SIRTE, Libya (BP) — The Libya that David Garrison has known for years is gone.
It ended Oct. 20 when Col. Muammar Gaddafi, leader of the North African nation, was killed by a gunshot wound to the head — a lightning-fast finish to a 42-year reign.
“The people of Libya have lived in fear for a long time,” said Garrison, who formerly worked in North Africa and the Middle East. “They always knew Gaddafi and his government were watching closely and they had to live accordingly.”
Ever since Gaddafi came to power in 1969 at age 27, he has invented his own governmental systems and tested them on the people. He created a Libya with little freedom, oppressing the people with violence. Aligning himself with extremists groups in other countries, Gaddafi led what one BBC correspondent said “may have been North Africa’s most totalitarian, arbitrary and brutal regime.”
When Libyans rose up to overthrow Gaddafi in February, following the lead of Egypt’s successful revolution, he engaged in mass slaughter in five months of brutal battle.
And then it was over in his birthplace of Sirte.
A senior member of the National Transitional Council, Mohammed Sayeh, told the BBC, “Even if he was killed intentionally, I think he deserves this.”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the “rule of fear” is now over, and he asked Libyans to “build a brighter future.”
Garrison said he’s waiting to see if that brighter future will bring religious freedom.
“I hope they [the NTC] follow through on some of their earlier promises for more freedom,” he said. “Libya has been a pariah in relation to the broader international community. It’s got a real chance now to open its doors and hopefully have much more freedom of conscience and freedom of choice.”
In the past, there hasn’t been much freedom for believers to share their faith in Libya — the government often would crack down on those who did.
But Garrison hopes with a new government that an open, free market of ideas will emerge for Libyans in which people can share the Gospel in a natural way. It’s an important time for Southern Baptists to “pray Libya through this period of birthing,” Garrison said.
“When a new life is being born, it is at its most vulnerable state,” he said. “It’s the same for Libya right now. It’s a whole new nation with a whole new relationship with the world, and Satan will try everything he can to turn that in the wrong direction.”
Twists and turns lie ahead, but it could be a new day, Garrison said. “We could see stunning change.”
Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe.