By BosNewsLife Africa Service
TUNIS, TUNISIA (BosNewsLife)-- Some 1,500 devoted Tunisian Christian, most of them former Muslims, worship in church buildings or in house churches despite death threats and growing influence of Islamic extremists, a well-informed advocacy and aid group told BosNewsLife Monday, September 17.
Open Doors, which supports "persecuted Christians" worldwide, mentioned a man identified only as Steve who was allegedly threatened by Islamists. "They said to me: 'Do you know that it is not forbidden to kill you?' But I didn't really feel afraid," Steve was quoted as saying.
"I could answer them: 'Yes I know you can do that [you can kill me]'. They responded that I was crazy saying that. I said to them: 'Yes, I am crazy for Jesus'."
The Islamists reportedly left and didn't come back, but pressure was expected to increase on Christians like Steve amid mounting protests across the region against an anti-Islam film, posted in part on the YouTube website.
The U.S. State Department already ordered non-essential staff from its embassies over the weekend in Tunisia as well as Sudan to leave with all their family members, and advised U.S. citizens against traveling to those countries due to a rise in, sometimes deadly, anti-American violence over the film.
Threatened Christian Steve apparently became a believer some five years ago through the Internet, which is increasingly used in North Africa and the Middle East by both Christians and political activists to communicate and avoid detection.
"I found a site about the Bible and got interested," Steve explained in remarks given to BosNewsLife. "I got in contact with other Christians and I am going to a house church," he added.
He isn't alone. Tahira, a Tunisian student, is openly expressing her Christian faith, even on the social networking website Facebook, Open Doors said. "Her sister and mother also became Christians. She still lives with her family," Open Doors told BosNewsLife.
Tahira's family name was not revealed, apparently amid security concerns.
Both Steve and Tahira participated in a so-called "discipleship training" that Open Doors organized for Tunisian Christians.
The training, which involves Bible study and ways to evangelize and organize churches, "is one of the ways Open Doors uses to strengthen the Tunisian church," the group said at a time of rapid changes in the country.
Yet, there are concerns about the future of Tunisia's tiny Christian minority, following recent elections.
"Home of the Jasmine revolution" which ousted President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali and "gave rise to the Arab Spring" for more freedom in other countries "Tunisia is the country where democratic transition seems to have the greatest chance of success," Open Doors said.
"However, elections in October were won by the Islamic Ennahda party, which has already announced its intention to transform Tunisia into an Islamic state," the group cautioned.
"Reports indicate that pressure on Christians, both from family and the authorities, has increased since the revolution. The murder of a Polish priest in February indicates an increase in religious violence," Open Doors said.
The group and other rights activists say radical Muslims are organizing violent demonstrations, including those over the anti-Islam film in recent days, that weakened security services find difficult to contain in this North African nation.
Open Doors said it had urged its supporters to "Pray for wisdom for the authorities" as well as an unnamed "local church leader [who] had to flee the country after his family was threatened" and protection other Christian leaders
"Foreign Christians have reported increased surveillance by the authorities. Pray for courage and discernment in sharing the Gospel," Open Doors wrote to its supporters.