[notice]A Special Edition of A World in Motion (Issue 14, December 2014) by INcontext Ministires compiled to present an overview of the year gone by and encouraging believers to seek God’s Kingdom and hope in Him in the midst of current events.[/notice]
2014 AT A GLANCE
As predicted, Russia annexed Crimea in a strong show of Russian nationalistic pride and forced the world to reconsider the balance of power. As a result Russia lost its seat on the G8 and faced mounting criticism at the G20 meetings in Australia.
World powers were unable to sign a nuclear peace deal with Iran, extending the deadline to March 2015. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu continued through the year to lobby support against the Iranian nuclear threat to the world.
North Korea held parliamentary election by giving North Koreans the privilege of being able to vote for the only candidate approved (no guessing who?). Human rights violations in the country was once again highlighted by the United Nations, with very little response from the international community.
China overtook the US as the worlds strongest economy and at current growth will overtake the US as the world’s largest Christian country in the next fifteen years. The current Christian population is estimated to be more than 120 million believers.
The civil war in Syria quickly faded into the background as the Islamic State (a.k.a ISIS / ISIL) declared an independent Islamic Caliphate in both Syria and Iraq, killing more people, in more violent ways, than the Syrian regime did in their first week of the war.
As of November, the Ebola virus has claimed more than 6 400 lives, infecting more than 17 000. The fight against Ebola has drawn a surprising amount of foreign aid ($$$), in some cases more than what is currently used to stop the advance of ISIS in the Middle East.
The murders of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers in July led to a violent confrontation between the Israeli Defence Force and the terrorist group Hamas, resulting in 2200 Palestinian deaths and 100 Israelis.
2014 also held some welcoming surprises with China allowing mass protest in Hong Kong to go unpunished. Comparisons where quickly drawn between the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong and the student movement in China that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.
In the United States of America the republican Party won both houses of congress as it defeated President Obama’s democrats in mid-term elections. Although Obama still has executive powers as President, he will face severe limitations to the extent of those powers, further forcing the US to loose its grip on world politics.
IMPACT ON THE CHURCH
The Christian Church in 2014 faced one of the worst years in decades as the Islamic State tried to push Christianity to extinction in the Middle East.
With coalition forces (US, UK, NATO) withdrawing from Afghanistan, a renewed wave of persecution started against non-Muslim foreigners as the Taliban renewed their attacks against government positions and Christians in particular.
Nigeria has seen some of the worst human rights violations in 2014 as Boko Haram established an African version of an Islamic Caliphate, leaving a bloody trial of abductions and death behind.
The worlds largest democracy, India, voted in a proudly Hindu Nationalist Prime Minister in May, leading to widespread concern amongst Christians that the new government will crack down on the Christian minority. Various churches have been attacked, with Christians beaten and some killed.
Christians in Kenya have also come under attack, following the West Gate mall massacre in 2013, as al-Shabaab militants from Somalia, continue to launch attacks against foreign workers (Christian specific). Some believe that if Kenya falls to Islam, the rest of Southern Africa would soon follow.
The Church in the West also faced serious challenges as human rights groups dragged Christians and Churches to court throughout the year.
WHAT TO EXPECT
In 2015 Christians in India will start to feel the effect of it’s new Hindu nationalist President’s influence on daily life. Not that Narendra Modi would stand for attacks against minority groups, but that he will not stop hard-line Hindu’s from oppressing Christians and members of other minority religious groups.
The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia will either increase (Russia placing more troops on Ukrainian soil and launching attacks) leading to full-out war between the two countries, with the US backing the Poroshenko govern-ment in Kiev. Or, Russia might choose to stand down and focus on it’s fledging economy that has been hard hit by sanctions.
After losing its economic super power status, the US might choose not to increase it’s commitment to fighting the Islamic State, and rather focus on “rebuilding” its economy before the markets crash. Then again, wars fuel some economies. For the last four decades the US has constantly been involved in wars from Vietnam to Bosnia to Afghanistan.
The rise of the Islamic State in 2014 has led to a watershed between Muslims who distance themselves from the groups’ violence and those who stay silent. For many the true face of Islam has finally become known, something that cannot be erased or turned back. Those who distance themselves from ISIS will in 2015 continue to promote a peaceful Islam that will most likely influence the Spiritual World in a dynamic way. Even with US, UK, French and now Iranian air strikes against ISIS, the Caliphate continues to advance. 2015 will likely see ISIS attempting to gain territory in Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, leaving thousands dead in its path.
Failure to sign a deal to solve Iran’s nuclear advancements, and ultimately its ambition to make nuclear weapons, have cast a dark shadow over Israel’s relationship with the US. Iran’s nuclear ambitions are nothing new, going on 12 years, and the threat it holds towards Israel, the US an Saudi Arabia has in no way lessened. Israel sees America’s inaction towards Iran as a mockery of Israel’s fear that it will be bombed by Iran. (Iran publicly announced just such a desire).
In 2015 Iran will most likely face more sanctions and perhaps a preemptive military strike by Israel, something the Israeli’s have been promising for a number of years.
2014 EVENTS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD
(01 March 2014 – Russia dispatches troops to Crimea) What started as peaceful protest against a European backed bailout for Ukraine, bled into a full fledged confrontation of world powers, leading some to ask if the cold war ever ended. It’s the world against Russia, again, and this time the stakes are even higher as Russia tauntingly supports Syria and Iran in its quest to force a divide that might lead to a new world war.
Russian and Ukrainian nationalism has also torn the church apart and given a big blow to post-communist unity. A year ago, Christians in Northern Ukraine would have considered themselves to be a part of the ‘free Church’, but now, they see themselves as belonging to the persecuted Church.
(14-15 April 2014 – mass kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram) From January to November 2014, more than 4 000 people have been killed by Boko Haram in bombings, executions and attacks on mainly Christian villages throughout the northern states of the country. This, compared to 3 600 people that were killed between 2010 and 2013.
The #Bring Back Our Girls campaign, seeking the release of more than 200 school girls that were kidnapped by Boko Haram reached millions around the world, but the result was unthinkable. Even though the US offered a small contingency of troops and millions have been raised to help free them, the girls are still missing. In its most basic form, activism is about taking physical action and not sending TWEETS. What the girls in Nigeria got was clicktivism, a passive form of activism that requires no physical involvement apart from signing a petition. The culture of passive activism have also crept into the Church where identifying with the persecuted church while comfortably being distanced from it, has become the norm.
( 11 June 2014 – ISIS takes control of Mosul / 01 July – ISIS declares a caliphate, claiming parts of Iraq and Syria) On
11 June 2014 members of the militant Islamic group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took control of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. As a result the Christian population in the Nineveh region was completely wiped out, raising fears that the Christian witness in the MENA region (Middle East/ NORTH AFRICA) will become extinct. On July 01, the group changed its name to the Islamic State (IS) and declared an international Muslim Caliphate calling all Muslims to join them in their fight against non-Muslims. From June to November IS has massacred more than 10 000 Iraqi men, woman and children and forced millions to flee the region. Whether or not the IS caliphate succeeds in uniting Islam, its continued advance poses a massive threat to the Christian communities in the Middle East.
(24 March 2014 – Egyptian court sentences 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death / 29 November 2014 – Egyptian court drops case against Mubarak) With the sentencing on 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death on March 24, it seemed as if most gains of the Arab revolution during 2011 was lost. The Arab Spring allowed for the rise of radical Islam and the demand for change was “hijacked” by Muslim extremists. However, it soon appeared that the general population was deeply unhappy with developments, as extremist political parties “overplayed their hands” and revealed the negative sides of Islam to their own people. In the words of
one Christian leader in Egypt “the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist movement was able to do in Egypt what the church has been unable to do for the past 1000 years; expose the real face of Islam”.
In November an Egyptian court dropped murder charges against its former president Hosni Mubarak, leading to instant protests by those who demanded his removal from power three years ago. His acquittal brought to light the reality that most of the gains of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 have been lost. Christians in Egypt remain hopeful, understanding that Egypt is the gateway to the Arab world, and therefore the gateway through which the Gospel will reach Arab Muslims.
ISRAEL/HAMAS ( 02 July 2014 – Murders of Israeli and Palestinian teens spark war / 02 June 2014 – Palestinian unity deal )
The Israeli defensive war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip (and by extension Palestine) has caused the only non-Muslim country in the Middle East to lose all but a few friends. Since the conflict with Hamas the UN has voted against Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons, backing an Arab resolution calling on the Jewish state to disarm. The UK parliament (13 October 2014) voted for the recognition of Palestine as a legitimate independent state that should have the same rights as all other UN nations.
Even though the international outcry was directed towards Israel as the culprit, the Israeli Defence Force clearly showed off its ability to counter any attack that might come against them. A clear message was sent to Iran. The Palestinian unity deal with Hamas will further add to the mistrust between these volatile neighbours in 2015.
(US withdrawal / 29 November 2014 – Kabul killings) US and allied troops withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 will close the chapter on a 13 year war fought against terrorism. The chapter, however is constantly being rewritten as the US considers sending troops to Iraq to stop the advance of ISIS. The Taliban in Afghanistan was on the retreat after US forces embarked on a mission to totally eradicate them, but the Taliban has regained some of its strength and is targeting foreigners and murdering converts. However, despite the Taliban’s regaining power, the Afghani people are choosing to defy their warnings. During the recent presidential elections, millions of Afghans, including woman, defied Taliban threats of violence and successfully voted in a new President, Ashraf Ghani (who’s wife is Christian).
Foreign troops withdrawal has however emboldened the Taliban to come out of hiding and back to their old ways. Various military bases have been attacked, countless suicide bombings and the 29 November murders of the Groenewald family in Kabul, are all proof that terrorism can only be stopped in one way, total eradication.
(April / May 2014—India holds worlds largest election) Narendra Modi’s election sounds a sign of relief for the millions who have been discriminated against under previous leaders. At its foundations, Modi’s BJP party holds to Hindutva ideology that advocates the abolition of the caste system. Hindutva adherents condemn the social structures in India that are still ridden with caste division that has led to barriers and segregation with the “untouchable” Dalit’s at the bottom of society. Hindutva also promotes Hindu “nationalism” above all else, implying that if you want to live in India, you must be Hindu.
Christian converts are mainly from Dalit communities, and therein lies the threat. If Modi is to successfully disarm the caste system (something that is very unlikely), it would enable Christian Dalit’s to move up in society and so spread the Gospel. As Christianity grows, nationalism under the BJP party will be growing alongside it, trying to put it down.
HONG KONG (CHINA)
(30 June 2014 – pro-democracy groups in HK hold unofficial referendum focused on the 2017 elections) Hong Kong has long been a “gateway” for Christian missions into mainland China: long before Bibles were printed on the mainland, they were smuggled in via Hong Kong. And with God working the way that He is in this nation, it is not difficult to see His hand at work. China, which holds executive powers over Hong Kong, has come a long way since its violent crackdown on students in 1989 on Tiananmen Square.
The student protest in central Hong Kong is almost exactly the same as that of 1989, with one exception, China patiently allowing it. Various reasons account for their allowance, such as the communist party’s inability to conceal a crackdown from the international media, as it did in 1989. As the worlds largest economy it cannot afford international criticism and sanctions against them. China’s growth opens the door to more freedoms, more liberties, that once given, cannot be taken away.
( March 2014 – the World health organisation reports a major Ebola outbreak in Guinea) Traced back to a two-year old child who died in December 2013, the current outbreak of the Ebola virus is the largest outbreak ever documented. (Ebola was first dis-covered in 1976) Ebola also spread outside of Africa with cases reported in Spain and the US.
Most of the affected were medical staff that previously served in Ebola affected areas. The question whether foreign aid workers should expose themselves to such obvious threats such as the possibility of being infected by Ebola, quickly rose and placed the spotlight firmly on specifically Christian aid and missions organisations who literally risk their lives to serve and save others.
2015 INTERPRETING THE HOPE
Hope in a future where God displays His sovereignty in tangible ways and believers are free from injustice, seems a far cry away when considering the events of 2014. Nuclear weapons, deadly viruses, bloodthirsty terrorist groups and declining economies don’t generally portray a picture of hope. How do we reconcile the need for uplifting news with the constant bombardment of what seems to be the hopelessness of humanity?
Only when we recognise and accept the hopelessness of humanity, and it’s inability to save itself from destruction, only then can we start to see an almighty God able to save, able to turn the tide. As long as we only focus and search for the “good” in this world, the easier it becomes to miss the hands of God in seemingly unjustifiable events. Philippians 4 verse 8 reminds every believer to exalt the good. And in 1 Chronicles 12 verse 32 believers are encouraged to be like the “men of Issachar” who understood the times, and knew what Israel should do.
“God is good – all the time” is a popular Christian song, but do Christians really believe it? Is God still good when he allows the deaths of Christians serving in Afghanistan? Is God still good when earthquakes claim thousands of lives or runaway fires destroy homes?
When believers proclaim the goodness of God, and really believe it, then nuclear weapons and wars stand out as channels through which the working hands of Christ can be interpreted.In the light of His goodness, 2015 could be a turning point for people of all nations and all religions to understand the saving grace of a loving, forgiving and compassionate Saviour.