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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.


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



16 Dec

When I asked how he happened to join OM International in Belgium 16 years ago, Govert Minderman flashes a pirate-like grin and jokes, “They left the front door open!” But before that, Govert had taken a few seriously wrong turns.  His story really goes back to when his Indonesian Govert Mindermanparents were interred in a Japanese concentration camp in the 1940’s. During those harrowing years his father was forced to watch his wife being raped by soldiers. He also saw his brother cruelly beheaded.

Govert says his mother was a strong Christian.  “Later, I asked her what she did after she was attacked. She said she dropped to her knees and prayed that God would redeem those soldiers. She also prayed that hate wouldn’t enter her heart, so that she could raise her children in love.”

After they were liberated, Govert’s parents were given the choice of returning to Indonesia or moving to the Netherlands. They chose Holland. In spite of his mother’s powerful faith, Govert began running with wrong crowd as he grew older, drinking and taking hard drugs.

 “I was on drugs for 25 years,” he admits. “By the end of that time I needed 500 Euros a day to support my cocaine and heroin habit. I even robbed a bank to get money. The woman I married was also on drugs. When we had a daughter, the welfare department threatened to take her away unless we stopped our addiction. So I went to a rehab center to try to get free of it. My wife started going with another man, and we divorced.”


Of his salvation experience Govert simply says, “God found me.–I didn’t find him. He let himself be found! My mother told me I needed to pray and when I was sick from drugs I prayed. But the answer didn’t come until years later.” The “hound of heaven” relentlessly pursued Govert over many paths until he was ready to stop and acknowledge his need. Accepting Jesus as Saviour changed him from the inside out.

Not long after that, Govert attended an OM new recruits’ conference in the Netherlands.. “Meeting Al Meyer [manager of the Zaventem, Belgium, conference centre] and fellow believers there was one of the most blessed times of my life. I wanted to join one of OM’s ships but I had injured a tendon, so was advised not to. Then someone suggested that I should help at the base in Zaventem, Belgium, because I like practical work.

Zaventem, Belgium buildings“Just the fact that I could be part of a ministry is such grace. –To BE church rather than just go to church! In Zaventem we were ten nationalities together. I helped with building, maintenance and repair at first. Now I also like doing hospitality for ZavCentre. It’s the Lord who gives a smile, who fills my heart with joy!”

For a number of years Govert assisted disabled OMer Jonathan McRostie, and remembers once struggling with another friend to carry him and his wheelchair up a set of steps to a meeting room. Jonathan suddenly asked his helpers, “Do you know what this reminds me of?” Govert’s friend, groaning under the weight of the chair, mumbled that he wasn’t  interested. But Jonathan went on, “Remember the friends who carried the disabled man to Jesus and made a hole through the roof?”

 “Suddenly,” smiles Govert, “ that chair wasn’t so heavy!  You know, moments like that are really precious.”

 In his spare time, Govert enjoys playing his guitar and doing prison ministry with friends. “I like to play music, to have fun. But the most important thing is God’s Word. We always try to share that, or give a testimony.”

Govert will always suffer heart and kidney problems as a result of his long years of drug abuse. But few visitors to ZavCentre go away without noticing his cheerful spirit. Govert is very aware of how much he owes the Lord for turning his life around. “I’m a blessed person,” he states simply. “Whenever people ask me how I’m doing, I always say I’m grateful!” —Forever grateful.

Read Debbie Meroff's book and learn how it's possible to transform a continent

Read Debbie Meroff’s book and learn how it’s possible to transform a continent