WESTERN EUROPE?Jonathan Hillman needed a miracle. God sent him a porta-potty truck.
The 25-year-old from First Baptist Church in Guymon, Okla., watched as police tried to ease the congestion of cars bottlenecked at the mouth of one of Europe’s busiest seaports.
Hillman was among a team of Southern Baptist volunteers handing out packets of gospel materials to cars passing through the port’s gates. Most of the drivers were North African Muslims headed for countries across the Mediterranean. Traffic backups like this were an answer to prayer because they bought volunteers time to offer the packets to every car.
Unfortunately for Hillman, the police were making headway. Traffic had started moving again, and cars were close to speeding past volunteers. He knew it might be the only chance for some to ever hear about Jesus.
From nowhere, a porta-potty truck lumbered into the circle that funneled cars through the port’s gates and came to an abrupt stop. Horns blared. Within minutes, the truck undid more than an hour of diligent traffic direction by the police. Packets in hand, volunteers went back to work.
Hillman is one of hundreds of Southern Baptists who’ve taken part in Project Northern Lights to spread the Word of God across North African nations where sharing the gospel is a criminal offense.
“Very often we take for granted the availability of God’s Word in the free world,” said Dave Webber,* the Southern Baptist worker who runs Project Northern Lights. “The Muslim world has a very high wall around it.”
The 39-year-old former pastor from Florida has spent several years serving in Northern Africa and the Middle East with his family. Home to the world’s second-largest desert, the Sahara, North Africa also ranks among the planet’s most spiritually barren places.
“Governments across North Africa absolutely prohibit the distribution of the Bible,” Webber explained. “It is not illegal to own one, but it is illegal to give someone else one. The sentence for a first offense is five years in prison and over $300,000 in fines.”
It’s no surprise, Webber added, that such threats make the Bible and other gospel materials virtually impossible to find in these countries.
Instead of risking life and limb to distribute God’s Word inside North Africa, volunteers focus on the more than 18 million North Africans living and working in Europe. Every summer, hundreds of thousands of these immigrants flow through southern Europe’s ports?most returning to North Africa to visit family. Ferries carry the travelers, their cars and hopefully, the gospel, across the Mediterranean.
But the project’s strategy hasn’t gone unnoticed, partly due to the sheer volume of material it distributes. More than 20,000 gospel packets are given away at the ports every summer. Each includes a green, pocket-sized, French-Arabic New Testament, as well as a JESUS film DVD and other evangelical literature. Distribution totals over the project’s 11-year history top 200,000 packets, making it the single largest source of New Testaments in North Africa.
“This project makes the front page of newspapers in several North African countries,” Webber said. “There is often instruction for people not to receive the packet.”
He added with a grin, “That usually makes them want it all the more.”
Receptivity at the port ranges from 20 percent to 60 percent day to day, a difference Webber credits to spiritual warfare rather than the stereotype that Muslims are hostile to the gospel.
“Typically the response at the port is far more favorable than people would imagine…. Even if they disagree with what we’re doing, they’re usually very polite.”
Several years ago, a North African man passed through the ports and was offered a gospel packet by a Northern Lights volunteer. He took it home where he studied the New Testament and watched the JESUS film.
The man was considered a hajj, a title given to those fulfilling one of Islam’s five pillars by completing a pilgrimage to Mecca. He had not only traveled to Mecca once as required by the Quran, but four times?even bringing his wife along for the journey?a mark of esteem among Muslims.