P.I.C.T.U.R.E. Edition 13: Egypt

THE CHURCH IN EGYPT IS THRIVING AND FEARLESS

1. History

Egypt’s history goes back to just a generation or two after the Tower of Babel, and it features heavily in the Old Testament. It was a great rival to many other empires including the Hyksos, the Libyans, the Nubians, the Assyrians, the Persians, and the Greeks. Then in 30BC it fell to the Roman Empire. The Romans and then the Byzantine Romans ruled until 641AD when it was conquered by the rapidly growing Arab Empire.

The coming of the Arabs changed Egypt’s future forever. Its vast Coptic Christian population was slowly subjected to ever tightening controls and the majority of Egyptians converted to Islam over the centuries. Arabic became the nation’s language, as did a strict from of Sunni Islam. Egypt was the lynch-pin of the Muslim control of all trade from Asia to Europe until Portugal’s  Vasco de Gama found a sea passage and broke the monopoly, birthing the global era of European colonialism and the impoverishment of the Middle East until the discovery of oil. The French took control of Egypt in 1798 and then the British took it off them in 1882. Egypt finally regained its independence in 1953.

2. Today.

Egypt is home to about 95 million people who live off just a fraction of its land; the Nile floodplains and its delta. Sixty percent are still poor farmers and the average Egyptian income is just 5% of the USA. Politically it has leaned toward secular military governments even in the face of rising radicalism. The last 10 years has seen many acts of violence perpetrated by radicals and this has galvanised the government to crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Most violence has been directed toward the large Coptic Orthodox Christian minority who number around 10 million.

3. Evangelism Highlights

Good news: Egyptian Christianity is thriving again! There is a widespread revival happening among the Coptic believers from the very top down. Sadly, this is the only Orthodox denomination in the world where any renewal is happening.  Prayer and renewal movements have burst onto the scene with all churches seeing a rise in spirituality and numbers. There are no less than seven Christian satellite TV stations beaming all over the Middle East, there are also Christian radio stations and many web-based evangelistic ministries.

Evangelicals now number some 3.5 million and numbers are growing over 5% a year. This is in the face of church bombings, abduction of young Christian women, widespread discrimination and institutionalised abuse. Egypt ranks No. 21 on Open Door’s World Watch List of the 50 nations where Christians face the most persecution. The Egyptian church has rediscovered its roots and is thriving. Christians are active and respected in politics, business and the health professions.

Muslim leaders also pitch in by complaining about the number of Muslims becoming Christians. Some say the number is close to one million but this figure is likely exaggerated for propaganda effect. Muslim background believers face much persecution from family and the government but are encouraged by some high profile former Muslim clerics who have become Christians.

4. Prayer Points

Pray for Egypt to once again become a Christian nation

Pray for continued boldness in the face of continued persecution

Pray for an even higher level of dreams, visions and miracles to impact Muslims who are searching

Pray for the safety of young Christian women

Pray for Muslim Background believers to multiply

Pray for Christian media to penetrate deep into Egyptian society

Pray that radicalisation will destroy the faith of millions of good people who are Muslim.

Pray for the continued ministry of Father Zakaria, Number One enemy of the world’s radical Muslims

Kevin Davis

THE CHURCH IN DJIBOUTI: TINY BUT GROWING SLOWLY

1. History

Djibouti (pronounced Ja-booti) is a small desert country strategically located across the entrance to the Red Sea from Yemen. It is surrounded by the politically unstable countries of Eritrea, and Somalia, with a stable Ethiopia to the west. People have lived here since the dawn of time and had domesticated cattle by the time of Abraham. Djibouti is considered the most likely location of the fabled land known to the ancient Egyptians as Punt.

Strangely, Djibouti did not become a majority Christian area in the first few centuries of the faith as Eritrea and Ethiopia did just up the coast and inland. This meant that Islam spread rapidly when it first arrived in the early years of that faith. Then nothing much happened in this small part of the world for 1,100 years, until the French saw the strategic value in Djibouti’s location and took it for themselves in 1884. A railway to Ethiopia was completed in 1917, was recently upgraded for $4bn, and guarantees the future growth of Djibouti City.

2. Today

Today the nation of Djibouti is virtually a city-state, with some 88% of its almost 1 million people living in Djibouti City. Two thirds of the population is under age 30 and the average life expectancy is about 65 years. Climatically, it is not a nice place to live! The government was completely reliant on foreign aid, trade exports via the Ethiopian railway and French, Japanese, Chinese and American air bases…everyone needs this spot to stay peaceful! The country is finally growing well as the government gets its act together, GDP has doubled in the last 10 years.

The French took no notice of ethnic boundaries when claiming the country and forced two warring groups, the Afar and the Somalis together. This led to much political instability after independence in 1977, but it has settled down lately. Nearby civil wars have brought in many refugees and these have had to be forcibly removed recently. A staunchly undemocratic and paranoid government seeks to control every aspect of society by stifling the basic freedoms of association, religion and expression. However, this also means the horrific civil wars to its north and south have been avoided in Djibouti.

The constitution declares Freedom of religion but Islam is the state religion, and all laws and policies are influenced by Sharia law. Both Shia and Sunni radicals are using the country as a stop-over on their way to both Yemen’s civil war and the failed state of Somalia.

Recurring droughts beginning in the second half of the 2000s devastated the subsistence pastoralism on which many of Djibouti’s people had depended, leading to chronic malnutrition in nearly a third of the population and chronic overcrowding in the capital.

3. Evangelical Highlights

The evangelical church in Djibouti does exist but only numbers some 1,300 believers. It is, however, growing slightly faster than the population at some around 3.5%. Some evangelical fellowships have also recently sprung up from among the sub-Saharan African immigrants.

Sadly, all our spiritual brothers and sister in Djibouti face difficulties. The few Christians from Muslim backgrounds experience terrible persecution at the hands of local communities and family members. Djibouti’s communal lifestyle makes hiding one’s faith incredibly difficult. If someone is even rumoured to have converted to Christianity, they lose their inheritance rights and often custody of their children. They are also closely monitored by their families, members of the local mosque and the rest of the community. Local authorities always fail to protect Christians from attack, leading to impunity for persecutors. Djibouti needs a breakthrough!

4. Prayer Points

Pray for the destruction of the demonic strongholds over these people.

Pray for safety among all believers.

Pray for “God opportunities” for believers to pray for the needs of others.

Pray for revival to come to the 14,000 Catholic and Orthodox faithful.

Pray for Believers from the Afar and Somali people groups.

Pray for divine visitations, dreams and visions to confront Islamic truth seekers.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, judgement and righteousness.

Pray for workers to be raised up for the coming harvest.

Pray for the 18 million evangelical believers next door in Ethiopia to get a vision to reach Djibouti!

 

 

 

 

THE CHURCH IN COMOROS: TINY BUT BEGINNING TO GROW

1. History

Comoros consists of a cluster of tiny volcanic  islands halfway between the eastern African coast and Madagascar. All islands are densely populated and resource poor. The earliest inhabitants of the islands were likely people from the African Swahili and Bantu cultures from as early as 1000 BC. Shiragi Arabs from Persia first arrived in AD 933, bringing Sunni Islam with them. From the 8th to the 13th centuries they were followed by an influx of Austronesian sailors from Southeast Asia, who had earlier settled nearby Madagascar. Thus Comoros can lay claim to being the first site of the complete mixing of the African, Arabian and Asian people groups.

From the time of the Portugese the island of Anjouan quickly became a major supply port for Europeans crossing the Indian Ocean. The French finally acquired the islands through a cunning mixture of strategies, including that of divide and conquer. After World War II, the islands became a French overseas territory. On July 6, 1975 the Comorian parliament passed a resolution declaring unilateral independence. The representatives of the island of Mayotte abstained and in two subsequent referendums the population of Mayotte voted against independence from France. Mayotte thus remains under French administration and is 9 times richer than the other islands.

2. Today

The population of just under 800,000 is now a mixture of Arab, African and Malagasy blood lines. There have been over 20 coups and attempted coups since independence. Two smaller islands are also constantly agitating for their own independence. The average income is just 2% of the USA and literacy is low at around 60%.

Some 98% of the population is Muslim and religion dominates life on the islands. Radical Islamic scholars are pushing for stricter Sharia Law. Under the surface of Islam sits a deep attachment to witchcraft, spirit possession and the occult. Many young people have no hope for a better future so resort to drugs, loose living or emigration.

3. Evangelical Highlights

There aren’t many! Because the only colonial influence was French, before 1973 Comoros had virtually zero evangelical Christians. Islam is the state religion and Christian evangelism is strictly forbidden. Those who come to Christ can expect severe reprisals from their family. Persecution is on the rise in equal proportion to Islamic fundamentalism. Radical elements from the Middle East eagerly correct any signs of the weakening of anti-Christian sentiment. Christian converts are still expected to send their children to Islamic madrasas where pupils are taught Islamic principles and learn to read the Qur’an. The vast majority of the 6,500 people who are Christian are Catholic.

In the midst of all this spiritual darkness the number of believers actually continues to grow. However, most new believers are from the minority Reunionese people group, who make up the majority of the 4,500 Catholics in Comoros. Evangelicals have multiplied four fold since 1990 to around 1,300. Every single convert faces social challenges. Muslim Background Believers therefore operate in underground fellowships. New Muslim Background believers have withstood a lot of pressure, and found some acceptance in parts of society. For instance, on the island of Grand Comore these believers have to worship in secret because police, mosque leadership and extremists persecute them. However, their relatives in many cases have accepted their new faith. On the outer island of Anjouan, these believers and their places of worship are often known, but nobody has bothered them.

4. Prayer Points

Pray for those courageous believers who are not giving in to severe persecution.

Pray for networks of Muslim background believers on Anjouan to multiply

Pray for networks of extended believing families to multiply

Pray for the spiritual bankruptcy of political Islam to be exposed

Pray for Holy Spirit signs and wonders to turn Saul’s into Pauls

Pray for healings and deliverances from witchcraft to shake confidence in Islam and shamanism

Pray for the breaking down of deeply entrenched spiritual and cultural strongholds

Pray that the young will find Jesus through their smartphones!

THE CHURCH IN CHAD: GROWING BUT ONLY IN THE SOUTH

1. History

The Republic of Chad is a landlocked African country occupying most of Libya’s Saharan border and progressing through the Sahel down into the vast forests of Africa. Beginning in the 7th millennium BC, human populations moved into the Chadian basin in great numbers. By the end of the 1st millennium AD, a series of states and empires had risen and fallen in Chad’s Sahelian Strip, each focused on controlling the trans-Saharan trade routes that passed through the region satisfying the Roman need for salt and slaves.

Traditionally, the fertile oasis region around Lake Chad was a focal point for these trans-Saharan trade routes. In the 7th Century Arab traders penetrated the area. Shortly thereafter, nomads from North Africa entered the Chad basin and eventually established the Kanem Empire which reached its zenith in the 13th Century. Its kings soon converted to Islam, the religion also practiced by the successor kingdom of Bornu. The Bornu fell to the Wadai and Bagirmi empires in the 16th century. By the early 1890s all of these states fell under the control of the Sudanese. Fighting for power and control is in the Chadian blood.

French expeditions advanced into the region in 1890 and by 1913 the conquest of Chad was complete. In 1920 it became a separate colony and it was granted its own territorial legislature in 1946. Full independence was attained on Aug. 11, 1960.

In 1900 Islam was still only the second most dominant religion to animist African beliefs and practices. This changed dramatically after independence as Islam advanced to become a majority religion in the country.

2. Today

Chad is now 52% Muslim. Being desperately poor, it has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world. Around half the population is 15 years old or under and literacy is just over 50%. Its average income is just 2% of the USA, and that is only because of the discovery of oil which mostly finds its way into the hands of the elite and the army. Droughts are common, as is political instability. Sadly, Chad frequently picks up the gong for the world’s most corrupt country.

Since 2003 the Darfur crisis in Sudan has spilt over the border and destabilised the nation, with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees living in and around camps in eastern Chad. Corruption, lack of economic incentive and government failure to support local agricultural production has meant that the majority of Chadians live via subsistence agriculture and in daily uncertainty and hunger.

3. Evangelical Highlights

Being a French colony, only the Catholic version of Christianity was promoted in Chad up until independence. Since then there has been a strong and steady increase in the number of evangelical believers who now surprisingly number just under 10% of the total population. There are now over 2 million Christians in total out of 13 million people and there are over 6,000 individual church congregations. Unfortunately almost all of these Christians are in the deep south where African Animist religions once prevailed.

Little impact has been made on the dominant northern Muslim community. Since independence Islam has grown from 25% to 57% of the population and is now in the political ascendency. Sadly, there is a huge cultural, ethnic, linguistic, geographic and religious divide between the north and south that is not easily bridged. Subtle pressure is now also being exerted on the country by Muslims in high places in the government and military via financial missions money from the Middle East. The tragedy that is Darfur has also brought many disillusioned Sudanese Muslims from the east into contact with the Gospel for the first time.

At the present time the surge of growth in Christianity seems to have run its course. Many congregations are losing their missions vision. Division between churches is rising, as is nominalism and the occult. Traditional religions are trying to reclaim their lost adherents through such activities as the Yondo initiation rituals. Most new believers just want to find a religion that will deal with the power of the occult that invades so much of life in this part of the world.

To its credit Chad’s government has maintained a strict policy of freedom of religion and welcomes Christian missionaries. Within this framework of tolerance, the number of Muslims coming to Christ continues to grow slowly. Chad’s Arabic Christian radio station is a great resource in these efforts in a country that has such a low level of literacy.

4. Prayer Points

Praise God for the amazing harvest in the southern tip of the country over the last 40 years.

Pray for the breaking of occult powers and demonic strongholds.

Pray for the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to be revealed in dark places.

Pray that the love of Christ becomes visible through the actions of both the evangelical and Catholic church.

Pray that Chadians will reject the pressure of Middle eastern Muslim fundamentalists.

Pray for a renewal of the missions vision of the church.

Pray for cross cultural workers from the south to move into the north.

Pray for an insider movement within Islam to show them the way to Jesus in a culturally sensitive way.

Pray for souls to be set free.

Lord, Your Kingdom come, your will be done, no earth as it is in heaven.

Next week: Comoros

Kevin Davis

Check Out This Blog Site

Hi Friends,

Every now and then I come across an individual who is making a difference in peoples lives via sharing their thoughts on the internet. One such person is Matt Clark. His blog site is full of wisdom beyond his years.

It is therefore with great pleasure that I ask you to check it out for yourself. His tact is completely different from mine. He speaks to the human heart, and on issues relating to a generation younger than myself, whereas I speak more to the intellect. We need both.

So, here is the site and I trust you enjoy having a look.

www.walkingtheshoreline.com

Matt tells me it is read by several hundred people globally and has already saved at least one marriage.

Kevin

THE CHURCH IN CHAD: GROWING BUT ONLY IN THE SOUTH

1. History

The Republic of Chad is a landlocked African country occupying most of Libya’s Saharan border and progressing through the Sahel down into the vast forests of Africa. Beginning in the 7th millennium BC, human populations moved into the Chadian basin in great numbers. By the end of the 1st millennium AD, a series of states and empires had risen and fallen in Chad’s Sahelian Strip, each focused on controlling the trans-Saharan trade routes that passed through the region satisfying the Roman need for salt and slaves.

Traditionally, the fertile oasis region around Lake Chad was a focal point for these trans-Saharan trade routes. In the 7th Century Arab traders penetrated the area. Shortly thereafter, nomads from North Africa entered the Chad basin and eventually established the Kanem Empire which reached its zenith in the 13th Century. Its kings soon converted to Islam, the religion also practiced by the successor kingdom of Bornu. The Bornu fell to the Wadai and Bagirmi empires in the 16th century. By the early 1890s all of these states fell under the control of the Sudanese. Fighting for power and control is in the Chadian blood.

French expeditions advanced into the region in 1890 and by 1913 the conquest of Chad was complete. In 1920 it became a separate colony and it was granted its own territorial legislature in 1946. Full independence was attained on Aug. 11, 1960.

In 1900 Islam was still only the second most dominant religion to animist African beliefs and practices. This changed dramatically after independence as Islam advanced to become a majority religion in the country.

2. Today

Chad is now 52% Muslim. Being desperately poor, it has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world. Around half the population is 15 years old or under and literacy is just over 50%. Its average income is just 2% of the USA, and that is only because of the discovery of oil which mostly finds its way into the hands of the elite and the army. Droughts are common, as is political instability. Sadly, Chad frequently picks up the gong for the world’s most corrupt country.

Since 2003 the Darfur crisis in Sudan has spilt over the border and destabilised the nation, with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees living in and around camps in eastern Chad. Corruption, lack of economic incentive and government failure to support local agricultural production has meant that the majority of Chadians live via subsistence agriculture and in daily uncertainty and hunger.

3. Evangelical Highlights

Being a French colony, only the Catholic version of Christianity was promoted in Chad up until independence. Since then there has been a strong and steady increase in the number of evangelical believers who now surprisingly number just under 10% of the total population. There are now over 2 million Christians in total out of 13 million people and there are over 6,000 individual church congregations. Unfortunately almost all of these Christians are in the deep south where African Animist religions once prevailed.

Little impact has been made on the dominant northern Muslim community. Since independence Islam has grown from 25% to 57% of the population and is now in the political ascendency. Sadly, there is a huge cultural, ethnic, linguistic, geographic and religious divide between the north and south that is not easily bridged. Subtle pressure is now also being exerted on the country by Muslims in high places in the government and military via financial missions money from the Middle East. The tragedy that is Darfur has also brought many disillusioned Sudanese Muslims from the east into contact with the Gospel for the first time.

At the present time the surge of growth in Christianity seems to have run its course. Many congregations are losing their missions vision. Division between churches is rising, as is nominalism and the occult. Traditional religions are trying to reclaim their lost adherents through such activities as the Yondo initiation rituals. Most new believers just want to find a religion that will deal with the power of the occult that invades so much of life in this part of the world.

To its credit Chad’s government has maintained a strict policy of freedom of religion and welcomes Christian missionaries. Within this framework of tolerance, the number of Muslims coming to Christ continues to grow slowly. Chad’s Arabic Christian radio station is a great resource in these efforts in a country that has such a low level of literacy.

4. Prayer Points

Praise God for the amazing harvest in the southern tip of the country over the last 40 years.

Pray for the breaking of occult powers and demonic strongholds.

Pray for the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to be revealed in dark places.

Pray that the love of Christ becomes visible through the actions of both the evangelical and Catholic church.

Pray that Chadians will reject the pressure of Middle eastern Muslim fundamentalists.

Pray for a renewal of the missions vision of the church.

Pray for cross cultural workers from the south to move into the north.

Pray for an insider movement within Islam to show them the way to Jesus in a culturally sensitive way.

Pray for souls to be set free.

 

Lord, Your Kingdom come, your will be done, no earth as it is in heaven.

Next week: Comoros

Kevin Davis

 

BURKINA FASO: THE CHURCH IS GROWING, BUT SO IS ISLAM

Here is my ninth weekly prayer newsletter on a majority Islamic country. If you would like to sign up to receive them into your email inbox just fill in the box on the right (lap tops and Ipads) or scroll to the bottom (phones).

BURKINA FASO: THE CHURCH IS GROWING, BUT SO IS ISLAM
1. History
Slightly larger than Victoria in Australia, Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa of some 20 million people that ranges from tropical savannah in the south to the Sahara Desert in the north. The name Burkina Faso means The land of upright men.

Its ancient history is one of small subsistence tribal groups until the arrival of the Mossi peoples from Ghana sometime around the 14th Century. The Mossi established an empire that covered much of modern Burkina Faso as well as a wider region. Being located near many of the main Islamic states of West Africa, the Mossi kingdoms developed a mixed religious system recognizing some authority for Islam while retaining earlier ancestor-focused Animist worship. Although they had initially resisted Islamic imposition and retained independence from the main Islamic states around them, eventually there began to be a growing number of Muslims living in the kingdom. But by 1900 the colony was still 90% Animist and 10% Muslim. As the 20th Century progressed the number of Muslims increased rapidly, as did the number of Catholics. By 2000 the country was over 55% Muslim and roughly 20% Christian, with Animism making up the remainder, but shrinking in influence.

In 1897, the Mossi became a French protectorate and by 1903 France had subjugated all other ethnic groups in that region of Africa. The French kept the institutions of the Mossi empire largely intact for decades. Unlike the British, the French had little interest in social development in its empire. So what the French then called Upper Volta was left without much in the way of education, health care, administrative infrastructure and economic development when it became independent on Aug. 5, 1960.

2. Situation Today
This lack of development has led to an average life expectancy of just 54 years, an average income of 1% of the USA and a revolving door of military coups since independence. Population density is high by African standards in the south. With over 90% of the population involved in subsistence agriculture, in times of drought large migrations take place into neighbouring countries, especially to Cote d’Ivoire (The Ivory Coast). Democracy is now slowly taking root but the military is always a factor in the background. The country is still a secular state with a remarkable level of religious freedom.

Islam takes on an unusual flavour in Burkina Faso. On the surface it is largely Sunni , but Shi’a is growing in popularity. Then again Sufism is also very popular. Below these surface labels however, locals are quick to tell you that Burkina Faso is 55% Muslim, 20% Christian and 100% Animist! Witchcraft and the occult are still widely followed by people in all the new religions. This unusual blend of Islam continues to grow numerically and unfortunately will one day dominate politics and the culture.

3. Evangelical Highlights
Burkina Faso is therefore a country rapidly dividing between the world’s two major religions as the number of Animist continues to shrink. Most Christians are in the centre and south. The desert north belongs to Islam. The populated south west is disputed between the two religions. Sadly, because of the influence of French Catholicism, by 1960 there were still virtually no evangelical believers in the country. This situation changed dramatically in the decades leading up to the year 2000 and the country is now 10% evangelical, or some 2 million people are born again. This was one of the most dramatic growth rates in the history of Christianity. Growth has now slowed to about 4% a year, about the same growth rate as Islam. The great influx of new Christians has left the new churches with little in the way of missions vision because the harvest of souls was TOO easy for too long!

Unfortunately, only 10% of the evangelical community, or some 200,000 people come from a Muslim background. In addition, little energy is being put into evangelising the majority Muslim population. Topping this off, many parts of the church are still influenced by the Animism and spiritism. The power of the occult is yet to be decisively broken. This is the key point when considering how to pray for Burkina Faso as evangelical churches are still absorbing the huge growth of the last century and still developing a strong sense of mission.

4. Prayer Points
Pray for the crushing of demonic strongholds.
Pray that the 1 million members of the AOG church will launch the next wave of evangelism.
Pray for the 1 million Catholics to come to Jesus.
Pray for the many Christian radio stations to reach the unreached.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to tap Muslims on the shoulder, creating workers to reach other Muslims.
Pray for the millions of evangelicals across Africa to get a vision for Burkina Faso.
Pray for a deepening of understanding of the Christian faith among evangelicals.
Pray for religious freedom to continue.
Pray for souls.

How Repeatable Are Scientific Studies?

Every now and then I come across an article that is well worth passing on.

In the field of science the rock-hard foundation on which it all stands is repeatability. If a result can’t be repeated many times over we cannot draw serious conclusions about the studies claims regarding the material world.

I have just read an excellent report on how much of what passes as published scientific results is not repeatable. The levels are disturbingly high for the fields of psychology and historical sciences, less so in the fields of physics and chemistry, the hard sciences.

Here is the link. Enjoy.

Kevin Davis

Islams Mecca Part Four: Mecca’s Geography And Climate

Mecca is situated some 80 kilometres inland from the port of Jiddah. It is a barren, desert area, with small rocky hills jutting out of a flat sand-filled plain. It is devoid of forest, any oasis and accompanying grass and trees. It therefore had no timber to build with and no ships for trade. Because of its harsh climate, Mecca also had no agricultural hinterland. The logic of this fact forces us to rethink the whole concept of Meccan trade. How would massive camel caravans of a thousand or more animals have been replenished in such a barren place? Mecca only receives about 110mm of rain a year over an average of 22 days, or about 6mm per rain event. Rain was indeed a novelty. There was therefore no feed for livestock, let alone food for people. Barren places off the beaten track do not make natural sites for stopovers on international trade routes, let alone cities of trading empires producing armies of up to 10,000 men.

Yet Mecca is said by the Hadith literature to have been at the crossroads of significant international caravan trade routes. This is a complete fabrication as it is missing from all trade maps until the 9th Century. This lack of evidence makes sense if you consider that sea transport was vastly cheaper than land transport in late antiquity, and still is. Why would cargo be unloaded at Jiddah, taken 80 kilometres east to Mecca, then 80 kilometres further east and 1,500 metres up the mountains to the plateau town of Ta’if, then north toward the Mediterranean via overland camels when it could have continued in bulk by sea at a much faster pace? What a prohibitive and uncompetitive cost to the merchants receiving Meccan produce or spices! The need to provision such enterprises makes it without question physically impossible for trade to have originated from Mecca, or even transited through, as everything imported would have been very expensive. Making a profit via the uncompetitive overland trade route would have been utterly impossible.

In light of the above logic it is indeed surprising that the Qur’an also talks at great length about agricultural practices and the raising of livestock in the vicinity of its writer, who it claims lived in Mecca. These practices did indeed exist at and around Petra due to elaborate irrigation systems. Dry-land cereal cropping also existed in the upper Negev desert and lower Jordan. I have personally seen marginal grain fields around Beersheba at sowing time. In contrast, Mecca is totally devoid of any agricultural hinterland and associated livestock farming. Incredulously, the writer of the Qur’an, who was supposed to have lived in Mecca even talks about grape vines, olives, grain, fruit trees, dense shrubbery and fresh herbage (Q 80:27-31). This is in spite of the fact that olives are impossible to grow in the oppressive Meccan climate. But in the northwest corner of Arabia at Nabataea, in the lower Jordan and the upper Negev, agriculture flourished and it was even possible to grow olive trees. Why else would Abraham have settled there? It is looking more and more likely that the writer of the Qur’an lived somewhere else than modern Mecca and this city was theologically moved to central Arabia after the facts. The Qur’an itself suggests so.

On top of those significant agricultural contradictions we are told Mecca was a centre of pilgrimage with thousands flocking in for the religious festivals with their animals. I will talk more about this later, but let me just say that this would only compound the problem of food supplies. Crone says that when we first hear of Mecca as a pilgrimage site it is in the new Muslim era and not before. We also find they were importing grain from Egypt to feed the pilgrims, by sea of course. The more people we place in Mecca the more imports we must generate to sustain life there. All these difficulties vanish if we locate the Arab trading centre closer to established centres of agriculture, as the Qur’an points to.

Finally, in the era before the Roman Empire there was indeed an inland caravan route from Yemen to Palestine. It followed the elevated edge of the Sarawat Mountains, which run parallel to the coast all the way up the Red Sea. Yet Mecca is on the coastal plain, well over a kilometre in altitude below this inland route. Why would a caravan deviate some 80 kilometres from Ta’if, which was on the inland route and capable of resupplying a caravan with food, drop 1,500 meters in altitude down a canyon to barren Mecca, and then crawl back up to continue their journey? This would make absolutely no commercial sense.

You can read the whole essay under the Islam link on the home page.

Kevin Davis

THE CHURCH IN BRUNEI: DESPERATE FOR A BREAKTHROUGH

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1. History
Brunei is a tiny country of just over 400,000 people on the northwest coast of the Island of Borneo, an island shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Records show that Brunei was trading with China as far back as the 6th century. Historical references in Chinese and Hindu chronicles refer to a maritime-based trading kingdom situated at the mouth of the Brunei River. Its history and existence in medieval times was closely linked to the founders of the Ming Dynasty in China and to Chinese Buddhism.

From the 13th to the 15th Centuries, through allegiance to the Javanese Majapahit kingdom it came under Hindu influence. Then, in the early 15th century the kingdom was then exposed to Muslim traders from Malacca and widespread conversion to Islam took place. Brunei became an independent Islamic sultanate after the king’s conversion. It was a powerful state from the 16th to the 18th century, ruling over the northern part of Borneo, adjacent island chains and even pats of the Philippines. Brunei eventually fell into economic and political decay and lost Sarawak in 1841 to the British. It became a British protectorate in 1888, and then a British dependency in 1905. Japan briefly occupied Brunei during World War II before it was liberated by Australia in 1945.

The sultan regained control over internal affairs in 1959, but Britain retained responsibility for the state’s defence and foreign affairs until independence in 1984. Oil has since made Brunei very, very wealthy. Citizens pay no income tax and Brunei even owns the Beverly Hills Hotel amongst many foreign investments. Brunei now has one of the highest per-capita incomes in Asia and the sultan is believed to be one of the richest and most ostentatious men in the world. He and his brother are extremely self-indulgent and the sultan even sports a harem of 30 young women flown in from all over the world.

2. Today
Brunei is practically an absolute monarchy, with very limited political representation. In 2013 the Sultan started imposing draconian sharia law on all Muslims, who make up two-thirds of the country’s 400,000 inhabitants. Attendance at Friday prayers is now compulsory and brutal punishments are handed out for actions deemed crimes in the Qur’an. Hypocritically, the Sultan is legally exempt from all sharia laws and just as well considering his lifestyle! Non-Muslims are now subject to creeping Islamisation via its compulsory teaching in the entire school system. This has led to a new brain-drain among the well-educated who hate the new restrictions on themselves and influence on their children.

Brunei’s wealth is built solely on oil. Ninety three percent of all government revenues come from oil exports which are now declining and oil will run out within two decades. Brunei’s declining economic fortunes are being countered by ever-growing Chinese economic influence. After many centuries it is once again becoming an outpost of Chinese mercantilism!

Sunni Islam is dominant and restrictive. Islam is obligatory for all Malays from birth. Leaving Islam is forbidden and punishable. It is believed there are only a handful of Malay believers in Brunei and they face severe persecution if found out. Christian witness and missions work by foreigners is not permitted, but Christians may freely convert to Islam and the government is constantly offering financial inducements to anyone, especially tribal Christians, to convert.

3. Evangelistic Highlights
Anglican missionaries first came to Brunei in 1848. The Roman Catholic Church has also been established in Brunei for over 100 years but its leadership were all expelled in 1991. Three Australian missionaries established the Borneo Evangelical Mission in Sarawak in 1928, a work that led to the birth of the SIB Church, which now numbers 500,000 in neighbouring Malaysian Borneo. Although still functioning among the village people, the SIB has no legal presence in Brunei.

The religious atmosphere in Brunei is repressive but evangelical Christians still surprisingly number 6.1 percent of the total population, many are from the Dusun people group who are farmers living in the jungle villages. Some 15% of the Chinese population, who control most commerce in Brunei, are also Christian. Many believers are affiliated with a growing number of independent congregations and most of these are not officially registered. Some Christians do meet secretly but meetings in homes are being regularly raided by the religious police in an effort to shut them down. The number of believers is growing at around 4% a year, much to the consternation of the Islamist government. The government also greatly fears the influence of the internet and its access to alternative beliefs to Islam.

4. Prayer Points
Pray for the destruction of demonic strongholds and hidden powers.
Pray for miracles to multiply. It is only the supernatural that will destroy Satan’s grip.
Pray for internet access to bring people to Christ.
Pray for a hunger for truth and for Islam’s lies to be exposed.
Pray for the salvation of the royal family via a conviction of sin.
Pray for a revival among the tribal and Chinese believers that spills over to the Malay community.
Pray for strength in the face of creeping Islamisation.
Pray for hypocrisy in high places to weaken the reputation of Islam in the eyes of the people.
Pray that the eventual financial collapse will bring a flood of people to freedom in Christ.
Pray for the few Malay believers who must keep their faith a secret.

Kevin Davis