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Mission to North Africa

By interserve

Getting there had its surprises and challenges, such as being escorted off our flight in Dubai by two Emirati policemen, but our recent short-term mission trip to a Muslim-majority North African country was very successful.

We had been invited back (after a similar outreach last year) to teach conversational English at a university in the country’s secondlargest city. Three of the team made it into the country without any problems, but when Mitch and I tried to fly out of Dubai, after being assured by the university that our visas were waiting, we hit a snag. The airline wanted to ensure that our visas were in order, so we confidently gave them the university’s contact details, then talked our way onto the plane. And were promptly escorted off again when it was discovered the visas hadn’t yet been issued.

On our first evening there, we went for a walk after dinner through the vegetable market. Grace was enthusiastically taking photos when three policemen demanded her camera. When we refused, we were taken to the police station for questioning. We called the university who contacted the vice-chancellor who rang the Chief of Police, who then released us. Surprisingly, the incident had a positive outcome, as it raised our profile in the community, and we received cheery waves from the police wherever we went.

Over 70 took part in the course we taught, including the faculty from several universities and Masterslevel students. The course, called ‘Understanding, coping with, and implementing change’, was highly participative, and included stories from the Bible, connecting them with the concept of change. The team members established links with their students outside of class, visiting them in their homes or going out on trips or sharing meals with them.

These were opportunities for deeper sharing, talking about personal and spiritual issues. We prayed for some of our students at different times and the scriptures were shared.

In my speech at the closing ceremony, in the presence of the Vice Chancellor and the Dean, I told the students, “Over the past week and a half, we’ve heard stories of change in the lives of the prophets: Adam and Eve, Noah, Joseph, David, and Jesus. What was common in all these stories was the power and grace of God. These are not just historical stories of people who lived long ago – they are just as true for us today because God is alive and working today. It is true that as Christians and Muslims we will understand God’s work differently, but we can also declare that we all seek to serve and worship God as we best understand Him.”

There was a real sense of spiritual openness amongst the people, and it seems that widespread Sufism has softened some of the hard edge of the way Islam is practised. Our prayer is that God will continue to open up doors and hearts in this country.

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