In just a few weeks we will see the end of a four year project called “Gospel Pilgrims”. The emotion of gratefulness is mingled with sadness in my soul. The four men who have served in this role have been miraculously exemplary. Why? Only God could transform men to serve as these four have. They are living, walking proof of the transforming grace of God through Christ.
God planted the seed of this idea in 2006 just a few months before I moved my family here to North Africa. He used a conversation I had at a conference with a young American college grad (can’t remember his name) who had just returned from a year of backpacking through North Africa with Operation Mobilization. This adventurous trekker told me of the need of the mountain and desert villages of Morocco for the Gospel. He told me that this people didn’t live near any believers or churches or gospel witness.
Fast forward to 2011. After four years of ministry in the major coastal cities we faced a problem: we were receiving thousands of requests for New Testaments in these rural regions far from the reach of a local church. New Testaments are often “lost in the mail” (confiscated before they reach their destination) as they are illegal to distribute. Our need was the oldest gospel need that Jesus told us to pray for: laborers. But not just any laborers. We needed laborers willing to travel for weeks at a time into remote situations looking for one lost sheep among a thousand wolves. We needed laborers willing to get on hot buses and crowded taxis and sleep through cold nights. We needed laborers willing to put their lives on hold for the sake of others; denying mother, father, brother, sister, wives, and gain. These needed to be single men in the fashion of the circuit riding Methodist preachers who rode tirelessly to evangelize the American frontier.
I contacted Pastor Miguel Murillo, the director of the Peru Bible College and pitched him an idea: two men who could study Arabic for six months and then travel for a year and a half stopping only to refuel with New Testaments and for some weekend fellowship. His response was typical for his exuberant attitude toward life and ministry: “Perfecto!” Miguel talked to a couple of the graduating seniors and their pastors and came back to me with two names: Cesar and Joel.
The first pilgrims arrived with funding from Mission Joint Venture International on June 19th, 2013. Cesar was loud and sometimes obnoxious while Joel was quite and studious. I myself witnessed Cesar faking a dramatic limp crossing a busy street to draw the sympathy of the rushing traffic while Joel laughed in embarrassment. They were an exact contrast; a good team.
They set about learning the language for six months and then in January they were ready for their maiden voyage. Pastor Said had prepared 20 meetings for them in the cities of Beni Mellal, Essaouira, and Asfi. I remember praying over them at the bus station in Spanish, English, and Arabic. I remember my nervousness and excitement to see what God would do. I had no idea.
Within 48 hours of their first trip the police were already involved. They had been been sharing Christ in a village of just a few hundred people at the end of a dirt road. They had met Mohammed, a Bible requestor, spent the day at his home, and begun to share Christ openly with his family and friends who had come over to see the spectacle. By the time they were in a taxi back to the larger city they were hearing rumors on the radio of local authorities looking for two Latin American men who had been “proselytizing”. They called me to report on these events and I remember rejoicing that on their first journey they were already turning the world upside down.
Less than a week later I received a second phone call from them. This time they had been arrested about 4 hours from their previous location. They had met a man at a cafe and given him a New Testament. They stayed after he had left to check their emails and messages from their girlfriends and families back in Peru (a mistake no Gospel Pilgrim would make again). This contact returned with the police. They were loaded into the police van and taken to the station.
They were questioned for hours by the investigators. The detectives asked them, “Who sent you? Who gave you the authority to teach this? Who pays your bills?” Their answers were so pure and true that they no doubt seemed unbelievable to this corrupt group of men: “Believers in our Savior pay for this trip. Jesus has sent us. Check out Matthew 28:19-20”. The police report would eventually contain these verses banged out on an old typewriter from a cement interrogation room the day before. Heavenly answers have always confounded earthly men.
The police were kind to these two simple servants. They were taken to a hotel to wait until their hearing on Monday. It was from the hotel that they called me. They felt bad to have been arrested on their first trip since they had hoped for 18 more months of travels. I assured them that they had done just what Christ had commanded them to do so they could sleep well. They did. And they witnessed of Christ that Monday to the judge as well.
The Lord graciously allowed these two men another six months of travel before they were stopped from reentering the country during a visa run to Mauritania. During those six months they travelled all over the country distributing hundreds of Bibles, spending the night in homes and even mosques, traveling by bus, taxi, and foot. Cesar and Joel are now both married and pastoring church plants in Peru.
In October 2014 their replacements arrived: Andres and Denis. They have taken 17 trips through the mountains and deserts. They have, like their counterparts before them, passed out hundreds of New Testaments to seekers in some corners of the world that are most isolated from the glorious gospel. They have shared countless cups of tea and crammed in a countless number of old Mercedes taxis on their way to their destination: another soul who has never met a real Christian and has never held the Word of God in his hands.
The church in North Africa is made up mostly of single men in their 20’s. These four pilgrims have been a great example of selfless service, sincere love for Christ, and tenacious evangelism to this men who have little exposure to Christianity outside of their small circle of believers. They have taken special delight in visiting believers like Nabil, a university student who lives 4 hours from the closest house church. They were the first Christians that Nabil met.
Last night Andres preached to a small group Bible study of North Africans. His text was 2 Tim. 1:8, “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.” His life was the best illustration.
We all, including you our supporters in prayer and giving, have had a part in something truly significant, something purely eternal. As the project comes to an end we are thankful to God and to you our co-laborers in the gospel. There is so much more to be done before our Lord returns.