MOZAMBIQUE – From REVIVAL to SURVIVAL

MOZAMBIQUE – From REVIVAL to SURVIVAL

By Andrew Richards – Institute for Strategic Foresight – 

Mozambique joined the Top 50 nations most closed to the Gospel in 2021 after extremist Islamic attacks claimed the lives of many Christians there, and it’s risen several spots in 2022. An Islamic State-affiliated group is seeking to establish an Islamic Caliphate in Mozambique. Their efforts have included numerous atrocities, burned churches and religious schools, and displacement of tens of thousands of people from the northern part of the country. These attacks have allowed religious persecution, which used to be limited almost entirely in the north, to spread. And drug cartels in some areas make the lives of Christians, especially church youth workers, more difficult. In addition to the violence, pressure has increased on believers in Mozambique. 

(Open Doors:  https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/mozambique/)

On June 17th, the Islamic State affiliate in Mozambique (Al Shabaab) carried out its first attack in Nampula province in Northern Mozambique. It was not the first time the Islamic terrorist group moved out of its stronghold of Cabo Delgado, but it was its first intentional move Southward into the rest of the country where Islam is not a majority.

 The Long War Journal, after analysing recent attacks by Al Shabaab, suggests that the “geographic sequence of attacks does suggest the physical movement of fighters southwards, but the speed of this offensive – covering nearly 100km over the course of two weeks – likely also indicates the role of sleeper cells and sympathizers put in place across the region. As had occurred in Niassa, demobilized fighters surreptitiously embedded back into the civilian communities from which they were recruited may be assisting active Al Shabaab units in this drive southward.”1

Al Shabaab’ s intentional plan to move Southward, by sending its members throughout the country with the goal of activating them in the future, provides evidence that the long-term goal is indeed to force Islam into traditional Christian areas in the South. For decades church-planters have tried to build a buffer between the Islamic North and Christian South, by planting churches in strategic countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya. These churches were not only charged with countering Islam as it moves across the continent, but also to expand Christianity into the North. These frontline nations subsequently faced severe persecution and, sadly, often witnessed the expansion of Islam to the extent where even known Christians converted to Islam.

This phenomenon of Christians converting to Islam raises some serious questions: Firstly, why were some believers quick to deny their faith even before the threat of persecution?  What measures should be in place for the Church to adequately prepare for persecution?  And, thirdly, is Biblical knowledge, and the training mostly provided by a persecuted-free Western-World, sufficient when persecution knocks on the door.

To answer the first question – why were some believers quick to deny their faith even before the threat of persecution – we have to take a closer look into the expansion of Christianity throughout the continent.

The church in Africa grew primarily, and still does, by means of development. You cannot satisfy a spiritual need if you leave a physical hunger behind. Churches are often accompanied by schools and medical clinics as a way of addressing both the spiritual and physical needs of a people. Islam on the other hand has for decades built only mosques in the hope that it would draw people to its religion. Learning from Christianity, Islam is now building schools and clinics alongside their mosques, and the conversion of even Christian villages attests to their success.  Christianity is no longer unique in providing in the needs of the people of Africa

This evolution of Islam on the African continent exposes the challenges of discipleship and training.  The saying that “Christianity in Africa is a mile wide but an inch deep” often rings true for the vast majority of believers, where traditional animistic beliefs are often incorporated into Christianity as a means of gaining converts. These converts are therefore divided in their Christian worship, leaving room for outside influence. In the same way, Muslim missionaries allow for the same discrepancies even though they strongly promote a one God religion that clearly forbids animistic beliefs. For this very reason, it makes it just as easy for Christians to convert a Muslim village in Africa to Christianity – simply because faith is not securely rooted in either religion.  

The challenge with animism in Africa is that animism eventually transforms into syncretism – the combination of different forms of belief or practices – and allows the individual to follow the path most beneficial.   If Islam, therefore, provides a more profitable alternative – economically, security or educationally, the choice to convert is quite obvious. 

People are therefore susceptible to “being bought” into the most beneficial faith.  Building a church (building), and calling people to faith, might attract people to Christianity and add members, but when you provide food after each service, and you provide schooling and medical services, the building fills up a lot quicker. People aren’t physically being “paid” to convert, but the mere fact that incentives encourage church attendance is a grey area. That said, it is often through the Christian witness lived out by nurses serving in clinics and teachers teaching children in small village schools, that people experience something of an incarnate Christ and are then awakened to their need for a Saviour. It is seldom the intention of the church to incentivise people to come to church, by means of education or medical help. These are only vehicles used in revealing the love of Jesus to people.

Both questions and answers have been confirmed by Christian workers not only in Africa, but also in Asia. A case can therefore be made that in order to secure a strong enough church, able to withstand the Southwards move of Islam and the luring benefits it offers, a foundation needs to be set firm from the start.

When facing the brutalities of radical Islam, no foundation can be firm without preparing believers for persecution. If Islam has a clear goal of moving Southwards in Africa, all Christians will in one way or another face the reality of persecution somewhere in the future. If the church in Mozambique is not strengthened, prepared and equipped for persecution, it will not be able to withstand the Islamic wave. That wave will then eventually reach South Africa. The best chance for the South African church to survive, is to ensure the survival of the Mozambique church.

The rise of radical Islam, and its intentional move Southwards, might be alarming to some believers but it is only when we look at Al Shabaab from a different perspective that we notice how God is working for the benefit of his Kingdom. Globally, the Christian church is divided into more than 35 000 different denominations that have, in some regions, done more harm than good for the unity of the Body of Christ. God often has to use seemingly negative experiences, like persecution, or the fear of persecution, to draw churches across denominational borders together.

Is there a possibility that radical Islam will take more ground in Mozambique, and eventually threaten Christianity in South Africa? Yes – but only if we (the church) choose not to represent the love of Christ, by strengthening believers on the frontlines. And yes, that involves building schools and clinics.

dia-LOGOS is currently in the process of developing training material to equip believers to understand, prepare for, and face the challenges of persecution and opposition.  Please contact us should you require more information

NOTES

1 Long War Journal  Relocating or expanding? Islamic State Mozambique’s reaction to foreign intervention. https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2022/06/relocating-or-expanding-islamic-state-mozambiques-reaction-to-foreign-intervention.php

 

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