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Tunisia: Fertile ground for early Christianity

EDITOR’S NOTE: In late 2009, Johnny Hunt, then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, visited Tunisia during a journey to North Africa. This brief video, shot amid the ruins of ancient Carthage, records Hunt’s reflections on the historical and biblical significance of Tunisia — and its importance for the future: http://media1.imbresources.org/files/122/12227/12227-68331.mpg

TUNIS, Tunisia (BP)–As January’s people-power uprising — a potent mix of economic gripes and demands for political freedoms — rages on, history shows that unrest is not uncommon in the tiny nation of Tunisia. But its past also has helped shape the lives of modern believers.

Many Western Christians are surprised to find that Africa, rather than Europe, produced many of the greatest Christians thinkers and leaders of the early centuries.

According to Operation World, only 0.22 percent of Tunisia’s 10 million people today consider themselves Christian, with a much smaller percentage being evangelical.


— 500 B.C. The sea-faring Phoenicians settle in what is today Tunisia and establish the city of Carthage. Phoenicians were followers of the god Moloch and child-sacrifice was a common practice among them.

— 146 B.C. Rome conquers Carthage and wrecks the city after the Third Punic War (called the “Punic Wars” because Rome’s name for Carthaginians was Punici, due to their Phoenician ancestry and their wide involvement with the Berbers). It was during this war that the Carthaginian general Hannibal led his troops — and a few elephants — around the Mediterranean and over the Italian Alps to ambush Rome.

— 203 A.D. Perpetua and Felicitas are among the first notable Christian women to be martyred. Perpetua, a nursing mother, and Felicitas, an expectant mother, stand firm in their faith until they are killed in the gladiator arena in Carthage. Their deaths and the persecution of the church help spread early Christianity in the region.

— 220 A.D. Tertullian, the famous Christian theologian, is a native of Carthage. He has been called “the father of Latin Christianity” and “the founder of Western theology.” Among other things, he refuted the Modalist heresy, which claimed God revealed Himself as only one person of the Trinity at a given time. His works on the Trinity help Christians better understand the Bible’s teachings on the nature of God.

— 258 A.D. Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage and an important early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works still exist, is martyred for refusing to submit to the Roman cult. Cyprian helps unify the church against the Donatist controversy, which argued that Christians who turn away during persecution should not be allowed back into the fellowship.

— 354-430 A.D. Augustine of Hippo — one of Christianity’s greatest thinkers — spends much of his life in Carthage. Augustine’s writings and teaching deal with original sin, man’s need for Christ, just war and the providence of God. His work lays the groundwork for the tradition of Christendom and for the Reformation centuries later. Augustine’s “City of God” and “Confessions” are still applicable to the lives of believers today. Augustine died in 430 A.D. while European barbarians invaded Tunisia and drove out the fallen Roman Empire.

— 647 A.D. Muslim invaders drive Europeans out of Tunisia, drastically changing the makeup of the country.

— 1705 A.D. Tunisia is assimilated into the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

— 1881-1956 A.D. The country comes under French protectorate until 1957 when Tunisia gains its independence and becomes a republic.

— January 2010 A.D. Angered by the poor economy, restricted political rights and corruption in the government, Tunisian protesters overthrow the government and struggle to establish a new one.
Compiled by International Mission Board communications staff.

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