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WORLDVIEW: Outlaws at sea, chaos ashore


Editor’s note: “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, can be found here . An audio version of this column is available here .

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Those pirates tormenting ships off the coast of Somalia are no isolated band of cutthroats on an otherwise placid horizon.

They represent what author William Langewiesche calls the “outlaw sea” — global coastlines and deep waters increasingly plagued by buccaneers, hijackers, drug runners, smugglers and terrorists.

In his 2004 book of the same name (“The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime,” North Point Press), Langewiesche explored the vast expanses of blue. It’s a place where hundreds of pirate attacks occur each year from Southeast Asia to the Caribbean, where thousands of unsafe, unregulated merchant ships sail the globe under so-called “flags of convenience” to mask their origins and owners. This region beyond nations, which covers three-quarters of the earth’s surface, is a “reminder of the world as it was before, but also quite possibly … a harbinger of a larger chaos to come,” Langewiesche observed.

What “larger chaos”? The Somali pirates reflect what’s happening on dry land: “Failed states” continue to threaten not only their own people but the peoples and nations around them.

Somalia is the poster child for “failed states.” It fragmented more than 20 years ago amid clan wars. No stable national government exists. The chaos has sent throngs of refugees fleeing into other countries, subjected those who stayed behind to terrible suffering at the hands of thugs and warlords — and attracted foreign terrorists looking for bases of operation.

There are worse things than bad government. Anarchy, for instance. Ask the Somalis. Ask the people who endure seemingly endless violence in parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and other places.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan, in particular, teeters on the edge of instability as radical Islamists wield expanding influence. Its neighbor and longtime enemy, India, watches with growing alarm.

“As much as India fears Pakistan, it fears Pakistan’s collapse even more,” reports Robert D. Kaplan in The Atlantic magazine. “The threat of Islamic anarchy in the region is perfectly suited to the further consolidation of Hindu nationalism.” Hindu nationalism, in turn, increases extremism and violence against millions of Muslims and Christians in India.

Everything is connected in a globalized, essentially borderless world. The current global economic crisis proves that proposition beyond reasonable doubt. That’s why Christians in safe, quiet places should be concerned about “failed states” and chaotic areas within states. Not only do they destabilize whole regions and cause massive human suffering, they directly affect the church and the transmission of the Gospel.

Many unreached and unevangelized people live within unstable nations and regions. Reaching them with the message of God’s love becomes all the more difficult where chaos reigns. Missionaries who set out to work in such places often never reach their destination because of risks and barriers. If they do get there, they may find themselves targeted as easy prey. Or, they may be unable to minister effectively because of ongoing danger and disorder.

Believers living in chaotic places also are vulnerable to violence and persecution. However, like the early Christians who evangelized the known world amid a crumbling empire, they find many opportunities to minister to desperate people and guide them toward Christ, the only true source of peace.

People who flee chaos for freer, more peaceful areas often encounter the Gospel for the first time. Somali Muslims who might have faced instant martyrdom for seeking Christ in their homeland can learn about Him elsewhere.

More than 150,000 Somalis have streamed into the city of London as refugees and asylum seekers since the early 1990s. They remain clan-oriented, wary of outsiders and strongly Muslim. However, they are finding friends among London Christians who help them with education, finding jobs and recovering from the traumas they have experienced.

Farah,* a respected leader in London’s Somali community, has a close Christian friend. Farah hasn’t decided whether to follow Christ as Lord, but he believes all Somalis should have the right to understand and freely choose their own religious beliefs.

“This is a man of influence, a man of peace, a man who desires to see better days for his people” wherever they are, says his Christian friend. One day, Farah hopes to return to his homeland and help rebuild it.

One way or another, God reigns over all nations — even the failed ones.
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*Name changed. Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.

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  • Erich Bridges