by Erik Tryggestad
A wind from the north, called the harmattan, paints the West African sky beige with sand from the Sahara Desert and coats Maiduguri, Nigeria, in a fine layer of grit.
Muslim women in the northern Nigerian city were wary of a group of Christians who traveled there to teach them to salt meats and preserve pineapples for the long dry season. But when the Muslims were called to prayer, the Christian women didn't just stop the lessons-they laid out the Muslims' prayer mats and swept away the harmattan's dust.
Eleni Melirrytos, a minister's wife from Athens, Greece, said that she didn't hesitate to help the Nigerians practice their faith. "We reassured them time after time that God's love had brought us there," Melirrytos said. "Muslim people are as lost as the person next to us in the supermarket who does not know Christ and his love."
The workshop was one of several recent efforts by ministries associated with Churches of Christ to improve lives in Muslim-dominated communities.
Nashville, Tenn.-based Healing Hands International has sponsored agricultural workshops across Africa. A participant in northern Nigeria asked for a program specifically designed for women, prompting Healing Hands to assemble a six-member team for the task, with support from non-governmental organizations in Nigeria.
As the week-long course progressed, the Christians and Muslims went from strangers to close friends, said Alisa Merritt, a development officer for Healing Hands.
"Many of the Muslim women told us how impressed they were that we, as Christians, gave so much glory to God," Merritt said. "They had never heard that from Christians."
Providing Water and Income
Workers with Ghana West Africa Missions recently dug 42 holes in the soil near Tamale, in Ghana's predominantly Muslim north. Nineteen of the holes produced clean water that could mean the difference between life and death for many Ghanaians, said Josiah Tilton, the ministry's executive director.
In the past 20 years the well-drilling effort has improved lives in Muslim villages and has opened doors for the gospel, Tilton said. More than 50 churches in northern Ghana have resulted from the humanitarian effort.
Muslims in Africa may be more open to Christianity than those in other parts of the world, including the Middle East, Tilton said from his Arkansas office.
"I do think that there are some people in Islam whose doors are closed," he said, adding that Jesus told His followers to show kindness to all people-even those who opposed their beliefs.
Even in the Middle East, Christians are exploring ways to improve Muslims' lives. Last year, Linda Egle and Brenda McVey traveled to Afghanistan on behalf of Eternal Threads. The Abilene, Texas-based ministry helps impoverished women in southern India earn money by hand-crocheting tote bags for export.
The church members visited an organization that provides shelter and legal aid for young Afghan women, many of whom take care of many children and family members with little income, said Egle, founder of Eternal Threads.
The ministry purchased a computerized embroidery machine for the Afghan women to help in vocational training. Eternal Threads also sells intricate glass-bead bracelets made by the Afghans.
The extra income has allowed the women to buy clothes for their children and send them to school. "Thanks be to God for giving us this job," an Afghan woman wrote in a recent message to Eternal Threads.
"I don't believe I could give any better reason for showing compassion to Muslim women," Egle said.
From the May, 2008, issue
of The Christian Chronicle.
Reprinted with permission
Erik Tryggestad is assistant managing editor of The Christian Chronicle.