August 31, 2014
Mideast/N. Africa in flux
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Christians look past surface tension to real need

CAIRO, Egypt (BP) -- Lucy Hamilton* can't really explain it -- even on a normal day, the air just feels strange in Tahrir Square.
WORLDVIEW: After the Arab Spring, a 'window of opportunity'
Across the Arab world, there is a window of opportunity for the Gospel thanks to multiple uprisings, says columnist Erich Bridges.
'Cry for freedom' unfolding in Middle East, Mercer says
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A cry for freedom is unfolding in the Middle East and opening doors for the Gospel, Heather Mercer, a former captive in Afghanistan and now an aid worker in Iraq, observed on a recent six-week trip to the region. "It's such an amazing time to be in the Middle East, especially in light of the assassination of bin Laden. The Middle East will never be the same," Mercer told Baptist Press. "We see the timing of God and the grace of God being released over that part of the world for the cause of freedom."
Mercer returned to the United States May 4 from a trip to northern Iraq, where she found "an overwhelming sense of people speaking more boldly about the cause of freedom" than she has witnessed in the nearly eight years she has been working in the country. "As we interacted with the local people and the local government, there was a tremendous hunger in the hearts of people to live free," she said. Along with Dayna Curry and a handful of westerners, Mercer was held captive by the Taliban for 105 days in 2001 before being rescued by U.S. Special Forces. In 2008, Mercer founded Global Hope, an organization with a goal of mobilizing the church to invest in and engage the Islamic world so that Muslims in the toughest of regions will have a chance to hear the Gospel. "Particularly in the Kurdish area, which is where Global Hope's focus is, people are pursuing change," Mercer said. "They are in a right way challenging their leaders to provide the human liberties that all of us are entitled to, and I think because of the revolutions and the demonstrations that have been going on throughout the Middle East, more and more people are being emboldened to speak for the change that they desire." While people she encountered in the Middle East are full of hope, at the same time they are cautious, Mercer said. "They know that anytime change and transformation comes on the horizon, it's like a double-edged sword -- it can go towards good or it can go towards darkness. So the people are crying out for change and for liberty in a way that will bring positive change into the region." During her trip, a main focus was encouraging Global Hope team members as they work among the locals. "We have English teachers on the ground that are partnering with a local English school to teach dozens of Kurds and Arabs to speak conversational English, which continues to be one of their greatest felt needs," Mercer, a graduate of Baylor University, said. "For so many, the ability to speak English is connected to future opportunity and personal freedom....
In Syria, Christians pray for opening for Gospel
DAMASCUS, Syria (BP)--She didn't realize it was a dangerous question. All Natalie Shepherd* wanted to do was learn the Arabic word for lion. "We were sitting in a public place with my husband's Arabic teacher in Syria, and I pointed to a statue of a lion and asked him how to pronounce it," said Shepherd, formerly a Southern Baptist worker in the country. "His eyes got huge, and he said, 'Shhhh! We can't say that out loud in public!'" The Arabic word for lion -- asad -- also is the president's surname, and the Shepherds' teacher didn't want to risk someone overhearing and thinking he was slandering the president's family. That was years ago. A lot has since changed, said Shepherd, who in recent days has watched images on television of Syrian protesters rising up in force to demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down. The nation is the current hot spot in the region's outbreak of political turmoil, and more than 300 people have been killed by government forces seeking to crush the opposition, according to news sources. Tanks are rolling through cities and villages. Some observers have reminisced in the midst of all the violence about the thousands of Syrians killed when Assad's father, President Hafez al-Assad, flattened an entire section of a city to quell opposition forces in 1982. The elder Assad was the one in power when Shepherd asked about the lion statue. "As much as my teacher didn't want to be overheard talking about the president back then, I know that the people today had full awareness based on their history of what revolting would entail," she said. "This is a historic moment for Syria in many ways." Shepherd and other Christian workers in the region pray it will be a spiritually historic moment for the nation as well. She remembers during her time in Syria staying up all night with believers praying that God would do whatever it took to bring salvation to the peoples of Syria. "It's been a consistent attitude among the body to really cry out to God through prayer that the Gospel would spread and take root there again," Shepherd said. It's happened before, she said.
Workers in N. Africa, Mideast urge 21 days of prayer & fasting for region
NORTH AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST (BP)--In the crescendo of turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East, people have cried out for something different, something big.
Quran burning 'not the mark of a good neighbor,' Land says
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Killings in Afghanistan sparked by the burning of a Quran in Florida have resulted in many commentators, including Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land, criticizing both sides.
THE MIDEAST: What are uprisings all about?
THE MIDEAST: Iran's 'chutzpah'
Israeli-Palestinian standoff: Never-ending 'eye for an eye'
JERUSALEM (BP)--It's blood and grief, random rockets and sudden explosions. It's sudden tragedy for people like Mary Jane Gardner of Wycliffe Bible Translators, killed by a bus bomb in Jerusalem on March 23. And for Israelis and Palestinians, it's never over.
A Palestinian believer in Jesus says he yearns "to make a bridge between Palestinian and Jewish people, to see them come to Christ together."
"Each strike by Palestinians against Israelis and each strike by Israelis against Palestinians are in retaliation for a previous attack," said Stephen Johnson*, a Christian worker among Palestinians. "'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' is never ending." It's been years of territorial back and forth for the two groups, ending most recently in 2009 after a war that saw 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis die. Since then, relative calm had pervaded, and Israel had seemed like the eye of the political storm sweeping the region. But that all changed in the past few weeks. More than 80 rockets and mortar shells have been launched from the Palestinian territory of Gaza into southern Israel, and the bus bomb that killed Gardner injured more than 30 others. Retaliatory attacks by Israel have killed 10 Palestinians, with Israeli officials voicing regret over the deaths of two teens playing football outside their house. International media have questioned why the unofficial ceasefire broke recently, and some commentaries suggest the attacks perhaps were used to detract attention from protests staged in Palestine. In March, thousands of Palestinians have followed suit with the rest of the region, calling for Gaza's power-holding party Hamas and its rival Fatah to come together. Plenty of other theories exist as to why tumult has erupted anew. "It's an ongoing story," said Bruce Mills of Jerusalem Baptist Church. "There's conflict in many layers and levels."
Palestinian Christian reaches out to Jews
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (BP)--It stings when people think he's a terrorist. Esa* is a follower of the Messiah born 2,000 years ago in their shared hometown of Bethlehem.
Across North Africa & Mideast, Christians are seeing a new 'tomorrow'
NORTH AFRICA (BP)--"The creator of tomorrow." That's what Col. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya called himself in a recent television broadcast.
THE MIDEAST: Christian minorities & the risks they face under Islamic rule
NEW ORLEANS (BP)--"Are the Christian minorities at greater risk as a result of the uprisings in the Middle East?"
THE MIDEAST: Are radical governments on the horizon?
NEW ORLEANS (BP)--"Should I be afraid that radical Islamic governments may result from the uprisings in various countries of the Middle East?"
N. African refugees: Crisis & opportunity
NORTH AFRICA (BP)--Jim Green* has been on his knees for North Africa, praying for the past five years that God would "rebuild a highway of righteousness from Gibraltar to Jerusalem." He's been leading the rest of his prayer network of believers to do the same.
Amid Africa's political turmoil, Christians glorify God
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.

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