Sharing the gospel with the least reached is particularly difficult in rural parts of North Africa where any attempts to minister to the local Muslim community by Jesus followers may result in deportation or imprisonment. While an estimated 200 believers are in the area, they must keep a low profile or risk being ostracised by their family and society, which can result in loss of employment or physical persecution. In this remote area, going to the doctor — a task many in the West may find inconvenient but not challenging — can take several days.
Despite these difficulties, Anna* and her husband, Noah*, use their skills to help share the gospel and create meaningful relationships within the community.
Anna, a former German nurse, applies her medical knowledge to help women in North Africa, many of whom are illiterate and lack access to basic medical services. However, Anna wasn’t too keen on becoming a nurse initially. “I used to be a tomboy,” she says. Growing up, “I was surrounded by nurses. All my friends were studying nursing, and I always said I will never never be a nurse.”
“And then one night, I got this conviction from God,” she adds. “[He said,] ‘Anna, you're gonna study nursing in this hospital.’”
Since then, Anna has accepted nursing as a core part of her identity.
“I feel like God has given me this,” she explains. “I'm a Christian, and I'm a nurse.”
A lifetime of service
Anna and Noah, an Australian missionary, first joined OM onboard Doulos in 1999. They served on the ship for many years, but Noah often wanted to do more to spread the gospel, especially to the least reached in North Africa.
“For many years, I had been fascinated with this general region,” he explains. “I had connections here, and I was just fascinated by the culture and saw the huge need [for gospel ministry]. And so, I felt drawn to work in this part of the world.”
But because of the strict regulations surrounding sharing the gospel in the country, Noah needed a reason for being in the area that wouldn’t draw the authorities’ attention.
Noah returned to his native country to obtain a degree in business. Using what he learnt, he moved his family to North Africa in 2017. Soon, Noah found that his job had more demand in a small village a few hours from the city where they had initially settled and moved his family there.
The importance of hospitality and relationships
One aspect that drew Anna and Noah to the region is the strong emphasis on relationships and hospitality.
“People constantly invite you into their houses,” Anna remarks. “You walk down the street, and people say, ‘Hey, come in, have some tea.’ It's very different from our home cultures.”
Yet, with that strong prominence of hospitality comes a sense of distrust of any foreign people or ideas.
“If someone doesn’t know you, they have no reason to trust you or trust what you’re saying,” Noah explains. “So, if you just randomly turn up and talk with people, trying to share something, they might be polite, listen, and so on, but they won't necessarily put much weight on what you're saying.”
As such, sharing the gospel requires building credibility within the community. Fortunately, Noah’s job does just that.
Establishing credibility and building relationships
Noah explains that his job allows him to “have those […] spiritual conversations” with people in the community.
Spending time with people has already borne fruit. Noah hired a man to help with the business, and as they worked, they talked. But because of cultural differences, Noah struggled to find common ground with the man until he realised something.
“Whenever we were together, I would pray,” Noah explains. “I might be just thanking God for the beautiful creation or the nice weather or asking for safety.”
“And as a Muslim, he’s never going to say ‘no’ [to prayer],” Noah adds. “They believe in prayer, and they respect people of faith. So, for them […] it’s not a problem for you to live out your faith.”
Using this shared touch point, Noah was able to build up a rapport with his new hire. Over the course of a few years of praying and talking, the man became more interested in the gospel and eventually gave his heart to God in 2022. Since his rebirth, the young man has eagerly shared the good news of Christ with others in his community.
“His father [and] his sisters [are] interested,” Anna explains. “To hear this domino effect […] I think that is really amazing.”
Noah is also encouraged by this passion to share the gospel. “It's so good to see that boldness that exists in some of the believers and the way that they are replicating and sharing what they've learnt with others,” he explains.
“We don't want to see people in isolation,” he adds. “We want to see communities build [and] established so that there is prayer, encouragement [and] discipleship together within their cultural groups.”
Love is spelt T-I-M-E
While her husband can connect and share the gospel more directly, Anna is constricted by the cultural norms in the region. Yet, using her training as a nurse, Anna is helping women and caring for them.
The local language has proven to be a hurdle. “It's very challenging,” Anna notes. “I struggle going to the shop [and] saying I want ‘x.’ I still have to think so much about that.”
Despite the language barrier, Anna has made great strides in gaining the women’s trust by spending time with them. “We often say love [in the language] is spelt T-I-M-E,” she smiles. “Just being with [local people], they feel loved.”
Anna explains that spending time with the area's women can be as simple as watching their kids while they do housework. It “doesn’t have to be big things,” she explains. “Just simple things.”
Anna has also introduced those she has built a relationship with to the gospel and helped them re-evaluate their self-worth. “They feel like they have nothing to offer because they're uneducated, can't read [or] can't write,” she explains. “But I would like to give them something that they go, ‘Oh, I know something.’”
While sharing the gospel is often time-consuming, Anna has also seen results. When visiting a local believer with another foreigner, Anna recalls a “really shy little lady” who stood quietly in the background.
Somehow, the topic of death came up, and the little lady perked up. “She said, before she became a believer, she was afraid of it,” Anna recalls. “But now that she is a believer, she is not afraid anymore.’”
“Just hearing her saying this in front of […] another relative of hers” is encouraging, Anna explains.
“It might be really tiny little steps,” she adds. “It's not big booms, but just to see that is really, really special.”
Slow but growing
Anna and Noah acknowledge that gospel growth has been slow in the region.
“It's not something [where] you see fruit every day,” Anna explains. “But it's a way to meet people where the [gospel] need is.”
Still, Both Noah and Anna are excited by the increasing change they have seen over the past six years.
“We know a handful of people that have come to faith, which is already hugely exciting,” Noah explains. “Talking to people who were here, you know, 20 years ago, they saw no fruit. Or one or two [believers] in decades. And in the last decade, there has been a significant [increase.]”
“There's definitely a sense of ‘things are happening,’” he adds. “Even though it can appear slow from our perspective.”
Join us in praying that Anna and Noah’s language proficiency may increase to better share the gospel among the least reached in North Africa. Pray for increased financial funding for ministering in the region and that Noah’s friend may be a faithful herald among his people despite any opposition. Pray that Anna may touch the hearts of the women she is ministering to and that they may realise their value in God’s eyes.