Introduction / History Libya, which lies along the southern edge of the Mediterranean in North Africa, is country that is largely desert or semi-desert. A large majority of the population of the country are Libyan Arabs or Arabized Berbers. They were mainly a nomadic society with a heritage of Bedouin traditions. Family life is a strong value for Libyan Arab families, and they still associate themselves with a particular Bedouin tribe.
Libya became independent from Italy in December of 1951. The discovery of oil in the 1950s radically changed the people's way of life. Now most of the population, who once lived in tents, have settled down in towns and cities along the coast and live in apartment blocks or homes. Their old way of life is fading, and many engage in occupations in industry and services, with a small percentage still in agriculture. Libya depends on skilled workers from other countries, and about twenty-five percent of the laborers come from Egypt, Asia, or southern Europe. Ninety-five percent of export earnings are from oil. Fishing and tourism are being developed. Ninety percent of the population lives in the capital city, Tripoli.
What are their lives like? Because of the rapid electrification of the country in the 1960s after oil was discovered and wealth increased, many Libyans have a television, video, and stereo. Around half of the population is under the age of 17. Young people often wear jeans and modern clothing, but some people still wear the traditional style of dress: for men, a white cotton suit with loose fitting trousers, a long white shirt, short black waistcoat, and white Muslim cap. Women dress modestly and may or may not wear a headscarf in public. Libyan women are among the most liberated in Arab countries.
Men enjoy soccer and talking over tea. Women and girls visit one another at home and enjoy family and religious celebrations, where they still remain separate from the men who gather.
Most of Libya's food is imported and subsidized by the state. Favorite foods are cereals (barley, wheat), couscous, rice, noodles, lamb, chicken, olives, and vegetables. Almost all of the population has access to safe drinking water.
Polygamy is permitted, and men are limited to four wives. Families are patriarchal, and the oldest male has the highest authority. The bayt, or tribal system group, includes three or four generations. The extended family is extremely important, even in urban areas. Women usually only work in certain jobs, such as teaching or as secretaries. They are considered inferior to men in the business world, but women may serve in the Army. School education is compulsory through elementary, and both boys and girls get military training while they are studying. Many young men now study in European universities, but girls cannot study abroad without a male relative present to protect her reputation.
What are their beliefs? Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross of Jesus, was from Libya, and Cyrenian Jews carried the Gospel back to Libya after Pentecost. Islam replaced Christianity in 624 A.D.. Today there are few Christians in Libya. Because of a pervasive network of secret police and fear of betrayal that would lead to persecution, it is not possible for Libyan Christians to gather publicly in the Western sense of a church.
What are their needs? The Libyan Arabs are one of the most unreached people groups in the world. No form of evangelism or missions work is allowed in Libya. Congregations of expatriots are able to meet. However, they are closely monitored, and a Libyan would not be able to attend for fear of being watched, betrayed, imprisoned, or even killed. There is also a limit of one church, per foreign denomination, per city.
Most Libyan Arabs are not aware of what Christians really believe. Because of their strong Muslim roots, even if they had an opportunity to hear the Gospel, they would not initially consider the message as personal for themselves. Christian workers, such as engineers, oil workers, teachers, and computer experts could be sent from nearby countries to live, work, and share God's love with the Libyan Arabs. Libyan businessmen and teenagers are also discovering the Internet, where Christian sites may lend additional witnessing opportunities in more of a private setting.
Prayer Points * Pray that Libya would open up to having religious freedom.
* Pray that the few existing Libyan Arab believers would grow strong in the Lord, be protected, and have opportunities to be discipled.
* Ask God to show workers more creative ways to take Bibles and Christian literature into Libya.
* Pray that Libyan students studying abroad and businessmen traveling would hear the Word of God and believe. * Pray for completion of Bible translation in this people group's primary language.