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Midwestern students & faculty take gospel into North Africa

ASWAN, Egypt (BP)–Foreigners are rare in the small town of Daraw in upper Egypt. So when Allen Smith, a U.S. seminary student, walked into a dominoes parlor there, all eyes turned to him.
By the time Smith finished a few games, he had made a new friend — an Egyptian man he had been playing against. Afterward, the man took Smith around the corner to get him some food and introduce him to some of his friends.
“This is my friend, Allen,” the man said. “He’s a Christian.”
In just eight words, the stereotypes of Christians these men held crumbled.
“That’s an example of what I think Jesus did,” said Smith, a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. “He came in and showed the people that he cared about them.”
Smith was part of a group of students and faculty from Midwestern who explored upper Egypt and Sudan during their semester break. They learned about the area’s culture and used the opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Midwestern’s president, Mark Coppenger, and Old Testament professor Steve Andrews joined Smith in biking more than 200 kilometers from Luxor, Egypt, to Aswan, Egypt, stopping in small, out-of-the-way towns in between to distribute New Testaments, Gospels of Luke and the “Jesus” film on audio cassette, all in Arabic.
Three other students and two professors went into the Sudan to teach the Bible and explore the unreached area of northern Sudan.
The partnership between Midwestern and Southern Baptist workers taking the gospel into North Africa began a year ago. An International Mission Board missionary in the area who is a longtime friend of Coppenger’s asked him to pray about taking some students into North Africa. After a successful biking trip through Iowa last summer, Midwestern decided to try a similar effort in North Africa.
“We thought it was intriguing to the people that were watching,” Coppenger said. “It’s a wonderful way to meet people and pass along the Word.”
Because it is illegal in Egypt to evangelize among the Muslim population, the group had to be careful how they distributed the gospel. Much like the early church, the group relied upon their faith to avoid raising the ire of authorities.
After an attack on tourists last year in Luxor, groups like the bikers are required by law to have police escorts. Often the group had to use a “distract and distribute” approach to evangelism. Someone would distract the police officers by talking to them or taking their picture, while the rest of the group distributed the Christian materials.
“The odds were against us, the numbers were against us, the opposing belief was against us. We were being followed by cops,” Smith said. “Everything was stacked against us. But that’s when God works the best.”
The team biked four or five hours a day and spent the rest of the time interacting with people. Once they built a relationship with them, they shared a copy of the New Testament or a tape.
When Coppenger and Andrews wandered upon a small truck stop on the last day of the trip, they were shocked to find the people so open to the gospel.
“You figure these are some coarse guys,” Coppenger said. “We just walked up to them and began talking to them, taking pictures and handing out literature. They eagerly took them. If there was any resistance at all, it melted.”
While the bikers were sharing Christ in upper Egypt, a Midwestern student on the team in the Sudan shared his testimony with a Muslim sheik in northern Sudan. The students traveling to the Sudan cannot be named because of the sensitivity of working in a closed country.
As they trekked into an area of the Sudan where most people had never even seen a Christian, their opportunities to share the gospel were limited. But when the brother of a local sheik invited them to his home for breakfast, they knew it was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. As they sat and talked with the sheik and four of his brothers, the student sensed that God was leading him to share his testimony.
“I told him that I was a holy man back in my country,” said the student, an ordained minister. “God spoke to me, too, much like how he talked to you.” The student then began to tell him how he became a Christian.
“They didn’t say a word,” he said. “If there hadn’t been a dirt floor, you would have heard a pin drop. They sucked this all in because they had never heard this before. They had no way to counter it because it was the truth.”
No one in the family committed his life to Christ, but this was probably the first time anyone had told this important Muslim family that Jesus died for them.
“God took us to them,” said another student. “That was a divine appointment because these five guys were the leaders of that little community and they got to hear the gospel presentation.”

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  • Tobin Perry