The Palm and the Cedar
Praying Righteousness to Flourish in North Africa
Story and photos by John Becker
Global Strategy Director, AIM VP Global Networking and Partnerships, GACX
“The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock; and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” – Psalm 92:12-15
Back in October 2018, God began to stir Gary Fallesen about North Africa. He wrote to me, “God put you on my heart and mind…We need to discuss life, ministry and North Africa!” I immediately responded, “Let’s go!” It took us a few months to have a real conversation about it, and not until February at the Vision 5:9 Network Assembly, did the plans fall into place and we set a date. I needed to accomplish several things there such as visit colleagues and a young Congolese disciple who is a part of the Go North initiative (See www.aimstories.com/blog/2018/06/crossing-the-sahara), and conduct a Kingdom Business Training with five North African Muslim background believers interested in helping local disciple-makers create sustainable businesses. April provided the perfect opportunity for such a trip.
I joined Climbing For Christ in March 2006, when still living in Kenya, and Gary and I had dreamed of doing a trip together for more than a decade. Now was our chance.
Why North Africa? It is home to 192 million people with a 96 percent Muslim population and 155 unreached people groups of which several are unengaged. In terms of Gospel reach, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Western expatriates to get residency. Although the North African church is vibrant and eager to reach its population in every corner, it suffers serious persecution and lacks locally sustainable models for sending workers outside of the cities to the thousands of unengaged towns and villages. This is what motivates us – to serve the local church in helping its workers find solutions and gain access.
John Becker, right, and Gary Fallesen traveling together in North Africa.
In preparation for the mission, God directed me to Psalm 92:12-15, not knowing why, but believing we were to memorize this to pray it as a prophetic word over Tunisia as we traveled.
Little did we know that within a day of arriving, militia commander Khalifa Hifter would begin a military takeover of Libya , while Algerians and Sudanese took to the streets to oust their autocratic presidents Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Omar Al Bashir.
Here we were praying that the righteous would flourish like the palm and the cedar in this land while a second North African Arab Spring unfolded.
It was ironic that we were on mission in the very place that was struggling to recover from being the epicenter of the Arab Spring in 2011. With a hard-hit economy and few job prospects, many young people don’t see a future and so pay traffickers to cross the Mediterranean for greener pastures in Europe. This has left many villages void of twenty-somethings. This reality broke our hearts and moved us to pray that the Gospel would rebuild hope and a future.
The stated goals of our trip were:
1. Glorify God – declare that he is upright and worthy of praise
2. To love like Jesus:
3. To make disciples
4. Discover needs and opportunities
5. Growing potential of Gospel workers
6. Discerning next steps and priorities
As we traveled through this beautiful and diverse land, we postured our hearts and trusted God to allow us to accomplish these goals wherever we went. A key destination for us was an ancient mountainous troglodyte Berber community. The village was very happy to have visitors and showed us wonderful hospitality. We believe we met people of peace there and prayed over the village from the overlooking crag, “Lord, let righteousness flourish here just as the palm tree flourishes here. Send your workers to this land.”
Upon returning from this short survey, we encountered our first seeker. This young college student heard us speaking English. He was bold and introduced himself and was eager for friendship. The next morning we met for coffee and were able to have a robust Gospel conversation with him. I have talked to him on the phone every day since. As I wrote this story, we were discussing John 3 – Nicodemus’s visit to Jesus and what it means to be born again. Please pray for him!
The Atlas Cedars.
The next day we headed North and then West to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, home to Atlas Cedar trees, where we encountered another un-reached unengaged Berber community amidst centuries old Roman ruins. As we met some of the locals enjoying Café Direct (local espressos) on the street overlooking the town below, an eclectic assortment of men began to gather. First, it was an old weather-beaten homeless-looking man in a traditional djellaba robe, next it was a young strung-out guy, and then a disabled man with special needs. Each one wanted to sit next to us. The other locals would force them to move, assuming we, the foreign guests, would be disturbed.
But then one local bully took it too far and began harassing the disabled man. We told him to stop and asked our North African colleague to tell the man with special needs that God loved him and created him for a purpose. Though it created an uncomfortable moment for everyone, we trust that God will remind this village that the Kingdom of God came near that day.
We then took the young strung-out man with us and let him give us a tour of the Roman ruins he was proud of. We took the opportunity to share the Gospel and lay hands on him and pray for deliverance, that he would no longer be known as “the man of tears” (as some of his friends called him), but instead would flourish like a palm tree and grow like a mighty cedar.
As we concluded our survey and drove back to the capital city, our North African colleague, who had received the Kingdom business training, humbly thanked us for taking him along. He said, “You provided a good example to me. We can do this. We can come visit these villages and pray and share the Gospel.” For me, this was the highlight of the mission and a direct answer to our stated purposes.
Though the North African church has all it needs to accomplish Christ-work in this region, it can greatly benefit from partnership with others who can transfer knowledge, experience and resources to accelerate and catalyze the work.
We are now in the process of discerning next steps. Would you pray with us as we make plans for a 2020 mission to another area in North Africa? Pray also that the recent investment would bear much fruit so that the righteousness of Christ would flourish here, and our North African brothers and sisters would boldly and creatively declare that the Lord is upright!