It was almost midnight when the knock came at my hotel door. “The political security police are downstairs, wanting to question us,” my colleague informed me, looking very worried.
I was leading a team of eight Aussies, of diverse ages, occupations and ethnicities, and we’d been invited to teach at a university in this North African country. But it looked like we were now in big trouble, and I prayed silently as we walked down the stairs.
The plain-clothes policeman greeted us while his partner looked around. Then he asked (in Arabic), “Why have you come to our country? What are the objectives of your visit?”
My colleague, an Australian citizen who had been born in this country, answered him in Arabic: “We came to teach English at the university.”
“Is that all? What else have you been doing? Where have you been going?” the policeman demanded.
My colleague was very astute: “We’ve been sightseeing, and went out for dinner in your lovely town. Tonight we were the guests of the Dean of Engineering, Professor Ahmad.”
The policeman jerked backwards as though he had been hit. Professor Ahmad was politically powerful in this town, and we were clearly people not to be messed with. His attitude immediately changed. “Of course we are only concerned for your safety: we need to know your movements so we can protect you… we are sorry to inconvenience you.” He excused himself and they departed.
This event typified many aspects of our short-term trip. Every time we hit a dead-end or a crisis threatened, God opened up an unexpected door.
Even before we left Australia, the university that originally invited us pulled out, leaving us in the lurch two months before we were due to depart. A “chance” visit to a friend in another city in Australia landed me in the house of some Muslim friends of his. I mentioned my disappointment about having to cancel our trip. He immediately phoned his brother-in-law, who worked at a university in the country we’d been planning to visit. “They would love to have you,” he informed me, after he’d hung up the phone. A new door had opened.
Our two-week course, aimed at helping the university faculty teach English effectively, was very well received, and on the final day they held a celebration for us, and issued a heartfelt request for us to return. From the first day they knew that we were all followers of Christ, so we had opportunities to talk about our faith, and pray for course participants.
We also attended several churches, and were even able to bring a word of encouragement to some of them; however, it was mostly ourselves who went away encouraged. We visited various projects, including a medical clinic, a home for street kids, and a theological college, and were moved by the faith and courage of the Christians we met, both local and expatriate, who are serving Christ in very challenging and sometimes dangerous situations.
In this part of the Arab world where, as recently as ten years ago, Christians were being crucified in the streets, the church is growing. Christ’s followers are taking advantage of the (relative) political stability to share their faith with those who persecuted them. In places where unspeakable atrocities are taking place, the word of God is taking root, and it is bearing good fruit. Please pray for this country and its people: it faces a very uncertain political future, and desperately needs the peace only Christ can give.