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.