NORTH AFRICA (BP)–“The creator of tomorrow.” That’s what Col. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya called himself in a recent television broadcast.
According to some international media, if the embattled leader comes out on top of Libya’s unfolding civil war, he might spark the momentum to turn the tide on the people’s revolution spreading across North Africa and the Middle East.
Or he might not.
But either way, the unrest is creating a new tomorrow for Christians in the region, said Nik Ripken*, who has served 25 years with the International Mission Board and is an expert on the persecuted church in Muslim contexts. Historical, mostly Arab Christians are leaving en masse from conflict-ridden nations, and that’s a major concern, he said.
“This is a time for them to recapture their witness, taking advantage of these times of radical change to be people of faith and peace among their neighbors who know no peace,” Ripken said.
This “radical change” is something most countries in the region now taste.
In Yemen, violent riots recently escalated, with more than 50 killed on the streets and threats of civil war looming. The situation is similar in Syria, where more than 35 people have died in street clashes, according to international media outlets.
In Egypt, the people wait tensely for a transition from military rule to democracy. In Tunisia — where the first flashpoint happened in January — residents await July elections.
And quieter but still forceful protests are taking place in Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iran.
“It is clear they are seeking for some purpose and hope in their lives,” said Lucy Hamilton*, a Christian worker among the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East. “We are praying He will use these times to show Himself clearly in the midst of people’s struggles and open the way for His Kingdom to come.”
One way Christian workers are hoping this will happen is through relief efforts in the region. With the help of Southern Baptist relief, development and hunger funds, Egyptian Baptists are distributing food, clothing and medicine to people struggling with the soaring cost of provisions. They also are offering small business loans to Egyptians facing job loss or having trouble staying afloat in a floundering tourism industry and suffering economy.
In addition to work in Egypt, Southern Baptists are aiding refugees fleeing Libya. About 10,000 people could have food and medical needs met as they cross the border out of the volatile country into other nations. The two projects combined are funded by $250,000 in Southern Baptist gifts, and all will be accompanied with the opportunity to hear the Gospel.
God “is definitely at work” in the region, Hamilton said. “With everyone searching for change and more freedom in their lives, we’ve found many opportunities to speak about the Truth.”
Ripken said the best thing believers can pray for North Africa and the Middle East is:
— For courage for new believers to call for “lives of hope that lead to hope and peace” rather than “days of rage” in their countries.
— For God to do what is best for His glory among the nations, not what is best for the West.
— For international believers forced to relocate for “what we pray will be short periods of time.”
Ava Thomas is an International Mission Board writer/editor based in Europe.