A must-see interview with JI Packer… and a few other things


Enjoy the following links!

Gospel Coalition – The pastors wife and her primary ministry

The Good Book Company – Meet the bloggers: Tim Thornborough

A Faith to live by – a must-see interview with JI Packer

9 Marks – A prayer for Sunday morning

Tim Chester – Part five and six (of 7) from his ‘Will you be my facebook friend’ series

Christian Apologetics – a comprehensive guide for biblical faith


CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS
A comprehensive case for biblical faith
By Douglas Groothuis
IVP. 752 pages. £24.99 (hardback)
ISBN 978 1 844 745 395

Some may confuse apologetics with the art of saying sorry, but Groothuis demonstrates that Christians have nothing to apologise for.

Proper Christian apologetics is the defence of the faith against objections. Because apologetics covers so many issues, objections and doctrines, it can be daunting for a Christian to know where to begin. This massive, single volume work provides one of the best overviews of the entire subject this reviewer has ever read.

Douglas Groothuis has written numerous books related to specific themes in apologetics, particularly on the deity of Christ and contemporary culture. Running to more than 700 pages, this superbly produced hardback covers almost every theme one could want in some detail. It is thoroughly up to date, engaging with authors like Christopher Hitchens and Brian McLaren, while drawing deeply on centuries of Christian thought.

Truth and reason

The first section evaluates various approaches to apologetics and how Christians can continue to believe in truth and reason in a culture where these very concepts are dismissed as out of touch. The second section pursues a range of arguments for the existence of God, including philosophical, moral and those based on intelligent design. This leads to a number of chapters on the historicity of Jesus and his resurrection. The third section deals with objections based on the fact that there are many world religions (so why should Christianity be uniquely true?) and the problem of pain (how can a good God allow such evil?). Also included are useful essays by Craig Blomberg and Richard Hess on the New and Old Testaments respectively.

Written with clarity, precision and an infectious enthusiasm for the matters at hand, this will make an indispensable textbook. It lends itself to being dipped into rather than read cover to cover. On the more controversial issues, Groothuis is sensitive and fair — obviously Christians will disagree over issues like the value of Intelligent Design arguments and the relationship of human free will to the problem of evil. But everyone would benefit from this robust dose of common sense, credible apologetics. Given its length and detail, it probably is not the first book to read on the subject. For that a reader might turn to William Lane Craig’s On Guard, but this is certainly a book to take one to the heights.

Chris Sinkinson,
lecturer in apologetics at Moorlands Bible College, Bournemouth

How to backslide in 9 easy steps… and a few other bits.


Enjoy the following links!

Something else for the Mothers – Competitive mothering

Gospel Coalition – One ministry two kingdoms

What’s best next – The Fruit of the Spirit and your work

Desiring God – Make God look great – Create!

Tim Challies – How to backslide in 9 easy steps!

Tim Chester – Part three and four (of 7) from his ‘Will you be my facebook friend’ series

No one kills in the name of atheism?


Neil Powell, of City Church, Birmingham, takes issue with Richard Dawkins

An atheist told me recently, ‘No one kills in the name of atheism’. In fact he was so sure he told me twice.

He’s not unique in making such a claim. Richard Dawkins writes in The God Delusion: ‘Individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism’.

Dawkins won’t even allow us to think that atheism had any influence on Stalin’s murderous regime. He says: ‘The mature Stalin was scathing about the Russian Orthodox Church, and about religion in general. But there is no evidence that his atheism motivated his brutality’.

Such a conclusion is a luxury on offer only to those with absolutely no grasp of history. The reality is that it is a plain and simple, indeed brutal, fact that over the past 100 years atheism, as an ideology, has been a driving force used directly to plan, organise and carry out the mass murder of millions of people.

We will limit ourselves to a consideration of the way in which state-sponsored atheism has been used to justify the intimidation, torture and killing of those whose only crime was belief in God and who posed no other political or ideological threat.

USSR

Atheism was the ideology that lay behind state-sanctioned killing of Christians in the USSR. Karl Marx famously wrote: ‘Religion … is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion, as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness’.

And for Marx that meant the abolition of religion. ‘Of course, in periods when the political state as such is born violently out of civil society, … the state can and must go as far as the abolition of religion, the destruction of religion. But it can do so only in the same way that it proceeds to the abolition of private property, to the maximum, to confiscation, to progressive taxation, just as it goes as far as the abolition of life, the guillotine’.

Interestingly, so indebted to Darwin was Marx that he said of his book: ‘The Origin of Species serves me well as a basis in natural science for the struggle in history’. He actually wrote to Darwin asking if he might dedicate his next book to him. Darwin put his decision to decline down to the sensibilities of his wider family.

Religion targeted

From the very beginnings of the Communist revolution in Russia the state set out to apply the atheism of Marx. Religion was systematically targeted as an enemy of the state, an oppressor of the people. It was something not merely to be discouraged but destroyed.

Lenin said: ‘There can be nothing more abominable than religion’.

Marx’s dogmatic atheism was used as the philosophical justification for the attack on religion beginning with Lenin, continuing under Stalin and maintained right through to the collapse of the Berlin wall. The fact that the attack on religion continued over generations demonstrates that this state-sponsored attack could hardly be blamed on the actions of one individual.

Time magazine summarised the legacy of dogmatic atheism as follows: ‘In the Bolsheviks’ first five years in power, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were cut down by the red sickle. Stalin greatly accelerated the terror, and by the end of Khrushchev’s rule, liquidations of clergy reached an estimated 50,000. After World War II, fierce but generally less bloody persecution spread into the Ukraine and the new Soviet bloc, affecting millions of Roman Catholics and Protestants as well as Orthodox’.

Two giants’ opinions

Two Russian giants of history come to the same conclusion. Alexander N. Yakovlev was a Soviet politician and historian. He is best known as the author of perestroika and has been called ‘the godfather of glasnost’. It was he whose ideas lay behind Gorbachev’s reform of the Soviet Union. As a member of the Politburo no one can claim a greater insight into the rationale behind the workings of the Soviet Empire. In his authoritative work A century of violence in Soviet Russia he records much of the tyranny of evil committed under dogmatic atheism and he estimated that, ‘Under Stalin’s leadership in the purges of 1937-38, some 100,000 Russian Orthodox priests were executed’.

The Nobel prize-winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote extensively about life in the Soviet Union, having spent 11 years in the Gulag concentration camps. ‘I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution. In the process, I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own towards the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today the main cause of the ruinous revolution that has swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened”.’

When Dawkins comments, ‘I cannot think of any war that has been fought in the name of atheism’, clearly he cannot be aware of the wars within a nation that has led a state to murder on a vast scale its own citizens, all in the name of atheism.

Albania became the world’s first atheist state in 1967. Its leader, Enver Hoxha, systematically sought to wipe faith off the map by banning religion and closing all religious buildings. Young people were encouraged to attack mosques, churches and tekkes and to turn in remaining clergy to the authorities. Clergy who were still alive by 1967 and had survived 20 years of persecution, were killed or sent to hard labour camps. Most mosques had their minarets destroyed, tombstones with any religious symbols were overturned, people caught wearing religious symbols (e.g. crucifixes, medallions of the Qur’an) could be sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment.

Much as we might like to think of this as something that we can consign to the history books, the persecution of religion in the name of atheism continues today in China and North Korea.

We must not forget

Paul Johnson described the totalitarian state as ‘the greatest killer of all time’. He goes on: ‘State action had been responsible for the violent or unnatural deaths of some 125 million people during the century’. And the reality is that much of that killing was not politically but religiously motivated.

We would be shocked, horrified and concerned if people had never heard of the gas-chambers of Auschwitz, so surely we owe it to the memory of those who died in the Gulags not to forget them. How is it that the hundreds of thousands of brave men and women killed simply for being believers in God in countries such as the Soviet Union, Albania, China, Cambodia and North Korea are forgotten or at best ignored?

What is at stake?

The problem with the militant atheism propagated by Dawkins et al. is that, in an attempt to blame religion for everything, it has to obscure history to exonerate atheism. For Dawkins to claim that Stalin’s murderous actions were not informed by his atheism is beyond belief and the claim that ‘no one kills in the name of atheism’ flies in the face of all the evidence. Quite simply, atheism was used to justify evil on a massive scale.

Once we understand that neither religion nor atheism stand free from accusation, the question remains what is at work in men and women that leads them to kill in both the name of religion and non-religion? If we can’t simply blame religion, where do we go? The answer can be found in something much more fundamental to the human condition, the darkness that resides in every human heart.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of how he discovered this very fact in his paper What I learned in the Gulag.

‘It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.’

What he also learned in coming to faith in Jesus Christ is that Jesus did not come to establish a religion but to bring about a rescue, a rescue from ourselves through his death on the cross. A rescue necessary because of the natural condition of our hearts and a rescue that alone gives hope for the world.

I am indebted to Does God Believe in Atheists? by John Blanchard for some of the quotes.

Neil Powell

Good to grow


GOOD TO GROW
Building a missional church in the 21st century — one church’s story
By Steve Tibbert, with Val Taylor
Authentic. 203 pages. £7.99
ISBN 978 1 860 248 122

This book describes the growth of King’s Church, Catford, SE London, and also seeks to answer questions such as, ‘How does a church grow?’, ‘What are the principles involved?’, ‘How do you face the challenges that growth brings?’

Short punchy chapters are organised under three key growth periods: 1995-2000: Two Hundred to Three Hundred; 2000-2005: Three Hundred to Five Hundred; and 2005-2010: Five Hundred to a Thousand. It is an exciting and very encouraging story!

It contains lots of helpful insights and lessons which would aid a leader. The significance of size dynamics, the importance of team leadership, the challenges of raising funds, the need to develop ‘diversity’, and the crucial importance of recruiting key leaders are all underscored. There is also a great sense that ‘The good hand of the Lord was upon us’, and Steve Tibbert is keen to stress this, so that no one merely ‘copycats’ as though we builders can build in our own strength by following a simple ‘blueprint’.

On the weakness side, I felt that the chapters were too short; just when I was expecting some more help they ended. Although it is good to mention that ‘so and so turned up at this point in our journey and helped take things forward’, more analysis and detailed description would have made it more ‘transferable’. Second, most churches in Britain don’t start with growing a group from 200 but need help in getting there in the first place. This book may help a bit, but much will seem ‘out of reach’ for many. It is the ‘glass ceiling’ of getting up to 150 and then going beyond which most struggle with, not what may seem the ‘rarefied’ atmosphere of approaching 1,000. Third, I am not sure the book succeeded so well in its aim of answering the questions it set out — yes it is good on the description of King’s Church (and praise God for that), but not really so helpful on principles, decision making, and grappling with theological issues that inevitably get raised during a time of growth.

Would you benefit from reading it as a church leader? Yes, you would. Will it give you some useful tools and pointers? Yes again. Will you need discernment to make the most of it? Yes again.

Ray Evans
a leader at Grace Community Church, Bedford


Why go to bible college?


Sam believes that he is called to full-time gospel ministry. His church leaders agree.

He has led a home group for some time and has done a little preaching. He is a godly man and gives evidence of having the necessary gifts. He and the elders of the church think it is time for him to begin serious training. How should he go about it?

A variety of options are open to Sam. He could join a local part-time training scheme and combine that with practical work in his own and neighbouring churches, under his own church leaders. Or he could follow a guided reading scheme with his pastor, maybe calling on other local men with particular expertise in different subjects. Or he could do a distance learning course. The alternative is that he considers going to Bible college, either full-time or part-time.

Sam initially had some serious reservations about the Bible college option. He feared that it would be costly and that relocation would be an upheaval for his family. He was also unsure about being separated from his home church. But, as he looked into it more thoroughly, he began to understand some of the considerable benefits.

Preparation needs time

Firstly, Sam came to realise that preparation for gospel ministry needs time. In a secular context, it takes ten years to qualify as a GP, seven years to become an architect, between six and nine years to become a solicitor.

Why so long? Because preparing to enter any of these professions involves the acquisition of large amounts of information, understanding and skills. There can be no short cuts — doctors have to know a great deal about how the body works if they are to treat their patients. Solicitors need to have studied law intensively in order to be able to advise their clients with any competence.

Gospel ministry is, in this respect, no different. There is a large amount of knowledge which needs to be acquired by anyone going into full-time gospel ministry. Of course, ministry requires a great deal more than just knowledge. A godly character is the prime requirement (1 Timothy 3.1-7; Titus 1.5-9) and gifts of teaching, preaching and pastoring are essential. A Bible college cannot supply these, though it can develop them. But, in addition to these elements, and subservient to them, knowledge and understanding must also be gained.

Acquiring the skills

What kind of knowledge would Sam gain at Bible college? First of all, he needs to heed Paul’s exhortation to become a ‘workman’ who ‘correctly handles the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2.15) — he needs to begin to resemble Apollos, who had a ‘thorough knowledge of the Scriptures’ (Acts 18.24), or Ezra, who had ‘devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord’ (Ezra 7.10). Sam needs a profound knowledge of the contents of the whole Bible, with a clear understanding of the arguments and themes of each book and the principal issues which they address, as well as a sound grasp of how the Bible story-line unfolds. He must master the technical skills needed to get at the true meaning of the text, understand how to deal with the different kinds of literature in the Scriptures and learn to tackle difficult passages. He also needs to engage with the Scriptures in their original languages. This all needs time.

Depth and system

But that is not all that Sam needs. He must spend time studying the teaching of Scripture systematically. He should study the doctrine of the Trinity in depth, for example, so that he can explain simply to a child how it is that God is three and yet one. He has to understand why orthodox believers teach that Jesus Christ has two wills, not one, and why it matters. He needs to acquire a clear grasp of the teaching of the Bible on the relationship between faith and works: he must understand the dangers of antinomianism on the one hand and legalism on the other, as well as how best to address them from the Scriptures. He must gain, in short, a sound systematic understanding of the teaching of the Bible in all the various areas of doctrine, to ensure that he teaches truth not heresy and to equip him to guard himself and his flock from soul-destroying error (Acts 20.29-31). This takes time.

Coming to his own convictions

Sam also needs time to work through important issues in his own mind. Where does he stand on the gifts of the Spirit? How does culture impact evangelism? What does the Bible teach about corporate worship? What is the millennium and are we in it yet? Sam needs to think carefully about many of these sorts of questions before he embarks on full-time ministry. This takes time, too.

There are other subjects which Sam needs time to study. He needs to think through biblically how to approach mission and evangelism in our day. He must engage with ethical and pastoral issues, to address the many complex questions to which life in our society gives rise (such as cohabitation, gender issues, IVF and euthanasia). He needs time to study worldviews, to think through how best to address our generation with the gospel. Church history is ignored at the peril of our congregations: a course of study which focuses on God’s dealings with his people over the past 2,000 years is a necessary part of ministry training.

The more practical tasks of preaching and pastoral work also need time for study. Sam needs help to develop his preaching and teaching gifts. He needs the wisdom of experienced pastors to give him useful feedback and enable him to think through the kinds of pastoral questions he is likely to meet in any congregation.

All this cannot adequately be studied without time — a great deal of time. Bible college provides the space and opportunity for this.

Teachers, older and wiser

Preparation for gospel ministry also needs experienced teachers. A Bible college brings together teachers who specialise in a wide variety of different subjects. Students therefore benefit from learning from knowledgeable people about, ideally, each topic studied — something which it may be difficult to match in a more local training scheme. At best, these teachers will also have significant pastoral experience and so may focus on real-life issues, rather than the purely academic.

Practical experience is also necessary. Good Bible colleges have well thought out and monitored mentoring and placement programmes. These are designed to provide experience in practical pastoral work in different kinds of churches (though they should always be in churches which take a clear evangelical stand). So, students coming from large, urban churches benefit from time working alongside an experienced pastor in a small, rural situation, for example, and vice versa.

In community

Ministry training is best done in community. Sam knows that training for gospel ministry should never take place in isolation from the fellowship and discipline of the local church. He was initially concerned that going to Bible college would be a little like entering a monastery. By contrast, he was pleased to find that good Bible colleges understand that training must be rooted in the local church. They take great pains to ensure that their students and families are settled in a church fellowship nearby, where they can live, work and worship as part of a community of believers.

But, in addition, Bible college provides the opportunity to study in community. Rubbing shoulders with men from different backgrounds and cultures, all pursuing the goal of lifetime gospel ministry, is invaluable. Rough edges are smoothed down, hard attitudes softened and lifelong friendships developed. The benefits of fellowship with other ministers and the dangers of isolationism become clear. These are great advantages.

Finance

Finally, preparation for gospel ministry needs finance. This cannot be avoided, whichever route into gospel ministry is chosen. The man who trains at home, in his own church, still has to be supported, with his family if he has one. And his pastor and whoever else is involved with his training need to invest time in him, which inevitably has a cost attached to it. These opportunity costs are generally hidden and so are sometimes (wrongly) ignored when cost comparisons with Bible college training are made.

Bible college is in fact a cost-effective means of training, simply because training many men together gives undoubted economies of scale. Of course, accommodation and living costs still have to be paid, but that is true even for those who stay at home — and Bible colleges often are able to provide subsidised accommodation as well as help with fees by means of bursary schemes.

Having looked more closely at all the benefits that a Bible college offers, Sam talked and prayed it all through thoroughly with his pastor and the other church officers. They agreed that Bible college was the right route for Sam. The question then was, which one?

Robert Strivens,
Principal of London Theological Seminary

For more information about LTS courses, see http://www.ltslondon.org

Will you be my Facebook friend?… and a few other bits.


Enjoy the following links!

Something for the Mothers – What is this ‘Mommy Wars’ all about?

Gospel Coalition – Anatomy of holiness

Good Book Company – Don’t waste your cancer

Desiring God – A letter to a 12-year old girl about the eternal destiny of those who have not heard the gospel

Tim Challies – Four reasons people backslide

Tim Chester – Part one and two (of 7) from his ‘Will you be my facebook friend’ series

A prayer for the prodigals


This is not a theological treatise, but a word of testimony which we share to encourage other Christians.

It was around a dozen years ago that our lives were shattered when our son’s marriage broke up and he stopped following the Lord. We felt very lonely (though dear Christian friends sought to encourage us), as it was an experience we never expected to happen in our family which had been blessed over generations with those who loved and served the Lord.

Path trod by others

As we moved through those dark days, we slowly found that others had gone down the same path and they too felt discouraged and lonely. As we visited other churches, conferences and overseas in the Lord’s work, we found more and more who wanted to share with us. Slowly we built up a circle of Christian friends who wanted to pray for and encourage each other. So we built up a prayer circle to this end.

Disciplined prayer

Persistence in prayer when you see no answer is a discipline. A prayer circle like this is an encouragement to keep on praying, believing the Lord hears and does, in his own time, answer prayer. Others formed more local prayer circles to the same end.

For some eight years we saw no changes in our loved ones, but then, a couple of years ago, we received the first good news.

First answer

One young man, brother of one of the ladies in the group, had left the Lord when his marriage broke up and was unable to continue at the church which his wife attended. As a result he became a backslider. He had now returned to the Lord. Slowly others were added to that number. An older couple, the brother and sister-in-law of one of our ladies, also came to faith. This was marvellous as it was just before the husband died. His conversion was the last in a large family of siblings.

Back to church

Recently we met a young couple who had also come to the Lord. The man had been a church worker and left the Lord; his wife had never walked with him. Now, both of them know the joy of sins forgiven. The story of their journey to faith was remarkable. One day the man said to his wife that he had been thinking for several months of returning to church. To his surprise, she had been exercised in the same way for the same period of time. They went back to the church, he returning to the Lord and she becoming a Christian. In the year or so since the first man repented, we have had eight that we have been able to ‘cross off’ our list. (We continue to remember them in these early days of their walk with God, of course).

Lessons?
What does this mean to us?

It is an encouragement to keep praying for the rest. When we shared the news with our prayer circle, one lady wrote that, when she heard the news, she danced around the kitchen praising God. For ourselves, we see God working in the lives of those similar to our son and take that as a promise that the Lord has not forgotten him.

How long, O Lord? That’s a question we often ask. But he encourages us to pray on, believing.

New proofs for the existence of God


NEW PROOFS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy
By Robert J. Spitzer
Eerdmans Publishing. 319 pages. £18.00
ISBN 978 0 802 863 836

This book, by an American theologian and polymath, addresses the question of God’s existence through the prism of historic Christian logical arguments and experimentally justified scientific cosmology.

It is a strategy akin to that of William Lane Craig and similar high profile intellectual evangelicals. It is a well structured but quite tough read that rewards the Christian believer who wishes to ponder some of the deep things of God.

In mathematics and logic, all proofs begin with assumptions (axioms) that are taken as either hypothetically or self-evidently true and consequences are deduced according to accepted rules of thought. To a certain degree, the initial axioms can have a higher status than the ensuing consequences, which strikes some Christian thinkers as an upside-down procedure when it comes to justifying our belief in God — surely the supreme Axiom of thought and consciousness, as a long tradition, including Anselm, Calvin and Plantinga, affirms.

However, the rationale for arguing from the lesser to the Greater is well embedded in Christian history and has the attraction of starting from common ground between thinking people, wherever they are. But this common ground may seem more apparent than real, especially for postmoderns. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 1, reminds us how willfully devious humans can be in hiding from the face of God. Nevertheless, it is highly profitable — particularly for those already believers — to consider the two-way connections between analysis of theistic beliefs and contemporary understandings of our cosmic home and the conditions necessary for life.

A deceptively simple example is the Kalam cosmological argument. As expressed by W.L. Craig, this states:

1. All that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

A key issue is the defence of the proposition that the universe began to exist. This is well addressed by our author, in Part 1, with extensive discussion and documentation to recent scientific and philosophical literature. The Borde, Guth, Vilenkin (BGV) Theorem is introduced. This proves that all inflationary cosmologies with an average Hubble inflation greater than zero must have a beginning. Part 2 advances three major philosophical arguments for God’s existence. In explaining these, Spitzer distinguishes between Conditioned and Unconditioned Realities, and argues step-by-step: (a) that there must exist at least one unconditioned reality in all reality, (b) that this must be the simplest possible reality, (c) be absolutely unique, (d) be unrestricted, and (e) the continuous creator of all else that is. Further extensive sections follow that aim to demonstrate that such a Creator must be unconditioned in understanding and intelligibility.

In the interests of brevity, I just mention the fascinating discussion in Chapter 5 that draws upon the prohibition, by David Hilbert, the great 20th-century mathematician, against the existence of certain types of infinities (called C-infinities) or infinite past time. This points to an A-infinity, that is, a Reality that transcends both time and the axioms of finite mathematics.

After these rigorous and cogent arguments, Dr. Spitzer has a final Part 3 that complements other treatments of the attributes of God as they impinge upon our human longing for perfect truth, perfect love, perfect justice/goodness, perfect beauty and perfect home. So this volume has much to warm the heart as well as exercise and enlighten the mind. It is recommended as a book to read and re-read by well-motivated Christians accustomed to abstract reasoning and concerned for competence in high-level apologetics and philosophical theology.

Professor David Watts, 
University of Manchester and Sale Evangelical Church


Fearless love: Astounding Stories of God’s Intervention in Islamic Africa


No one comes to know Jesus except by God’s own hand. This is nowhere more evident than where believers are persecuted for their faith.

When he calls people, he gives them the faith to stand their ground, and fulfils his purpose in them.

Fatima grew up in a rural region dominated by savannah and a hot semi-arid climate, close to one of Africa’s strongest Islamic cities with a population of about ten million. In recent years, other Islamic nations have financed this city to make it a stronghold of an expanding Islamic influence on the continent.

Fatima helped her family by farming groundnuts and fetching water from the wells, and joined in annual Ramadan festivals, celebrating the original revelation of the Qur’an, and the Qurbani Eid (or Eid Al-Adha), commemorating ‘Abraham’s offering of Ishmael on the mount’. She watched as several village leaders were sponsored in different years and flown to Mecca for the annual hajj. Her region considered itself the strongest and purest Islamic region south of the Sahara, and deviations from the faith brought swift punishment.

Saved and rejected

25 years ago, when Fatima was married, she was asleep in her home when a man dressed in white appeared to her. He said: ‘I am Isa [Jesus]. I bring you truth’. She woke up the next day a new person. Her husband recognised it immediately, and threw her out of the house. Her instantaneous rejection was a great shock, but she could not go back and deny the truth. The villagers also said she must leave. She walked alone down the long hot dirt track to reach the main road to the city. The Lord comforted her and said he was sending a woman to look after her.

When she reached the tarmac road, she spotted a car pulled up by the roadside. The driver, a Christian woman, was having engine trouble. Fatima stopped to help and together they got the car started. Before this driver had set out that day the Lord had spoken to her, telling her he was sending a lady she would look after. She knew Fatima was that person and asked her if she needed a lift — quite a risk for a Christian to take unless they know it is from the Lord! So, on the first day of her new faith, Fatima was on her way to a nearby Islamic city to live with her new friend. The lady discipled her and Fatima spent a year in her home, learning the Scriptures.

Return to her village

This wonderful mentoring period was not to last. At the end of that year, an attack against Christians broke out and Fatima’s friend was among over 2,000 people murdered. However, she had sown seed into Fatima’s life that would bear much fruit. Her faith strong, Fatima returned home to her village, hoping she could spread the gospel.

Although the village community allowed her to stay, she was not reunited with her husband. For ten months she was persecuted for her faith, from beatings to being denied basic rights, such as permission to buy or rent land for farming, access to the village wells, or food beyond that which sustained her life. She grew weak under the persecution and considered renouncing Jesus.

She prayed, ‘Lord, this is not helping anyone. No one is being saved. It would spare me a lot of trouble to say I do not believe in you any more’. But the Lord answered, telling her that he had a purpose, and that she should be patient a little longer.

Asked to pray

Two months later, something happened that turned things around. One of the young women in the village had been chronically ill for a long time with an unknown disease; there was no doctor to diagnose the illness and no cure for her ailment. No treatment available helped her. The villagers called in the traditional healers, the old women with knowledge of herbs and the witchdoctors, but they could do nothing. The Islamic clerics came to pray, but this did no good.

Fatima heard the people of the village talking: ‘We will ask Fatima to pray and see if that helps’. She did not want anything to do with this — she was in enough trouble already, and if the lady was not healed when she prayed, things would get even worse for her. But the elders insisted. So Fatima went to the young woman and prayed that the Lord would heal her, in Jesus’s name. Ten minutes later, the woman, who had been bedridden for months, was up and cooking food for the people of her house. That day 64 people in the village became Christians. Fatima’s former husband was not among them. She has remained unmarried since she met Jesus.

People were being saved in nearby villages. Not all of Fatima’s disciples are open worshippers; some come at night and meet outside the villages for Bible studies.

A visit to Fatima

30 churches have now been started in this Islamic district, all overseen by this strong woman. (We know several women whom God has saved and is using to boldly spread the gospel where angels and men would fear to tread! They have kind hearts, but they are also resolute for the truth and immoveable.)

We paid Fatima a visit. En route to the village, we passed through towns where the atmosphere of aggression sent shivers up our spines as Muslims glared in our direction. A simple roadblock on our way out would easily allow them to seize our small party. But we put that out of our minds as we continued on the road which haphazardly meandered through village after village.

The anger displayed towards us seemed at harsh variance with the neat, beautiful environment. The contrast of colours made a striking setting: the tawny mud-brick huts with their thatched roofs, the lush green of the maize crops by the dusty road … Many of the villagers carried farming tools, or balanced firewood or bundles of yams on their heads, all modestly dressed in brightly-coloured flowing African clothing, the women with headscarves and the men with soft fez caps. But joy was absent from their faces, and the reality of their harsh lives was never far from our minds.

In each village we saw a mud-brick complex with a corrugated iron roof and a large cross of unfinished wood on the side of the building. These were the church meeting places that Fatima was overseeing. Her boldness and courage was (and is) highly admirable. At any time there could be an attack against this growing Christian community.

As foreign visitors, we were not in as much danger as the people there. If there was to be a negative reaction against our brief stay, it would most likely be directed at Fatima’s church after we had left, yet they were eagerly awaiting our arrival. (Indeed, the Bible college’s partnership with Fatima may help the gospel spread even more. People are impressed that international visitors come to see the Christians in their villages.)

The gathered congregation were singing when we arrived in Fatima’s home village, where an interpreter, an architect who supports her ministry, had driven for three hours to be there to help with the meeting. Some churches that are keen on missions support village pastors with motorcycles, or pay them a small wage to enable them to establish and maintain churches in outlying places. Fatima is known and respected by a few churches far off that help her in this way, assisting pastors serving in the churches she has established. During our visit we spoke to the congregation, and before leaving promised to do what we could to support the work.

This article is an extract from Fearless Love: Astounding Stories of God’s Intervention in Islamic Africa by James Andrews with Emma Newrick, published by Authentic Media (ISBN 978 1 850 789 826, £8.99), and is used with permission.