Conversation after conversation, prayer after prayer, is slowly removing one rock after another
“How many people have you brought to the Lord?” The question came from a middle school boy sitting a few rows back next to his mother. It was at an information night my husband and I were having at one of our large supporting churches about the work we are a part of in North Africa. Oh, please, not that question, I thought, feeling a wave of both dread and shame.
How do we explain to this group of North American believers, many of whom support us financially and pray for us daily, that we haven’t “brought anyone to the Lord”, but that we truly are striving to be faithful and obedient? How do we explain that there’s more that’s happening than pure numbers would show?
I think about the countless conversations I’ve had with local friends, steaming cups of sweet mint tea in our hands. Conversations where I’ve shared the gospel, my testimony, Scripture, prayed with them, and yet, I am still waiting for the day where I can truly call them my sisters. I think of all of the taxi drivers, strangers, shopkeepers who we’ve explained the truth of the gospel to, and no response. I think of the hours upon hours we’ve spent praying with other believers to see the hearts of those around us softened to Him.
If you visited the region we live in, you would find that in many senses it mirrors the spiritual climate of this North African country. It’s dry, with little natural vegetation save the hardiest of plants. The soil is dry and in some areas literally covered with rocks. We don’t expect rain except in the winter, and even then it’s not much.
I can remember looking out on one particularly desolate area of land that was just dry soil and rocks. Could anything ever grow here? I wondered. And for me, it felt like an accurate picture of what our work here is like. Conversation after conversation, prayer after prayer, is like slowly removing one rock after another just so we can begin to get closer to the soil, so that the soil can be tilled, so that seeds planted have a chance to take root and grow.
I am making it sound impossible. And some days, with some people, it does feel that way.
But, I also paint that picture so you understand the incredible miracle that occurs when He turns a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. The miracle of a seed being sown, and that seed taking root and then, despite the harsh conditions of family, culture, Islam, unbelief, the seed growing! And it is happening. I almost want to add an exclamation mark because that is the feeling we have as we hear story after story across the country of new brothers and sisters. It’s not in the thousands, or even in the hundreds, but it is happening.
Just recently, a new brother joined the family of believers. Some fellow workers faithfully shared with him over the series of a few months as he helped them learn the local language. They prayed with him and encouraged him to pray in the name of Jesus. He did, and God heard his prayer and answered it. This stirred his faith, and he decided to put his trust in Jesus Christ.
Another local sister came to know the Lord after she asked some foreigners for a Bible to read. Through the Scripture and the working of the Holy Spirit, her eyes were opened, and she came to believe.
For some, it’s after years of interaction after interaction with believers, reading the Word, asking questions, scouring the internet. For others it’s through dreams or visions, or experiencing a miracle or healing in their life. Each time, it is a miracle. But the growing, the surviving the harsh conditions, the stones in the soil, is not picture perfect. We love the miraculous stories of how people decide to follow Jesus. But that is just the first small miracle. For all of us, the choice to follow Jesus is just the beginning. Then there is the day-to-day working out of our faith.
What does it look like for a new believer here? There is the massive mindset switch from a culture rooted in Islam and beliefs that are counter culture to the Kingdom of God. Here, to be North African is to be Muslim. Everything revolves around Islam. What does it look like when suddenly your world no longer centers around the same thing everyone else’s does? When the entire country is fasting or celebrating a holiday, where does that leave you? When all of the birth, marriage, and death traditions have roots in Islam, how does a new believer navigate through this? Do you tell your family? What will happen if you do? How will they respond? What will it mean at work? What will it mean for your marriage or for your prospects of becoming married? Where will you find community? The repercussions of following Jesus vary in each situation, but for each North African believer, there is a very real cost to following Jesus.
When you think about North Africa, please pray for the strengthening of local believers. Again and again, we see their faith being tested. Like all of us who have chosen to follow Jesus, our journey of faith is never without obstacles; at times, it’s two steps back for every step we take forward.
Why do I share all of this? Because we need to feel the urgency to pray for North Africa and for those the Father has drawn to Himself. I want you to feel the hope that He is working! But while it is tempting only to show the “success” stories and all the ways He is at work, I don’t want to paint a simple and easy picture. Because the work is hard. Prayers are desperately needed. Workers are needed. We need the Holy Spirit guiding us through every interaction every day. This of course isn’t just true for North Africa. It’s the reality for all of us following Jesus.
Let us not be content with “conversion” stories and baptisms—though we should rejoice—but let us pray for continued daily faithfulness and obedience. Pray with us that these fields of rocks would turn into harvest fields.