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A Difficult Mission


In this series, thoseinvolved with CLC foreign missions profile one aspect of our overseas endeavors.

Working with our brethren in the Nigerian Church of the Lutheran Confession (NCLC), our fellowship made a prolonged attempt to establish a mission in northern Nigeria. The NCLC sent a missionary, Patrick Johnny Ekpo, to the northern city of Bauchi. But it was not easy for him. He knew Hausa, which was the language of the dominant tribe. He had worked for a company there and was familiar with the area. Despite these advantages, we had no Muslim converts. No group was gathered about the Word by Pastor Ekpo, and we eventually had to bring him back down to our headquarters in the south.

Historically, outreach to Muslims has been one of the most difficult of Christian mission fields, due to Muslim hatred, arrogance and intransigence. Our little synod and sister church in Nigeria has experienced what Christian missionaries down through the centuries have learned about working with Muslims—it is far from easy. The following, adapted from an article in “Voice of the Martyrs” magazine (May 2002, pg. 10ff), tells of the efforts of Raymond Lull, an early Christian missionary to North Africa during medieval times:

At age 55, Lull believed he was ready to go to northern Africa to share Christ with Muslims, who were filled with bitterness toward Christianity because of the Crusades. Friends gathered at the ship to see him off. But the ship sailed without him when he panicked. Lull overcame his terror and boarded the next ship for Tunis. He announced his presence to learned Muslims there, and offered to debate them in public. He promised he would become a Muslim if they proved to him that Islam was superior to Christianity.
As a result of the debates, some Muslims became interested in learning more about Christianity. Others, however, did not; and these had Lull thrown in prison. He was deported, and stoned on the way to the ship.

At the age of 75, Lull returned to North Africa to try again to reach the Muslims there. He invited Muslims in Bugia, east of Algiers, to a public debate. He was soon back in prison. Lull returned to Europe, but traveled again to Bugia in 1314 when he was more than 80 years of age. He visited a small group of former Muslims he had led to Christ, and tried secretly for ten months to draw still more to his Lord and Savior.

“I had been fairly rich,” Lull wrote late in his life. “I had a wife and children. I enjoyed the pleasant side of life, but I gladly renounced all this to tell Muslims the truth about Christ. I studied Arabic. They put me in jail and flogged me. Now I have gotten old, but I don’t give up hope. God willing, I wish to persist until death.”

Zwemer said of Lull, who grew tired of hiding and spoke again in an open market: “He pleaded with love . . . but spoke plainly the whole truth . . . .  Filled with fanatic fury at his boldness, and unable to reply to his arguments, the populace seized him, and dragged him out of town; there by the command, or at least the connivance, of the king, he was stoned on the 30th of June, 1315, and died shortly thereafter.”

Here is a final fact to pray about. You won’t read about it in the media, but it is true nonetheless: in 2015, Nigeria accounted for more than half the worldwide killings of Christians.

May our zeal to help the heathen

Be increased from day to day

As we plead in true compassion

And for their conversion pray.

For the many faithful heralds,

For the Gospel they proclaim,

Let us all be cheerful givers

To the glory of Thy name. Amen. (TLH 483:5)

David Koenig has served as a foreign missionary in Africa, India, and elsewhere. Though officially retired, he continues to be active in the synod’s mission endeavors.