• NORTH AFRICA \ Jan 15, 2003
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    Ex-Muslims Minister to Islamic Immigrants
Ex-Muslims Minister to Islamic Immigrants Approximately 20 million immigrants from Muslim countries in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia live in Western Europe, which now features scores of new Muslim religious and social institutions. Most European churches, though, pay little attention to the demographic revolution, the February issue of "Charisma" magazine -- out this week -- reports.

One of the largest Christian mission organizations in the world, based in London, has so far been unable to raise support for its first center for reaching Muslims. "For 10 years now we have been restricted to running a coffee bar once a week in a back-street church," said Egypt-born mission director Maruan Said. "We would need a center that is open all week in neutral facilities, and offering social assistance in addition to coffee, but the British churches are not interested."

According to Ali Arhab, the director of CNA -- a Christian TV station based in France and broadcasting in Algerian Arabic -- some French churches purposely close their doors on North African seekers. "Recently a successful North African evangelist in a northern town was told by his French pastor to stop bringing Arabs to church," he said.

However, several ministries and churches headed by former Muslims are reaching out to the immigrants. Amar Lamamra, the first North African to pastor his own church in Paris, has plans to plant churches across France.

"We have a team in Marseille [France]," he said, "and it is already reaching out to North Africans and Jews." Lamamra believes it's difficult culturally for the French to evangelize the immigrants even if they are willing to, because North Africans, like all Muslims, believe Christianity is the "religion of the West."

Lamamra said North Africans believe "you cannot become a Christian without giving up your own culture and identity," noting that takes churches led by North Africans to testify reliably that Jesus isn't just for Westerners.

For such reasons, Lamamra encourages American and other churches interested in reaching North Africans not to send their own missionaries to the region, but to support the training of national workers. "It takes too long and costs too much for foreigners to learn the language and the culture! Please help us to disciple North African leaders instead," he said.

Lamamra's charismatic church is not specifically North African. French is spoken, and the worship band leads in translations of well-known American songs.

In London, Egyptian pastor Sameh Metry's congregation has taken another course. Gathering Iraqi, Egyptian, Palestinian, Lebanese believers and more, it is thoroughly Arabic. Metry fled to England in 1992 after the Egyptian government shut down the Bible school he led in Cairo.

"The Lord showed me a revivalist Arabic church and said, 'This is the church I desire to see in England,'" Metry said. "We are now some 70 adults and 20 children, and I see lives being transformed as the Holy Spirit moves among us. My goal is that this church would become strong enough to send out missionaries to the rest of Europe and to the Middle East."