Tunisia experienced rapid and drastic changes after the Arab Spring first erupted in this North-African country last year. News agencies reported that dictator Ben Ali is gone and elections were held with a landslide win for the Islamists. But Christians have seen an unprecedented spiritual openness in the country and see discipleship as the biggest need for this moment.
The Tunisian church had already undergone many changes over the last fifteen years. Until the end of last century there were only underground house groups of Christians active in this North-African country. Now churches choose to be visible, something that is not appreciated by everyone. Last year, the church experienced a lot of growth outside the capital, Tunis.
“Coming more to the surface seems to have strengthened the Christians. Self-awareness grew and the level of fear went down. Now you can see during the Saturday services interested people coming in from the street, attracted by curiosity of what is going on in the churches. We see Church engaging with society. Groups of Christians meet in several smaller cities in Tunisia”, explains a worker. Tunisian Christians are seeing a strong response to the gospel. “I heard of people accepting Christ in escaping teargas”, the worker says.
We also spoke with Raatib (not his real name). He is a Christian that doesn’t hide his faith. Raatib is discipling two groups of young Christians in two different cities… “The church needs discipleship in any way or form, it is by far the biggest need for the church”, he says with conviction. However, the number of Christians remains stable, with about 40% of the people attending services being new converts. That means that 40% of the believers have left the church. Perhaps it is the lack of discipling new believers that is causing the low retention rates in the Tunisian church.
Another church leader underlines the exploding interest in the gospel. “Figures from internet sites and satellite TV programs show that in 2011 many Tunisians asked seriously for more information about Christianity and some of these people have even been visited,” he says. “The spiritual openness is bigger than ever. People asking for an answer. You also can say that Tunisian society is more open, people wanted for example to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ for Islamic reasons.”
“This is the time to plant churches, to encourage discipleship, to open businesses and to place teams outside Tunis and to form charities,” he says with a big smile on his face. The church in Tunisia still is relatively small. With a population of about 10 million people there are only 1500 Tunisian believers. “We see a lot of open doors at the moment, so more workers are necessary,” he continues.
In Tunisia there are more home groups than church buildings where Christians meet. The Christians having fellowship in house churches develop deeper relationships. In the beginning of this century, the Tunisian government pushed home churches to gather in buildings and have more official services. Home groups are prohibited now. Though not all home churches are known because many have gone “underground” again, “We know about more than a dozen groups.”