When Paul’s ship ran aground on Malta in A.D. 60, the island was filled with temples and statues, and prehistoric temples remain today. The Maltese people are still incurably religious; 88% of them attend church every Sunday. The most prominent building in any village is the Roman Catholic Church.
At most street corners you will find statues bearing inscriptions like ‘say this prayer and you will get this amount of indulgences’. During the summer the statues are carried around at religious festivals. People compete for the privilege of carrying a statue that will leave a ‘mark’ on their shoulder.
I have heard it said that Malta is more Roman Catholic than the Vatican! Even the atheists are ‘Roman Catholic’!
Historically, Malta has belonged to several different nations. The Arabs occupied it for a while and the influence of Islamic culture remains. Later the British ruled Malta for 180 years. But they did little to spread the gospel there.
However, by the twentieth century a few fellowships for British believers existed. One, for British seamen, met at a small gospel hall in Floriana close to the harbour. Some Maltese started attending this church and were genuinely converted to Christ, although they had to endure persecution.
In the early 1970s, a Norwegian missionary called David Wulff came to Malta, but found it difficult to obtain a work permit. After many attempts, he gave up. Before leaving Malta he decided to go swimming. It was December and he expected the beach to be deserted. However, on that day there was one other man swimming there.
Being an evangelist, he went to talk to him. As they began talking, the missionary explained why he was leaving Malta.
He told the man that he would like to stay in order to share salvation in Christ with a people who had no real personal relationship with God, despite their apparent sincerity in worshipping God.
The man told the missionary: ‘I will help you. Tomorrow morning, come to my office’. The missionary said ‘Thank you; and where is your office?’ The man replied, ‘I am the Prime Minister of Malta’. He was allowed to stay!
In 1971 a seventeen-year-old called Edwin Caruana heard David Wulff speaking to a group of people in Republic Street. He immediately began arguing with the missionary.
This confrontation prompted him to buy a Bible in order to prove the missionary wrong. He began to study the Word of God and soon realised that the Roman Catholic Church had added its own traditions to the Bible. He and his fiancée, Sylvia, embraced the gospel and were baptised as believers.
For many years, the only Maltese Christians known to be on the island were the Caruanas and two other believers, but they continued to meet together regularly. Gradually the work grew and now there is a large church with Arabic-speaking people as well as other nationalities. Other Evangelical churches of different kinds are also in existence, with some 500 Maltese people attending them.
Our church has developed close links with Evangelical believers in Libya and other North African countries. We regularly host conferences for them. Malta’s strategic location gives us a unique opportunity to reach out to the surrounding nations with the gospel.