You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s not much more to Libya than war and strife. This ancient country in North Africa is one of today’s most hostile conflict zones. For many it is synonymous with the 42-year dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi, whose rule involved brutal civil rights violations and the suppression of traditional Berber culture. Gaddafi was ousted and killed in 2011, leaving a power vacuum which resulted in the ongoing civil war. It is a complicated affair involving three factions battling for control, each backed by international stakeholders with their own vested interests.
This is not the whole story. Libyan society is layered with a fascinating history of conquests on top of its Berber roots. Ancient Phoenicians put the country on the biblical map (Simon of Cyrene and his sons were from Libya), followed by occupation by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans and more recently the Italians, before independence in 1951. The result is a country strewn with ancient ruins, a people who are deeply Islamic, and who quietly enjoy Italian café culture in daily life.
It is extremely difficult to obtain visas for Libya, so very few visitors have been able to appreciate the kind hospitality of the people there. This is particularly poignant as Libyans have ranked consistently alongside Iraqis as the world’s most generous people towards strangers. They are known to be full of joy, despite their suffering, and take time to enjoy each other’s company – picnicking happens a lot, family meals are made much of, and men often take trips into the desert to camp and hunt together.
Due to its location along the Mediterranean Sea, Libya has become a through-route to Europe for refugees escaping conflict and poverty in other African countries. It is a dangerous and difficult transit point as they are often mistreated, detained in centres and trafficked. Many are caught trying to make the treacherous sea crossing to Italy.
As a result of corruption and Libya’s own political struggles, foreign aid is often abused. Prayer is essential for seeing change, and particularly prayer for fair and peaceful leadership to unify the country.
Libya has a population of 6.4 million people, of which 96.6% are Muslim. A small percentage are Christian but these are mostly migrant believers. There are some vibrant Filipino and Sub-Saharan African churches in Tripoli but only a few are intentionally witnessing to those around them. The number of Libyan believers is tiny, estimated at around 150 worldwide. There is no cohesion amongst the few who live in-country. Fear keeps them from meeting together as churches, so they are extremely isolated.
Despite this, there appears to be a growing spiritual openness in Libya. More gospel growth has happened over the last ten years than the previous one hundred, with people coming to faith gradually in ones and twos. In 2001 there were estimated to be no more than a handful of Libyan Christians, so God is clearly on the move. There is lots of work that still needs to be done and several factors preventing the church from growing faster. People are hungry for the word and will download resources about Jesus but won’t meet to talk with anyone further, out of fear. Scripture is not currently available in Libyan Arabic or the Berber dialect. Translation work is underway but the standard Arabic version is used in the meantime. There is also a need for more gospel workers, particularly outside of the capital city.
God has not forgotten the people of Libya and his Spirit is undoubtedly at work. It is such an important time to pray and seek the Lord’s will for this country. May he bring stability and enough peace that believers can live out their faith. Pray that we would see many more Christians going to share the hope of Jesus there, and many more Libyans would find new freedom through him.
• Pray for an end to the civil war in Libya. Ask for peaceful, stable leadership which will unite the country and rebuild it for the good of the people.
• Ask the Lord to draw close to those who have been affected by war. Pray especially for the many children suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and ask that God would open doors for ministry to them.
• Pray for the ongoing Bible translation into Libyan Arabic and the Berber dialect. Pray that Scripture would get into the hands of Libyans who are seeking truth and hope.
• Praise God for the growth in the Libyan church over the last 20 years. Pray for greater freedom for believers, that they would be able to live out their faith and boldly witness to those around them.
• Ask God to continue sending gospel workers to Libya from all around the world. Pray for easier access to the country and that many Libyans would enter the Kingdom as a result of the seeds sown there.