|Date||1 February, 2011|
Attention was focused on Sudan and Lebanon as 2010 drew to a close, with the impending referendum in Sudan and indictments in Lebanon for the death of Rafik Hariri. There were many calls to pray for Sudan, recognising the referendum raised potential for war in this strife torn country.
2011 began with a bang, quite literally, when a bomb exploded on New’s Year Eve outside an Orthodox Church in Alexandria as they were celebrating mass. Then suddenly Tunisia erupted, calls for change and the removal of President Ben Ali resulted in the end to more than 20 years of authoritarian rule. The question began to be asked whether this could be repeated in other countries, including Egypt, and many commentators said no, Egypt did not have the level of education that Tunisia enjoyed.
How wrong they were: the end of January saw people come out onto the streets and call for change, violence erupted, and in the end,theNations with the implicit backing of the all-powerful military, the protesters won the day and another leader was toppled – with the jury still out on what is to come. And it did not stop there. The President of Yemen announced he would not stand for election after his term ended in 2013, and added that he would not pass power on to his son. In Algeria, the President announced that he would soon lift the 19 year state of emergency. The Palestinian President is reshuffling his regime, Jordan and Iran have seen demonstrations calling for change, and the government in Lebanon has fallen with the future there increasingly uncertain.
What in the world is happening? Or what is God doing in the world at this time, in particular in the Middle East and North Africa? He is building His Church. Last year we were hearing reports of God at work in ways we could not have imagined. He is shaking the nations. God is at work for purposes that are far bigger than anything we could have asked or imagined, and I for one want tosee Him bring to fulfillment all He has purposed for this region.
These are challenging days. Our peace has been shattered, there is uncertainty, risks, and instability. I am reminded, though, that when we pray for peace we need to pray for God’s wholeness for the nations, not just the absence of war or conflict. In Egypt, where the new year started with suffering for the Church and fear about the future of relationships with Muslim neighbours, recent days have seen Christian and Muslim standing together to protect their neighbourhood, relationships being built that would otherwise have taken years.
At the end of last year I felt we needed a year of focused prayer and fasting for this region, not knowing what the beginning of this year would bring. It is still our cry that many would join, setting aside one day a week, throughout 2011, to fast and pray for the Arab world. God is at work. I don’t know what the end will be, but I know I want to be where He is, joining hands with what He is doing, and seeking His glory in these nations. God is building His Church. We have an opportunity to be part of that great work by joining with the Church here, to stand with, support, and be a part of it, serving God’s Kingdom purposes. One leader wrote that he feared the weakening of the Church in Egypt, as many foreigners have gone, and many local Christians are also looking to leave. He asked that we not forget the Church, a cry that has been echoed by leaders in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere. In the midst of conflict and turmoil there is still the need for people who will be available to God to come and live in this region, join hands with the Church and be messengers of transformation.