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WORLDVIEW: Risk & opportunity in 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — Welcome to 2016. This year, everybody will learn how to get along. Peace will break out in the Middle East. Turmoil elsewhere will calm and cooler heads will prevail. Terrorism will fade.

Or not.

The overwhelming odds favor “not.” If you think 2015 was bad, be advised that this year probably will be worse. Existing conflicts most likely will intensify and new ones may well break out. Here are some predictions from seasoned global forecasters about key risk areas:

— TERRORISM — Heightened military action against the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, “will surely damage the militant group’s core,” according to the Stratfor strategic intelligence organization. “However, the fledgling caliphate will not be eradicated this year. A lack of reliable ground forces will hamper the anti-Islamic State campaign. And the more the Islamic State’s conventional capabilities weaken, the more actively the group and its affiliates will try to conduct terrorist attacks outside the Middle East to maintain its relevance. This in turn will drive competition within the jihadist landscape as al-Qaida factions in the Arabian Peninsula, the Maghreb, West Africa and South Asia try to keep pace.”

— SUNNI (SAUDI ARABIA) VERSUS SHIITE (IRAN) — The regional struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran — and the two major branches of Islam they represent — will grow increasingly bitter, most analysts agree. The antagonists are fighting two proxy wars, in Syria and Yemen, and contend for power and influence in multiple other countries. “The Saudi Kingdom faces a growing risk of destabilizing discord within the royal family this year, and its increasingly isolated status will lead it to act more aggressively across the Middle East this year,” says global analyst Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group. Case in point: the recent Saudi execution of a popular Shiite cleric, which has fueled rage across the Shiite world.

— EUROPE IN TROUBLE — Jihadist attacks and threats “will fuel Islamophobia in the West and catalyze the fragmentation of Europe,” Stratfor warns. “Border controls and closed borders will create a bottleneck of migrants in the Western Balkans, a region already rife with ethnic and religious tension.” Meanwhile, France, Germany and the United Kingdom are rethinking the European Union itself. Europe’s once-open borders may become a thing of the past. “Europe’s economics will hold together in 2016, but its broader meaning and its social fabric will not,” Bremmer predicts.

— THE “HOLLOW ALLIANCE” — “The trans-Atlantic partnership has been the world’s most important alliance for nearly 70 years, but it’s now weaker, and less relevant, than at any point in decades,” Bremmer reports. “It no longer plays a decisive role in addressing any of Europe’s top priorities. Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and the conflict in Syria will expose U.S.-European divisions. As U.S. and European paths diverge, there will be no more international fireman — and conflicts particularly in the Middle East will be left to rage…. The results are clear. The Middle East is the most vulnerable to a geopolitical leadership vacuum and is heading toward conflagration. There are six failed states across the broader region (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria and Yemen) and more refugees than ever recorded. ISIS has become the most powerful terrorist organization in history. Oil economies are under strain. All of this will get worse in 2016.”

For Christians in stable nations, the urge to write off war zones, failed states, dangerous places and the people who live in them can be tempting, not only in the geopolitical world but in the spiritual realm. “Let ’em all kill each other and be done with it,” we whisper in our hearts or shout on our social media feeds. But that’s the devil talking. If he can persuade you to hate, fear or forget “them” — whoever “them” may be — he’s done a good day’s work.

What about the millions of innocent bystanders who live in chaotic, blood-spattered places? What about the combatants? Do they not deserve at least the opportunity for mercy and salvation that God gave you? Jonah wanted God to destroy the evil Ninevites, while God was passionately concerned for them.

Nik Ripken*, the International Mission Board’s leading voice on Christians in persecution, knows a lot about one failed state: Somalia. Somali Christians he knew and loved were martyred there as the nation descended into the chaos and clan warfare it still struggles to overcome. When asked about Somalia, many Christians automatically respond with “Black Hawk Down” or “pirates,” Ripken says.

“But this is the world’s response,” he says. “Our response when we are asked about Somalia or Somalis [should be] ‘people for whom Jesus died and whom He loves.’ Let’s join together and rebuild Somalia from thousands of converted hearts outward.”

There’s a reason why unreached peoples are unreached, IMB President David Platt often says. Those who are easy to reach already have been. Many of the more than 2 billion people still without access to the Gospel live in tough, hostile, chaotic places.

This doesn’t mean they can’t be reached. The opportunity is there — for those willing to take the risk.

*Name changed

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  • Erich Bridges