one of the most promising students in OM Angola’s 10-month mission course, now feels a strong call to join the team long term. Nando, another student who took Petra College’s correspondence course on children’s work this year and attended the “Walking with the Wounded” training in South Africa, has already joined OM. Unfortunately, while both of these young people have promises of some financial support, it is not enough for them to stay long term.

Training in God’s Word

Meanwhile, the demand for Bible correspondence courses continues non-stop. With the help of local believers, the materials are being translated into another language, Luchachi. Wessel and Joan are looking to God to provide the necessary printing costs.

“One very big need, however,” they add, “is the constant demand for Bibles! We cannot keep up with the need for Scriptures in Umbundu, Cokwe and Luchachi languages. People come daily to our base to ask if we have received any more copies.”

Bible school training

Raising up qualified leadership for Angola’s churches has been a priority for OM since its beginning. When the team saw that existing seminaries were often too expensive for the average person, they created a programme that would allow students to work and study at the same time. Seven Bible schools have now been established in Uige, Luanda, Menongue, Kuito Karnivale and Calai. Other institutions assist; Veritas College, for instance, offers a course called “How to interpret the Bible with the Bible”. The Africa Leaders Institute in Namibia has also been involved, and the Christian Reformed Church in South Africa is committed to helping with both training and financial support of Angolan leaders in the same denominations.

Equipping children and youth

With forty-four per cent of Angola’s population under 15, OM has a wide-open door to share God’s Word with the next generation and teach them basic English. Children’s clubs have been effective in reaching the un-churched. Programmes held every Saturday are impacting about 400 children in just two communities.

Thanks to contributions from a supporter in England, construction has begun on the foundation of OM’s children’s centre in Menongue, another long-awaited dream.

“A lot of work remains,” note the van der Merwes, “so we ask you to trust God with us for the time, hands and outstanding finances still required. We also ask prayer for a speedy registration process with the government and for wisdom, discernment and protection against all forms of corruption. Plus an individual or couple must be found to live on the premises and co-ordinate the work in our absence, whenever we go to Luanda or South Africa. With God’s help, our centre will assist very needy children and orphans to reach the full potential He has for them.”

Meanwhile, the team continues to train pre-school teachers and Sunday School teachers for Angola’s churches. “So many do not feel well-equipped. We praise the Lord for opportunities to help teachers learn how to build relationships with their children, as well learn how to prepare and present well-balanced lessons.”

Discipleship training for teens

Youth who once attended children’s clubs and are now trying to stay faithful to Jesus in their teens AngolaDisciplingprisonyouthalso need training. Some committed Christian youth are volunteering their time to minister in the local prison in Menongue.

“Early every morning at 6:00, young people who were using–and sometimes still use—marijuana show up for discipleship training, ready to be equipped with God’s Word,”affirms the team. “We are very encouraged by their zeal, but sexual temptation is very big here. One of the devastating statistics of Angola is that 43 per cent of youth have had sexual relations by the age of 15.”

OM Angola hopes to build relationships with the ever-increasing numbers of youth who are using drugs by making their property available as a soccer field. “We are excited about the opportunities for introducing Christ’s way through the rules of the game. Please trust God with us for His time to start this ministry, as well as the right people to co-ordinate it.”

Advocacy courses for church leaders

Meanwhile, training is helping to close the gap between church leaders and the children in their churches and communities. This year OM Angola held its first advocacy course with the support of Petra College, which partners with the team in children’s ministries.

The team’s goal is that each leader and Sunday School teacher will make sure their children have assurance of faith in Christ Jesus, so they will experience His sincere love for them.

Angola’s greatest hope does not lie in its oil fields or diamonds, but in its next generation. Will you join in asking God to raise up more Angolan young people to reach the world in which He placed them?