Into the ‘Afar Triangle’
Taxis and guns
The engine of your bush taxi idling, you’re deep inside the hot, low-lying ’Afar triangle’; an area stretching into Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia. The driver has had to screech to an unexpected halt and you are now surrounded by a group of armed men. The vehicle is full of passengers and luggage, Your mind is racing with rumours of local retribution and bloodshed. You know the Afar are a warlike people group; proud of their heritage, proud of their machine guns. Many cows will have been sold for these prestigious weapons.
It seems an age ago that you were bumping along, chatting happily to your neighbour; picking up some greetings in the local language and watching the countryside slide past your window. Low tortoise-shell shaped houses made from bent over branches and trees then covered with plastic bags and animal skins are scattered all over the area. Now, around the bus, there’s shouting, arguing and demands for the bags to be handed over. Suddenly a gun is coming through the window towards you.
You’re shocked to see a white-skinned western arm outstretched, offering a handshake and even more taken aback that in the middle of this tense situation, the hand is yours!
God has just now been preparing you with local greetings and the words tumble out, an inexplicable grin on your face. The gunman jumps back in shock at the friendliness and at hearing his own language. All the men gathered around him start to laugh at his reaction to you and in that disarming moment, your driver gets the opportunity to drive off as the tension is broken! What provision and protection from God that you had just learnt the right words to speak to these Afar men!
Challenges and encouragements
This true story happened to my friend, while recently travelling in East Africa. The Afar are a largely unreached people group, feared by Christians because of the churches they attacked after discovering that someone had sung a Christian song in their language. They are strongly influenced by Islam with few known believers so there is an obvious and great call for people to work amongst them.
In addition to their spiritual needs, the standard of living makes for bleak reading. Girls as young as 10 are getting married, 72% of women are illiterate, 25% of children die before reaching 5 years old and less than 2% of the population ever complete primary school. There is some encouraging news though. A handful of workers from Ethiopia and other African countries are amongst the Afar, building schools and playgrounds and some of the teachers in these schools are believers. There is a written Bible and the Jesus film available in their heart language.
So how to pray?
Ask for salvation and disciples who make disciples. Pray for those who already believe to have courage and opportunity to share their faith. Pray for God to call workers to the Afar with useful trades and skills to bless those around them and to serve faithfully. Please also consider the need for social reform, a sustainable approach to environmental issues and the endemic poverty. Take a look at the Joshua Project for more prompts for prayer.