Tag Archives: Zanzibar

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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