Climbing For Christ

TAKING THE GOSPEL TO MOUNTAINOUS AREAS OF THE WORLD WHERE OTHER MISSIONARIES CANNOT OR WILL NOT GO

Articles by Gary Fallesen

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Gary Fallesen
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Trip Report: Tunisia Survey 2019


A white-washed mosque stands in the middle of a village built into the mountainsides in Chenini.

An accessible harvest

Story and photos by Gary Fallesen, founding president, Climbing For Christ

The homes are carved into the mountains. Picture a cave worthy of the pages of Architectural Digest.

The Amazigh people of Tataouine live in those homes in southern Tunisia. But the dwellings are more vacant than occupied. The former president of this North African country, Habib Bourguiba, forced people to move from the mountains. So now there is a Chenini Jdida (new Chenini) located below Chenini Elkadima (old Chenini).

One resident of old Chenini told us during our visit and stay there that about 80 families still live in those mountain homes. The people – a Muslim unengaged unreached people group – live seemingly in isolation, although before the Arab Spring of 2011 an estimated 1,000 tourists visited daily during the high season. The remoteness of their village may be because Amazigh peoples in Tunisia follow the Ibadi sect of Islam. This unique sect (found on the Tunisian island of Djerba, the Nafus mountains of Libya, and the Mzab valley of Algeria) are neither Sunni nor Shia. Ibadis consider themselves pure Muslims, followers who are more grateful for the blessings of Allah.

“The way of life for the Amazigh of Tataouine diļ¬€ers from the other groups around them, especially in their interaction between men and women,” according to the Joshua Project. “Their interactions follow more of Bedouin habits that came with Islam from the Arab peninsula. Men and women do not mix socially.”

In our short time in Chenini, we saw only men in public. Two generations of men sat around the café located near the village’s mosque. We were served only by men in the restaurant where we ate and the hotel dug into the mountainside where we stayed.

A room in a cave.

Despite its remote location, old Chenini was accessible by car. As we climbed the cliffs above the village on foot, I took a seat on a boulder looking out into the dessert surroundings. I prayed to God and sensed that this part of Tunisia was not meant for Climbing For Christ.

THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF CLIMBING FOR CHRIST IS TO GO AND DELIVER THE GOSPEL IN THE MOUNTAINS OF THE WORLD, WHERE OTHER MISSIONARIES CANNOT OR WILL NOT GO.

The pastor from Rwanda has served for many years in Tunisia. “How do you win the war without any soldiers?” he asked, rhetorically, as we ate dinner together in the central part of his adopted country.

In other words: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37).

We met numerous workers in the south, the north, and the west. We met Tunisian believers. Less than one-half percent of the 11.6 million people living in Tunisia (about 49,000) profess to be Christian, according to the Joshua Project. The country is 99 percent Muslim with 12 of the 14 people groups living there considered unreached. This is a group where a church planting movement does not exist because there is no indigenous church capable of reaching the group without cross-cultural missionary assistance. Disciples need to be made who can make other disciples and grow the national church.

Tunisia was ranked 37th on the 2019 World Watch List, a scorecard of the countries where Christians face the greatest persecution. It was behind North African neighbors Libya (fourth), Egypt (16th), Algeria (22nd), and Morocco (35th). Some consider these countries “closed” to mission work.

“We say ‘closed country,’” said the Rwandan pastor who is ministering in Tunisia. “Who is big enough to close a country to God?”

Countries like Tunisia aren’t closed, they simply require more creativity to access. And with God nothing is impossible.

Waiting for the Good Shepherd.

Our travels around Tunisia took us west toward the Algeria border. We were looking for the Shawiya people, a group of Berber shepherds said to live mainly on the Aures Plateau of the Atlas Mountains in northern Algeria and Tunisia. This is another Muslim unreached people group.

We walked a hillside field with a shepherd. There are roads everywhere, making every people group in Tunisia reachable. Again, I prayed and sensed that this place was not for Climbing For Christ.

We left Tunisia knowing what to pray for: Ask the LORD of the harvest to send out workers into HIS harvest (Matthew 9:38). The workers are there. Some need to be equipped, others only need encouragement. “I tell you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). 

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