Sometimes the real persecution comes from within. The secret church in the Islamic republic of Mauritania is struggling. Only a few hundred of the 3.5 million Mauritanians are followers of Christ, all of them believers with a Muslim background. This small church is fragile and has unfortunately been plagued with bouts of corruption and financial dependency. We should be cautious when speaking from a position of wealth. Ahmed’s story shows how God’s miraculous work in this country is threatened by what the Bible calls ‘the root of all evil’ —the love of money.
Living in Mauritania wasn’t easy for 33-year-old Ahmed*, a Muslim living in a small town in the Sahara desert. In many ways his country seems to be stuck in the medieval times with its traditional Islamic family and society structures, its low level of development, and its nomadic culture combined with extreme poverty (Mauritania is in the top 30 poorest countries in the world). Life is challenging at best for anyone not belonging to the small elite of extremely rich Mauritanians.
A few years ago Ahmed’s life seemed to take a turn for the worse when his daughter was diagnosed with a severe skin disease. Doctors didn’t know how to help and Ahmed feared for her life. For some months a co-worker had been talking with him about Jesus and about God’s power to heal. In his despair Ahmed allowed his co-worker to pray for his daughter.
To the surprise of many in the community, God answered this prayer and Ahmed’s daughter made a miraculous recovery. In accordance with the Mauritanian tradition where every favor is paid for, Ahmed offered his Christian co-worker two goats as payment for healing is daughter. To Ahmed’s surprise the man refused to accept them. He didn’t want to take credit for the work his Lord had done.
This got Ahmed thinking. After a few months he experienced a breakthrough and decided to follow Jesus. Being an enthusiastic young Christian, he confessed his newfound faith with conviction, even telling a number of others about it.
In an effort to learn more about the God of the Bible, Ahmed connected with other believers with a Muslim background who had formed a small underground network in Mauritania. While there was some fellowship and some basic Scripture study, he soon discovered that one of the main priorities of the group was seemingly to find ways to benefit financially for having chosen to follow Jesus.
Basically, the other believers told Ahmed that some international Christian organizations were willing to financially support secret believers in his country but that these funds were blocked by foreigners living in huge houses in Mauritania’s capital. They were using these donated funds for their own benefit.
For the first time since he started to follow Christ, Ahmed felt a sting of betrayal in his heart towards the foreign Christians. And drop by drop the bitterness that had been defining the other believers also found its way to his heart.
All this was happening while his Muslim neighbors were shutting him out of the community and putting pressure on him to re-convert to Islam. Ahmed started to feel more and more entitled to the foreign funds that he kept hearing about. He started to ask other Christians for money, especially foreigners he met. He became convinced that receiving more money would solve all his problems and be the ultimate help in his growing isolation.
Gradually, this financial focus seemed to cripple Ahmed’s spiritual life. He stopped thinking about the work of God and started focusing mainly on funds. Most conversations in the secret church meetings he visited were focused on that subject as well. The situation was not helped by rumors of other believers who had received huge sums in the past and were living lives of luxury.
Ahmed’s faith was smothered by greed. The only feeling left was bitterness.
Sadly, the story of Ahmed is similar to those of many Christians in Mauritania. Amidst the huge pressure of Islam as the religion-by-law for the entire population, people come to faith by dreams, visions, and miracles. God’s Word has a strong impact on them. And the openness for Christians to witness in society seems to be growing.
But the secret church is suffering from a spirit of jealousy, dependency, and mistrust. This is a barrier for spiritual growth. Without a functioning Body of Christ, new believers in Mauritania are missing opportunities to grow in discipleship and are forced to be solitary believers.
A big part of the problem can also be traced to the actions of well-meaning foreigners, many of whom live extravagant lifestyles in big houses and own nice 4×4 cars. At the same time, they give small amounts of funds out of guilt rather than long term love. This further entrenches the spirit of dependency as they relate from a position of power towards their Mauritanian brothers and sisters.
A growing number of Christian workers in Mauritania are convinced that the only way to help the church there is to actually stop giving money to it and break the cycle of dependency. Living more simply in the face of poverty would also help.
They request prayer in support of new initiatives that are growing and for the church to be renewed and to become Christ-focused again.
*Representative name and photo used to protect identity of persecuted believers.