PICTURE EDITION 32: THE CHURCH IN MAURITANIA: ALMOST NON-EXISTENT!

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1. History

The history of Mauritania, what little there is since its people were mostly desert nomads until the 1970’s, is bound up in three distinct ethnic groups. There are the sub-Saharan black Africans who have always inhabited the extreme south hugging the Senegal River. Then there are the Berber/Arab people who were in control of the northern regions since the beginnings of the Arab Empire in the 10th Century. They are called the White Moors. Mauritania even takes its name from an ancient Berber kingdom. Then there are the Black Moors who are in part the descendants of the slaves of the White Moors. The nation is split evenly between these three ethnic groups, with the last two always vying with each other for power. Arabic is now the official language.

Islam came to the region a thousand years ago via the slave trade and the wider Islamisation of the Sahara desert regions. It is now deeply entrenched at all levels of society but as is common in Africa, under the surface of Islam there is widespread involvement in witchcraft and black magic. Satan has an iron grip on the people of Mauritania.

2. Today

Independent from France in 1960, Mauritania now has 4 million people but was still 70% nomadic as late as 1970. It is statistically depressing: It is one of the world’s poorest countries. It has a life expectancy of just 51 years. Over 40% of the population is under 15 years of age and fewer than half can read, especially women. One third of children face chronic malnutrition and the desert grows harsher every year. Most people still make their living from subsistence herding in its vast deserts while only 1% of the country is arable, this being the thin northern floodplain of the Senegal river. Mauritania is a place that both time and the outside world have forgotten about.

Being 99.75% Muslim, it has suffered more than its fair share of political violence and military coups. Islamic tradition is responsible for the still functioning slave trade in the interior and Sharia law is widely followed. Sadly, Mauritania is a also key transition point for African refugees seeking a better life in Europe and South American drugs heading the same way.

3. True Christianity

There is virtually none. Mauritania has never known the Good News in any way shape or form. The only Christian presence is in the far south among the Sub-Saharan black Africans. There are barely 2,000 evangelicals and 4,000 Catholics among some 4 million people and expatriate Christians are few on the ground following violence toward some of their numbers a decade ago. Local believers have been known to be beaten, imprisoned and endured social ostracism. There is tremendous social and family pressure to conform to Islam, which the national religion of the state and it is unlawful to publish any material that is deemed to be critical of Islam. Few locals travel abroad so opportunity to reach even those few is limited. Compounding the issue for evangelism is the continuing nomadic nature of some 20% of the population.

Having read these depressing statistics it is encouraging to note that most evangelicals are now Spirit-Filled and their numbers are growing at around 6%, or a few hundred, a year. A minority of evangelical Christians are Muslim-background believers who meet in secret underground church groups. We will never know their true numbers. These believers are the key to the future growth of Christianity in Mauritania but they remain well hidden due to increasing Islamic radicalisation. There is some work among Mauritanians living south of the border in Senegal.

4. Prayer Points

Pray for Christians who have paid a high price for their faith.

That God would raise up apostles, prophets, teachers pastors and evangelists

Pray for spiritual growth and maturity of believers

Pray for boldness to take on the demonic powers of darkness

Pray for the Holy Spirit to speak to and guide the church.

Pray for Muslim religious leaders to receive dreams and visions of Jesus

Pray for increased availability of Scripture in all national languages

Pray that the daily radio broadcasts in Arabic and Pulaar would be listened to by many

Pray that the Lord to raise up labourers and send them to this white for harvest field.

 

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