Tunisian Christians celebrate increasing number of Muslims turning to Jesus

(Wikimedia Commons/Citizen59)The Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Cathedral in Tunis is featured in this image.

Christians in the 99 percent Muslim-majority nation of Tunisia believe that they are witnessing a growing number of people converting from Islam to Christianity as the message of Jesus continues to spread on the internet and television.

"Until recently there was no Christianity here," a 29-year-old Christian named Mustapha said in an interview with Open Doors USA. "Only after 2000 did the Church in Tunisia begin to grow. Since then we've had a lot of conversions from Islam," he added.

According to the CIA Factbook, about 99.1 percent of Tunisia's population are Sunni Muslims, with Christians, Jews, Shia Muslims and Bahai's collectively making up less than one percent of the population.

Open Doors, a persecution watchdog group, noted that Christianity first came to the country in the 1970s when foreigners came to live and work there, and around the year 2000, Christians started sharing the Gospel using satellite television and the internet.

One of those who were reached by the Gospel was Mustapha, who is now working full-time to help Tunisian Christians build a thriving, contextualized church in the country.

Mustapha, who trained as a civil engineer, said that the biggest challenge for Christians is to create a church that fits the context and situation of Tunisians.

"The most important is the context. We're working in the middle of persecution, rejected by society," he said.

He noted that Tunisian Christians are still in the process of laying a foundation for the church, which involves creating their own system, administration, theology, as well as their own programs for discipleship training.

"In the Muslim world, people know the mosque; that is our background. It's the place where people go to pray, to do their religious duties. New converts don't understand that they are part of the Church and that Church is about people, members, about ministry, about giving and not only about receiving," he explained.

Mustapha, who is now married with two children, said that another challenge Christians are facing is explaining to Tunisians how they can have a true relationship with the Bible, rather than the laws of religion that they learned from the Quran.

Open Doors highlighted the importance of distributing biblical material in the country, and the organization has launched a discipleship training program in the country to motivate the participants to learn about the Bible.

Persecution also remains as one of the biggest challenges in Tunisia, which has been ranked by Open Doors in its annual World Watch List as the 29th most difficult country to live as a Christian.

Open Doors noted that persecution of Christians is strongest in the private national and church spheres.

"Persecution in Tunisia is increasingly shaped by Islamic extremism. Pressure on Christians is highest in the family sphere, followed by the private, church and community spheres," the group explained.

Others, such as Fr. Ilario Antoniazzi, who has served as Archbishop of Tunisia since 2013, have noted that tolerance is growing for Christianity in the country despite heavy restrictions on religion.

Antoniazzi pointed out that Tunisia's new Constitution has introduced the freedom of conscience, which, he says, is lacking in constitutional charters of other North African countries.

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