Gospel's prospects called hopeful after Libya moves beyond violent instability

TRIPOLI, Libya (BP)--It may be several years before the dust settles in Libya and Christians can hope for a clear way to the nation's hard-to-reach people groups, said Drew Carson*, a Christian leader among North African and Middle Eastern peoples.

"Unlike any other situation so far (in the Arab Spring), this whole situation in Libya sort of takes the governmental system back to zero," Carson said, noting that in Egypt and other places, when the leader fell, the government was still intact.

That's not the case in Libya, where rebels are pressing Muammar Gaddafi's regime hoping it will crumble from the inside out. "Even the security and government apparatus are gone. There will be chaos and it will be a very dangerous place for two to three years as they reset and get their country back in order," Carson said.

But Christian leaders in the region remain optimistic that in the long view there will be new avenues to reach Libya through a new government that gives more freedom.

"Overall, I'm positive about a total reset in Libya," Carson said. "In a sense what you have is the chance for a rebirth of a country. Hopefully in the midst of that there will be an opportunity for freedom of thought and freedom of expression."

In the meantime, the Gospel has found other ways into Libya.

"We were denied visas to Libya [more than a decade ago] when we tried to get them, but we were always bumping into Libyans in neighboring countries," said David Garrison, the International Mission Board's global strategist who formerly worked in North Africa and the Middle East. "I would tell them, 'I'm an American who loves Libya.' They would melt, their defenses would go down and we would be able to have a cup of coffee together."

Through this, he was able to see Libyans come to faith in Jesus Christ. And though it's been a while since he's had any contact with the country itself, he does know that the Gospel is still on the move there.

Garrison was in South America for a meeting just a couple of years ago and bumped into a Libyan man. "We began to speak to each other in Arabic, and as I asked questions, I learned that he had heard the Gospel years ago and come to faith through a ministry that Southern Baptists help to start more than a decade ago," he said.

That had happened because believers outside the country had shared the Gospel with Libyans when they left their country, like Garrison had done -- and then they took the message back in with them.

A number of evangelical Christians and Coptic Christians are in the country.

As for the coming years, Garrison said he hopes new access will be a possibility. "The future remains unknown," he said, "but it is very exciting to see what is happening. When something unusual happens [like the civil war], it's a good chance God is up to something."

As Garrison sees Libyans on TV waging bloody war with each other, one thought is louder than all the machine-gun fire.

It was a Libyan who carried the cross of Jesus Christ.

"The first person who was touched by the blood of Jesus was a Libyan -- Simon of Cyrene," Garrison said. "With a history like that, I believe God has a special love for this people."


*Name changed. Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the IMB based in Europe.

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