You ran the red light,” said the police officer, getting into James Okafor’s passenger seat. “Let’s head to the station for the paperwork.”
Okafor, a missionary from Nigeria, had been driving through Nairobi, Kenya, when the officer motioned for him to pull to the side of the road. Certain of his innocence, Okafor began to protest, then realized the officer was from the Somali tribe, the largest non-Christian group in Kenya. OK, let’s go for a drive, he thought.
For the past several years, Okafor has traveled to the eastern part of the country—a majority Muslim area—supporting local pastors in their evangelism efforts. He has also regularly hosted gatherings of Kenyan pastors and community workers, though he must do so in secret to keep them safe. In 2015 Islamic terrorists attacked a college in Garissa, killing 148 people. Witnesses said attackers were targeting Christians and other non-Muslims. “We’re here to make friends, not enemies,” Okafor said. “We want to respect [Islamic leaders] but also remain obedient to our call to make disciples.”
By the time he and the officer arrived at the police station, they had hit it off so well that the officer asked Okafor to park and continue the conversation. For the better part of an hour they discussed al Shabaab—a terrorist organization causing havoc in Kenya—and the Dadaab refugee camp, home to more than 200,000 Somalis. Okafor surprised the officer by telling of his experiences in the man’s hometown, a place to which many Kenyans won’t travel.
“Why would you go there?” the officer asked.
“Because I want to improve the lives of people who are marginalized,” Okafor said.
Impressed with this kindness toward his people, the officer decided to let Okafor go. The missionary responded by opening the glove compartment, taking out an In Touch Messenger, and pressing play. Intrigued, the officer said he would happily take the audio Bible as a gift. Since that day they’ve met several times to discuss faith in Jesus.
Not every encounter goes as smoothly—ministry in Islamic areas is filled with threats and challenges. One of Okafor’s workers, a Muslim-background believer who lives in the refugee camp, was severely beaten for preaching. This man, who has taken several dozen Messengers across the border into Somalia, now changes his residence often to avoid a worse fate.
Today, the audio Bibles remain a key component of Okafor’s ministry. He knows that Scripture is the greatest testament to the person of Jesus. After leading a depressed motorcycle taxi driver to the Lord, Okafor gave the man a Messenger. Within months the driver started a discipleship group of nearly 20 people who gather to listen. “The Spirit of God works with the Word of God in the hearts of people to lead them in what to do,” Okafor said. “That’s how God is working.”
Photographs by Audra Melton