Ensconced in his immaculate little office at CityHill Hillcrest, Erling Rasmussen smilingly rattles off the names of these North African countries like a roll of honour while gesticulating to a map of the continent on the wall.
“He said to them, `Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’” – Mark 16:15-16.
And this preaching to all creation is precisely what Erling has been doing, with his missionary work taking him to places where – metaphorically speaking, of course – angels fear to tread. Places that are not just remote and geographically inhospitable, but inhospitable to Christians, too.
“In Ethiopia for one there has been a heavy persecution of Christians, true Christians,” says Erling. “Especially in the north of the country, Christians are flung into the most awful prisons without even a trial.” But even this isn’t enough to halt the spread of Jesus Christ’s word – and love. “In Ethiopia we went to visit two men who’d been imprisoned for talking about Christ. Despite the conditions, their faces were radiant, and because of them over 30 other prisoners had given their lives to Jesus,” attests Erling. And it’s worth noting that he has been to Ethiopia alone at least 10 times.
Ethiopia isn’t the only country in North Africa where Christians are persecuted. Not by a long shot. In fact, as I write this, news has just broken that ISIS has executed 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya.
“In Somalia the church has to hide because of the Muslim influence,” says Erling. He recounts how once, at a Somalian roadblock near the border with Ethiopia, his group was stopped by a party of men allied to a local warlord – and Somalia, with its status as a failed state, is effectively ruled by warlords. The men were heavily armed with automatic weapons, and after pulling Erling’s party over there was much furious talking into cellphones. Eventually one of the men spoke to the driver, and then – along with his AK-47 – pushed his way into the vehicle. Erling feared the worse. But instead, the bandit directed the driver to take the group to the relative safety of the Ethiopian border. “He’d been discussing with the warlord on the phone how to best protect us,” says Erling. “It turns out he was an angel…an angel with a machinegun!”
When it comes to Eritrea, well, Erling hasn’t been able to get in there. But at the border he has met with hundreds of young people. Young people who were “on fire” for God but who, for fear of persecution, dare not be open about their belief.
The next step, says Erling, is instead of calling people to Bible College here in South Africa is to take it to them, wherever they are in Africa.
“I’m on fire for this year,” adds Erling with quiet determination. “I might be 76 this year, but my heart is burning, and later this year we’ll be going to Egypt.” And so this verse comes to mind: “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, `Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water’” – Revelation 14: 6 – 7.