Remembering Our North African Brothers
Tony Cooke

In my new book, Miracles and the Supernatural Throughout Church History, there is a chapter entitled “The Holy Spirit at Work in Northern Africa.” The vast majority of ancient church history took place around the Mediterranean Sea, and believers and leaders from Northern Africa played a vital role in the development of the church. Here is an excerpt from this chapter.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, Christianity was poised to spread quickly throughout the Mediterranean world. Jewish pilgrims from three continents—Asia, Africa, and Europe—were in the Jewish capital when Peter preached and 3,000 came to the Lord.
Luke tells us that among those present were Jews from “Egypt and the areas of Libya around Cyrene” (Acts 2:10 NLT). Cyrene was an ancient city in modern-day Libya and is located close to modern Benghazi. It is very likely that a good number of those responding to Peter’s message that day were Africans. Consider these other New Testament references to Africa:

  • Egypt was the nation of refuge for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus when King Herod was seeking to kill the Christ child (Matthew 2:13-20).
  • As Jesus was led to Golgotha for crucifixion, it was an African—Simon of Cyrene—who was compelled to carry the Savior’s cross (Mark 15:21). Interestingly, Mark notes that one of Simon’s sons was Rufus, and Paul greets a Rufus in Romans 16:13. Paul even says that Rufus’ mother was like a mother to him also. It is likely that the Simon, who carried Christ’s cross, became part of the early Christian community, and that his entire family became very dear to Paul and other early believers. 
  • Philip the evangelist received divine direction to share the gospel with a high-ranking government official that served in the administration of Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians (Acts 8:26-39). He received Jesus, was baptized, and returned to Ethiopia.
  • Antioch, in modern-day Turkey, became a very important center of Christianity in the first century and beyond, and Acts 11:20 tells us that believers from Cyrene (modern Libya) were among the very first people to take the gospel to that strategic city. 
  • Bible students know that Paul and Barnabas were among the five “prophets and teachers” listed as laborers in the church at Antioch, but many forget that two of the others were “Simeon (called ‘the black man’), and Lucius (from Cyrene)” (Acts 13:1 NLT).

Eusebius, the church historian, writes that Mark “is said to have been the first sent to Egypt to preach the Gospel that he had also written down and the first to found churches in Alexandria itself.” While he was not one of Jesus’ original disciples, Mark was a trusted aid to both Paul and Peter. Paul said that Mark was helpful to him in the ministry (2 Timothy 4:11 NLT), and Peter referred to Mark as his son (1 Peter 5:13). Alexandria was the second largest city in the empire behind Rome, and the church of Alexandria became one of the most influential churches in the first few centuries.
After giving this basic overview, this chapter introduces some of the key figures from Northern Africa in early church history. These biographical sketches include:
Tertullian (AD 160-220)
Origen (AD 184-253)
Antony (AD 251-356)
Athanasius (AD 296-373)
Augustine (AD 354-430)
The influence and impact that these individuals made on the formation and development of the early church are of inestimable value. To them and to so many of our spiritual ancestors, we owe enormous gratitude.
Now to Today: Our nation is embroiled in tension and conflict right now and racial issues are at the front of everyone’s mind. As so many of my friends are likewise expressing, I denounce and oppose all forms of racism. Seeing or treating someone as “less” because of their skin color is nothing less than sinful, and it is an abomination in the sight of God.
We need to revisit the mission and legacy of Dr. King, who promoted social justice and equality through biblical and non-violent means. He pleaded with the nation, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’”
In the Bible, we find the commandment of love, and it does not stipulate loving or honoring another person because they share your same skin color or nationality. We get a pretty good idea of God’s viewpoint when the Book of Revelation gives us a picture of what heaven will look like. A multitude of saints are worshipping Jesus, the Lamb of God, and this is what they sing:
“For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God” (Revelation 5:9-10).
If we have the nature of God and share the perspective of God, we will treat all people with love, dignity, and honor. We will never rejoice at injustice or unrighteousness but will rejoice when right and truth prevail (see 1 Corinthians 13:6, AMPC).