[notice]As the Libyan rebel forces appear to be close to ending the 42-year reign of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, questions are being asked about who will take over. The US is calling for an “inclusive” transition to democracy in Libya. But there are concerns that the end of Gadhafi could create an opening for Islamists to eventually take power. Christian leaders close to the action are calling on Christian prayer warriors to take up their positions in the frontline of the Spiritual battle for Libya.[/notice]
Christian leaders in the region as well as those involved in mission to the persecuted church are calling for believers around the world to pray that whoever takes over in Libya will protect the lives and rights of the tiny Christian minority in the country.
In its latest World In Motion newsletter, INcontext Ministries says: “Even though only 2.6% of the population of Libya is
Christian it is home to the second largest number of believers of the 8 nations in North Africa. Egypt has 10.3 million
Christians and Libya is second with 171,000 Christians. It might be small in number but it is still significant in presence.
Every Christian that flees the country during these troubled times means there is one witness less in North Africa. Of the
54 nations in Africa, Libya receives the 4th least number of missionaries with less than 18 missionaries for every 1 million
people. The already small candle of a Church under pressure is now facing the danger of being completely extinguished.”
According to the Baptist Press, Christian leaders like Nik Ripken (name changed) who has served 25 years with the International Mission Board and is an expert on the persecuted church in Muslim contexts., are praying for stability of a different kind in Libya.
“Often we ask people to pray that governments provide the safety and security necessary for the Gospel to spread, such as the early church had under the Roman Empire. But when stability is the stability of governments that deny their people even access to Jesus, then that is the worst form of persecution,” says Ripken.
Ripken asks believers worldwide to pray for the kind of stability in Libya where access to Jesus is a basic human right.
However, Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs, says change is likely to favor those seeking freedom, specifically, the Christians, reports Mission Network News. He says Libya is ranked 25th on the Open Doors World Watch List, a spot earned because “there was heavy persecution, particularly of Muslim converts. There were some churches in the city of Tripoli that were allowed to be open, allowed to operate, but primarily they dealt with foreigners.”
Libya adheres to Islamic law, and all citizens are Sunni Muslims “by definition.” Conversion to Christianity is forbidden, and there are few native Libyan believers. Nettleton explains that “where you run into persecution is where a Muslim changes [his or her] faith and comes to Jesus Christ. Those are the people who face really heavy persecution.”
The National Transitional Council is urging Libya to start an “all-inclusive” dialogue leading to democratic elections. Watchdog groups warn that the transition could bring more violence with it. Nettleton says, “There’s just a lot of questions at this point, and we need to pray that Christians will be protected, that whoever ends up in government authority will provide protection, will recognize the rights of minority groups like Christians.”
Currently, most Libyan Christians are forced to believe in secret and are afraid to meet with other believers. Small Christian communities do exist, mostly consisting of sub-Saharan migrants and Western expatriate workers. They’ve remained active throughout the longest periods of oppression. Nettleton says because of this, “In some cases, Bibles have been able to be delivered into Libya because of some of the upheaval. Maybe the border is not being as tightly monitored as in previous years. “
That’s nothing new says Mission Network News. With Gaddafi’s strict control of the country, evangelism has been difficult and any Christian literature that got into the country was smuggled in. At the crossroad of change, could there be more freedom? Nettleton indicates it’s too early to know yet, but “we can pray about that as well, that Scriptures will go in and that Christian work can fill some of the voids.”
Given the significance of the persecution and harassment in Libya, just 3% of the population are believers. That begs the question: Is Libya home to a remnant church? Nettleton replies, “There is a vibrant group of believers that are there, that are sharing the Gospel. So while I would say a ‘remnant’ is a fair description, don’t be confused into thinking that there aren’t really bold, on-fire believers there, because there absolutely are.”
As Libya looks forward to a new beginning, Christians are encouraged to “pray first, pray second, and pray third. I think at this point, because there’s so much upheaval, I think prayer really is the frontline of the spiritual battle for the nation of Libya.”
Baptist Press meanwhile says that Christian leaders across the region are calling for prayer for freedoms for Christians in other nations affected by the “Arab Spring,” the wave of political protests and change sweeping North Africa and the Middle East since December 2010.
Violent clashes still happen in countries like Syria, where al-Assad released a statement yesterday (August 22) saying that his government would not fall. About 2 500 have died in Syria’s crisis, according to the BBC.
Natalie Shepherd (name changed), who formerly lived and worked alongside her husband in Syria, said she believes God will work through the unrest there to bring people to salvation in Jesus Christ.
“Years ago during Ramadan we joined a small group of Christ-followers inside Syria to pray all night. I remember we cried out to God to do whatever it takes to bring millions inside Syria to salvation in Jesus,” Shepherd said.
Today she is praying that God will use what is happening in Syria now as a catalyst for that very thing.
“I want to see thousands encounter Christ just like Saul did on his way to Damascus, so we begin to see bold, passionate disciples like Paul spreading the Good News,” Shepherd said.