CBN News Gives Rare Look at Libyan Church

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BENGHAZI, Libay -- As rebel fighters continue their search for Moammar Gadhafi, many people in the West wonder what type of government will replace the Libyan dictator.

Will a new Libya respect human rights and religious freedom? How will Christians fare in the country?

CBN News has a rare look at the church in Libya.

Foreign Christian Workers

Sister Lutcia makes her daily rounds at Beida Hospital. An Italian nun, she first came to Libya more than 35 years ago.

"When we first came here, people liked us very much. I did humanitarian relief to show love to the people. As a nun, I do everything - even cleaning and washing people. There's nothing I don't do. I do everything," she told CBN News.

Sister Lutcia is one of more than two million foreign laborers in Libya. The country is home to one of the largest foreign work forces in the world.

Most foreigners come to Libya to work in the oil fields and other industries and many of them are Coptic, Catholic or Orthodox Christians.

CBN News was granted exclusive, rare access to videotape an Egyptian Coptic church service in eastern Libya. Afterwards, we visited a Sunday School class for younger children and another attended by teenagers.

Muslims Treatment of Christians

An Egyptian surgeon CBN News interviewed has worked in Libya for 15 years. He said though he is a Christian, the Muslim majority has treated him well.

"Especially from the government and our ministry of health and our friends in the hospital. They respect us and they very nice and very kindly," said Dr. Adel Magdy.

However, what might the future hold once Libya's new government is firmly in place?

Todd Nettleton is with the Voice of the Martyrs.

"Ninety-seven percent of the people in Libya are Muslims. So even a government that is elected by the people could be a heavily Islamic government that wouldn't necessarily be friendly to Christians and wouldn't be friendly toward religious freedom," he explained.

Christian Influence Felt, Church in Hiding

Under Gadhafi, foreign Christians who shared their faith with Muslims were either jailed or expelled from the country.

Gadhafi -- for the most part -- expressed tolerance for foreign Christians if they remained in their churches. He allowed regular worship and the reconstruction of some old church buildings in major cities like Tripoli and Benghazi.

Few church buildings are seen elsewhere.

As a matter of fact there isn't much of a Christian presence that is visible at all except in the city of Tobruk. There is a French military cemetery honoring fallen Christian soldiers from World War II.

Each headstone cross in the cemetery reinforces the long-held Libyan belief that only non-Libyans are Christian.

Even the Egyptian coptics CBN News spoke with share that understanding.

"No Libyan Christians, zero. No one," said Dr. Magdy.

"Have you ever met any?" CBN News asked.

"No, never. I didn't see anyone. All Libyans are Muslims," he replied.

But Nettleton disagrees, saying there is a small indigenous church in Libya, even though few foreigners have met them.

"They are meeting together. They are serving Christ. They are spreading their faith. But they obviously have to do that in very cautious and careful ways. So, that's a part of it. Just the nature of being Christian in a Muslim country. They have to be careful. They have to be cautious about how they do that," he said.

Christians Charged with Treason

Gadhafi had three Libyan Christians arrested, jailed and tortured several years ago. They were charged with treason, not apostasy, and were viewed as citizens who had abandoned and betrayed Libyan culture.

More recently, several Christians were arrested for possessing a large number of Bibles.

CBN News witnessed the recent baptism of a Libyan convert. She wouldn't allow us to show it on television, but she explained that she had come to Christ after watching a Christian program on satellite television.

Nettleton says that's not surprising.

"One of the key factors in the growth of the church in Libya is satellite television. A lot of the evangelism -- a lot of the discipleship activities that are happening are happening over satellite TV from outside the country because it's very difficult for Christians to gather together -- particularly Muslim converts within the confines of Libya," he explained.

And many of the secret, Libyan Christians feel abandoned by the world, and though their numbers are small, maybe only several hundred, they desire recognition and prayer support.

Prayers Needed

Nettleton says Libya's Christians -- both indigenous and foreign -- are likely to need a lot of prayer in the days ahead.

"Let's pray for safety and for God's protection over them. As there is so much upheaval, there are also people who are asking questions of a spiritual nature, questions about eternity," he said.

"This can be a great time of planting the seeds of the gospel and we need to pray for our brothers and sisters to have opportunities to do that and to have boldness to take advantage of those opportunities," Nettleton added.

Sister Lutcia says no matter what happens with the government and politics, she wants to remain in Libya to serve the people.

"For Jesus Christ only!" she exclaimed.

No matter who is in charge of the new Libyan government.

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CBN News
Gary Lane

Gary Lane

CBN News Sr. Correspondent

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