JOHANNESBURG (BP)–As uprisings in parts of Africa and the Middle East continue to escalate, many Christians are seeing God make Himself known in the midst of chaos.
Pro-democracy protests have swept through several Arab nations, with the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt forced to resign amid growing unrest. Most recently, activists in Libya, Iran and Bahrain are clashing with the police and military as they seek political reform.
Former International Mission Board (IMB) missionary Mike Edens, associate dean of graduate studies and professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), believes Christians all over the world can make a difference in this time of unrest.
“We who are outside of the situation pray for and are partners with people inside the situation, and God is working through both of us to make Himself known,” Edens said.
DESPERATE FOR PRAYER
An Egyptian Christian monitoring the situation said it is difficult to know what’s really going on in his country.
“The protest started as [a] real people’s revolution — it was the farmers, the poor workers, the true Egyptians asking for change, because they cannot take it any longer,” he said.
Now it is as if “evil was unleashed on Egypt,” he continued, with freed prisoners and thugs — believed by some to be from the secret police — taking to the streets to kill, steal and destroy.
“The church is confused in Egypt — not sure how to pray,” he said. “… We don’t know if change is going to be good or worse. [We] need wisdom and revelation to move at this opportune time in strategic prayers led by the Holy Spirit.”
The Egyptian man asked for prayer for peace and security to return to the streets of Egypt and for wisdom for Christians to speak truth to churches and to the nation.
SOUTHERN SUDAN SEEKS SECESSION
Believers in Sudan, a country divided between the northern and southern regions, also are relying on God during a crucial time for their nation.
A Jan. 9-15 referendum in southern Sudan yielded a nearly unanimous vote that the south secede from the north.
One southern Sudanese woman who voted in the referendum said the secession will be a historic breakthrough and believes this is all part of God’s will.
“From the very beginning of this struggle the people of southern Sudan have been equal, and I think God had a plan for us,” the woman said. “I think God was working all this time and I think this is God’s work in these days.”
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has reigned in Sudan for more than 20 years and threatened if the south secedes he will implement Islam as the national religion in the north, Arabic as the national language and a stricter form of Shariah, the sacred law of Islam. Such action would result in women being required to wear head scarves, thieves’ hands being cut off and increased persecution for Christians.
Salva Kiir Mayardit, president of the Government of Southern Sudan, is encouraging southerners to not be complacent in this time, but “to harness the full potential of the natural resources God has given them to satisfy all their needs,” according to the official Government of Southern Sudan website.
The southern referendum failed to address issues such as the boundary between the north and south, citizenship, oil revenues the north collects from oil wells in the south, and the continuing conflict in Darfur, where an estimated 500,000 people have died and more than 1 million more displaced.
Despite these uncertainties, Calvin Lutsk*, an IMB missionary for sub-Saharan Africa, believes the situation in Sudan is improving.
“For a long time civil war in Sudan seemed inevitable, but [things] have turned for the better,” Lutsk said.
National believers from southern Sudan who voted in the referendum said they are praying they can secede peacefully.
BLOODSHED IN NIGERIA
Conflict between the north and south also has plagued Nigeria for more than a century. Centered between a Muslim north and a Christian south, the city of Jos is caught in the middle as the two sides battle.
Homes, churches and mosques in Jos have been burned and thousands of Christians and Muslims have been killed.
Matilda Bryson*, an IMB missionary in Nigeria, said there are only limited chances for reaching out to Muslims because of safety factors.
“It is very dangerous for a Christian to even travel into a Muslim neighborhood right now,” she said.
Bryson said she is proud of the response of individual Nigerian Baptist church members offering aid and a place to stay for those who are displaced.
“All the churches are praying for peace,” she said. “The pastors and church leaders are preaching on the proper Christian response to violence….”
Bryson asks Southern Baptists to pray that violence will not lead to more violence in the country.
ONE LEADER TOO MANY
Ivory Coast, where presidential confusion has caused educational and economic challenges, is another nation in turmoil.
President Laurent Gbagbo came to power in 2000, and after postponing elections for nearly a decade, Ivory Coast finally voted for a new president, Alassane Ouattara, in November 2010. However, Gbagbo deemed himself president by having the Constitutional Council overturn the election of Ouattara.
Both men continue to claim the presidency, but Ouattara has the international backing of the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Though he remains in the presidential palace, Gbagbo has been told by ECOWAS to leave quietly or military force will be used to remove him.
Millions of immigrants from West Africa reside in Ivory Coast, and native Nigerian Damian O. Emetuche, assistant professor at NOBTS, fears that if Gbagbo is removed by the military, citizens from countries caught in the crossfire could rise up in war against one another.
“No serious West African government will seriously send a soldier to forcefully remove Gbagbo because it would be like setting the whole of West Africa on fire,” Emetuche said.
In contrast to the situation in Sudan, Lutsk said the Ivory Coast conflict is getting worse. As leaders remain locked in a power struggle with no end in sight, Ivoirians are faced with rising prices and food and fuel shortages.
“Some people have lost their jobs [or] farms and had to move to other towns to stay with relatives and friends,” said David Adika*, an Ivoirian Baptist. “Some students …are not going to school in the north [and] west of the country because of the political trouble.”
In the midst of such tension, Brad Danielson*, an IMB missionary serving in Ivory Coast, sees the Lord’s purpose that extends beyond the chaos.
“We are ambassadors sent from God Himself to introduce a peace that goes beyond politics and [that is] found only in Christ,” Danielson said. “The possibility of more violence is great and reminds us that many more people could die without ever knowing the Gospel of Christ that we came to share with them.”
Adika said believers need to show the love of God through this conflict.
“I think God would like to use local believers to touch unbelievers because He wants them to live a Christian life according to the Word of God, having faith in Him despite difficulties,” Adika said.
*Names changed. Riley Reynolds is an IMB short-term writer serving in Africa. To read how political tensions in Africa affected one young writer living there, visit africastories.org.