God’s hand at work years after Arab Spring
    January 30 2015 by Nicole Lee and Charles Braddix, IMB Media

    Once again the world’s attention is drawn to the Middle East with the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and the tendered resignation of Yemen’s president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.
     
    King Abdullah died early Friday and is succeeded by his brother Salman bin Abdul Aziz.
     
    Both events come at a time when peoples of the Arab nations reflect on the impact of the Arab Spring and the current rise of the Islamic State (IS).
     
    “The Arab and the Islamic nations are in dire need for solidarity and cohesion,” the new Saudi king said. It is believed that Salman was making a guarded reference to the chaos gripping the Middle East as IS now holds a third of both Iraq and Syria.
     
    Though the fourth anniversary of the Arab Spring uprisings arrives with little sign of real change in the Arab world, there is reason to hope because God is at work in the midst of the chaos.
     
    What began with the self-immolation of a market vendor in Tunisia in December 2010 continued this month with the country’s first free presidential elections and Tunisia being dubbed “country of the year” by The Economist. Freedom has come to Tunisia, which has opened the door for growth – often slow and painful, but with forward impetus.
     
    But Tunisia is the exception.
     
    The fourth anniversary of Arab Spring in Egypt was Sunday, January 25. Some commentators have said what began in Tunisia was broken in Egypt. Egyptians have overthrown two governments during the past four years, but there is no hope in sight for a resolution between reformists, hardliners and the Muslim Brotherhood. Armed forces now keep the peace.

    ArabSpring01-30-15.jpg

    IMB Photo by Jedediah Smith
    Syrian refugees have endured much suffering as a result of the ongoing Syrian war. But God is at work, and many refugees are able to hear the Good News for the first time because they were driven out of a country closed to Christian work and into places where they have more freedom to encounter and explore the claims of Christ.

     

    But Egypt isn’t the worst.
     
    In Syria, the death toll is 200,000 and growing. Syrian refugees number more than three million, causing overcrowding in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The fanaticism of IS in Syria and Iraq has flummoxed even other militant Muslim factions.
     
    Now Arab Spring has morphed into Arab Winter.
     
    But Christian workers in the Arab world want people to know that neither newfound democracy nor violence and bloodshed are the only stories worth sharing.
     
    “There is another story that is not being told,” said James Keath,* International Mission Board (IMB) strategy leader responsible for work in Northern Africa and the Middle East.
     
    Keath recounts examples of Muslim men and women coming to faith in Christ. He also tells of how God has met Arab Christians in their moments of need, providing grace and love and even the ability to forgive those who killed their families.
     
    “The worst humanitarian catastrophe of our day is opening doors among peoples we have never had access to before,” Keath said. “And we are finding not just broken lives but open hearts.”
     
    One example is a Syrian refugee woman caring for her sick mother – penniless, fearful, despairing, without the will to live. She heard the Good News of Jesus from some of His followers who were delivering blankets to the needy. She put her trust in Him saying, “I know Jesus is the only answer. He is the one who can give me peace in my heart and a reason to live.”
     
    Keath and other Christian workers serving throughout North Africa and the Middle East live amid the day-to-day reality of violence and bloodshed, but they are passionate to communicate another reality that is equally true – God is at work.
     
    Christian worker Don Alan said stories abound of how the violence and conflict have provided conduits for the gospel to be shared.
     
    Many refugees are able to hear the Good News for the first time because they were driven out of a country closed to Christian work and into a place where Christians could minister to them.
     
    In some places, violent men are coming to faith and finding that Jesus is the only true way to peace. Women are moved beyond hopelessness to purpose and peace and a desire to share this Good News with family members.
     
    Christian worker Jeb Colburn* has seen similar things in Tunisia.
     
    Colburn feels God created the great freedoms in Tunisia that now allow public discussions about Jesus. Freedom has also enabled the translation and printing of Bible portions into the local, previously non-written dialect. There are now audio versions too, he said.
     
    At the same time, many are disillusioned with Islam. As one man told Colburn, “There is freedom to be a pious Muslim, but I do not care to be religious because religion has done nothing for me.”
     
    But as these people meet believers and receive scripture, lives change.
     
    Ahmed* is an elderly Tunisian man who watched Christian programming for many years before approaching a believer who was going into a church building. They visited and then began spending time together. Now they are holding Bible discussion times in the man’s home with his wife and neighbors.
     
    Tunisia is unique in its Arab Spring successes. Ongoing tensions in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Sudan threaten the safety of their citizens and the state of their souls. Throughout much of the region, Christianity is still suppressed, feared and hated.
     
    But God is not silenced.
     
    “This is not the time for fear or drawing back,” Alan said. “As Hebrews 10:36 reminds us, ‘…You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.’ Let us not be those who shrink back, for God is at work.”
     
    As Arab Spring is remembered this month, pray for the Arab peoples who need the Prince of Peace and for Christian workers who strive to make Him known.
     

    How to pray:

    • Pray for the families of the hundreds of thousands who have died in Arab conflicts in the past four years.

    • Pray for Syrian refugees who continue to pour out of their homeland in droves. There are now more than three million.

    • Pray for Tunisians who have embarked on the path to democracy but are struggling through widespread poverty and 60% unemployment of college graduates.

    • Pray for Egyptians as their country is still divided. Despite the overthrow of two governments, they now live in a police state because of tension between opposing factions.

    *Name changed
     
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Nicole Lee and Charles Braddix are writers for the London bureau of Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is leading relief efforts in the Middle East. Donate $10 to ongoing relief efforts by texting “‘BGR”’ to 80888, or designate another amount online at gobgr.org/donate.)

    1/30/2015 1:38:25 PM by Nicole Lee and Charles Braddix, IMB Media | with 0 comments
    Filed under: Arab Sping, Islamic State, persecution




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