As a young Muslim student, Hanafi often wore all white or, occasionally, all black clothing. He wore the two colours to signify his Islamic identity and devotion, blending in with other devout Muslim students.
Today he wears vibrant clothing, colourful silicone wristbands and a large wooden cross around his neck.
Hanafi, now 29, admits that he’s trying to attract attention, but only for a higher purpose. He wears the eye-catching colours as a bold, visible declaration that he is one of the few Christians in Niger, a majority-Muslim nation.
“When you see me, you will know my identity,” he said. “If you are not a Christian, your heart will hopefully tell you something, and maybe you will talk to me.”
Those who talk to Hanafi don’t leave without hearing his testimony.
A Personal Message
As a teenager, Hanafi studied the Koran in hope of one day inheriting his father’s position as the village imam. His father had sent him to neighbouring Nigeria to further his Islamic studies for two years, and while there he had a dream about Jesus.
When Hanafi told his imam about the dream, the imam urged him not to tell anyone else. But later, after Hanafi had finished his studies and returned home, he had the same dream again. This time he told his father.
“Don’t share this story even with your brothers,” his father said. “Remember what happened to Joseph when he dreamed and he told his brothers?”
In 2011, Hanafi’s father sent him to another village to attend a secular school. Hanafi met a girl there who was planning to marry a pastor and, annoyed by the Christian girl’s plans, made it his goal to convert her to Islam. Instead of converting her, however, Hanafi found himself being invited to a church service, where he could observe Christianity for himself.
The next Sunday, Hanafi visited a church near his house, thinking it was where the girl attended. After discovering that he was at the wrong church, he decided to stay anyway. He wanted to see if the church really had a time of dancing, something he had heard Christians do and that he considered wicked. While he didn’t see any dancing, he was nonetheless shocked by what he heard: The pastor shared a message about how Jesus can appear to people in dreams.
“I felt like somebody came and told the pastor my dream,” he said. Unnerved by the experience, Hanafi vowed to never attend church again.
But, still feeling confused and conflicted the following Sunday, Hanafi decided to return. As the weeks passed, he became ever more intrigued by Jesus Christ. A year later, 18-year-old Hanafi decided to return home and tell his father that he had become a Christian.
Cut from the Family
Hanafi’s father was incensed by the news that his son had become a Christian. He quickly called Hanafi’s 15 siblings and other family members to a meeting and told them, “[Hanafi] is no longer a part of the family.”
Glaring at Hanafi, he said, “From today on, don’t ever consider me as your father.” Hanafi said his father’s words were very painful but not surprising. “My pastor prepared me,” he said. “He told me many people will persecute me, and I asked him, ‘Even my dad?’ He said, ‘Even him; get ready. It can happen’.”
Hanafi’s pastor also shared Matthew 10:33 with him, which says, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”
“At that time,” Hanafi said, “I felt whatever could happen should happen, but I cannot deny Jesus.”
When Hanafi’s father realised that his son would not renounce his faith in Christ, he made plans to send him to Nigeria again. Hanafi, worried about what might happen to him there, asked God to rescue him from his circumstances.
The night before Hanafi was supposed to leave for Nigeria, his father locked him in a room. Around 4am, Hanafi awoke in a panic. After praying once more, he realised he could probably bust open the locked door to his room. So Hanafi charged toward the door with all his might, broke it open and fled into the night.
The following afternoon, he reached a neighbouring village and met with his pastor, but he still didn’t feel safe. “These people can follow me and find me wherever I am,” he told the pastor.
A Passion for Evangelism
The pastor helped Hanafi move to another city, where he enrolled in a Bible school and graduated in three years.
Nine months later, after learning that his father had died, Hanafi returned home to mourn with his family. While there, he discovered that his father hadn’t left him an inheritance. Hurt but trusting God to provide, Hanafi returned to his village and his church.
Hanafi eventually enrolled in a trade school and studied to become a mechanic. At the same time, however, he was being discipled by a mentor, and his passion for evangelism was growing. “God put in my heart that fire of sharing the gospel everywhere I go,” he said. “When I meet a Muslim, I have to tell him I am a Christian and share the gospel with him.”
Proclaiming the gospel isn’t easy in Niger. Islamists regularly attack Christians in the country’s border regions, and Muslim villagers persecute those who leave Islam to follow Christ. Determined to reach Muslims with the truth of God’s Word, Hanafi started thinking of creative approaches, such as using drama and radio. He felt called to disciple as many young believers as he could.
“I am very sure I will not die until I will see many Muslims coming to the Lord,” he said. As he continues to share the gospel with Muslims, Hanafi has no fear of persecution. “For me, persecution is part of growth,” he said. “The more you are persecuted, the stronger you’ll be in Jesus.”
Hanafi said he wants to do more for God than just attend church. He wants to be used by him to reach Muslims. He asks for prayers that the gospel will continue to spread throughout Niger and that he will be able to help persecuted Christians there.
“Also, pray that the fire that is burning in my life for evangelism, that God will continue to strengthen me no matter what,” he said, “even if I lose my life because of it. I want the gospel to be preached everywhere, even if I become a martyr.”
NIGER: A Burning Desire to Evangelise Muslims
03 March 2023
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