As Arab Spring falters, ‘open hearts’ find God

As Arab Spring falters, ‘open hearts’ find God

by Nicole Lee & Charles Braddix, posted Friday, January 23, 2015 (yesterday)

LONDON (BP) — Once again the world’s attention is drawn to the Middle East with the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and the tendered resignation of Yemen’s president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

King Abdullah, who died early Friday (Jan. 23), is succeeded by his brother Salman bin Abdul Aziz.

Both events come at a time when peoples of the Arab nations reflect on the impact of the Arab Spring and the current rise of the Islamic State (ISIS).

“The Arab and the Islamic nations are in dire need for solidarity and cohesion,” the new Saudi king said in an apparent reference to the chaos gripping the Middle East as ISIS now holds a third of both Iraq and Syria.

The fourth anniversary of the Arab Spring uprisings arrives with little sign of real change in the Arab world, except for precious signs of God at work amid the chaos.

What began in Tunisia with the self-immolation of a market vendor in December 2010 continued this month with the country’s first free presidential elections and Tunisia being dubbed “country of the year” by The Economist. Freedom has come to Tunisia, which has opened the door for growth — often slow and painful, but with forward impetus.

But Tunisia is the exception.

Some commentators have said what began in Tunisia was broken in Egypt, where the Arab Spring arrived on Jan. 25, 2011. Egyptians have overthrown two governments during the past four years, but there is no hope in sight for a resolution between reformists, hardliners and the Muslim Brotherhood. Armed forces now keep the peace.

But Egypt isn’t the worst.

In Syria, the death toll is 200,000 and growing. Syrian refugees number more than 3 million, causing overcrowding in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The fanaticism of ISIS in Syria and Iraq has flummoxed even other militant Muslim factions.

Now the Arab Spring has morphed into Arab Winter.

But Christian workers in the Arab world want people to know that neither newfound democracy nor violence and bloodshed are the only stories worth sharing.

“There is another story that is not being told,” said James Keath*, International Mission Board (IMB) strategy leader for work in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Keath recounts examples of Muslim men and women coming to faith in Christ. He also tells of how God has met Arab Christians in their moments of need, providing grace and love and even the ability to forgive those who killed their families.

“The worst humanitarian catastrophe of our day is opening doors among peoples we have never had access to before,” Keath said. “And we are finding not just broken lives but open hearts.”

One example is a Syrian refugee woman caring for her sick mother — penniless, fearful, despairing, without the will to live. She heard the Good News of Jesus from some of His followers who were delivering blankets to the needy. She put her trust in Him saying, “I know Jesus is the only answer. He is the one who can give me peace in my heart and a reason to live.”

Keath and other Christian workers serving throughout North Africa and the Middle East live amid the day-to-day reality of violence and bloodshed, but they are passionate about the reality of God’s love.

“God has not forgotten the Syrians or the Iraqis, whatever the world may think,” Christian worker Don Alan* said.

Alan said stories abound of how the violence and conflict have provided conduits for the Gospel to be shared.

Many refugees are able to hear the Good News for the first time because they were driven out of a country closed to Christian work and into a place where Christians could minister to them.

In some places, violent men are coming to faith and finding that Jesus is the only true way to peace. Women are moved beyond hopelessness to purpose and peace and a desire to share this Good News with family members.

Christian worker Jeb Colburn* has seen similar things in Tunisia.

Colburn feels God created the great freedoms in Tunisia that now allow public discussions about Jesus. Freedom also has enabled the translation and printing of Bible portions into the local, previously non-written dialect. There are now audio versions as well, he said.

At the same time, many are disillusioned with Islam. As one man told Colburn, “There is freedom to be a pious Muslim, but I do not care to be religious because religion has done nothing for me.”

But as these people meet believers and receive Scripture, lives change.

Ahmed* is an elderly Tunisian man who watched Christian programming for many years before approaching a believer who was going into a church building. They visited and then began spending time together. Now they are holding Bible discussion times in the man’s home with his wife and neighbors.

Tunisia is unique in its Arab Spring successes. Ongoing tensions in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Bahrain threaten the safety of their citizens and the state of their souls. Throughout much of the region, Christianity is still suppressed, feared and hated.

But God is not silenced.

“This is not the time for fear or drawing back,” Alan said. “As Hebrews 10:36 reminds us, ‘… You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.’ Let us not be those who shrink back, for God is at work.”

Prayer Requests:

— Pray for the Arab peoples who need the Prince of Peace and for Christian workers who strive to make Him known.

— Pray for the families of the hundreds of thousands who have died in Arab conflicts in the past four years.

— Pray for Syrian refugees who continue to pour out of their homeland in droves. There are now more than 3 million.

— Pray for Tunisians who have embarked on the path to democracy but are struggling through widespread poverty and 60 percent unemployment of college graduates.

— Pray for Egyptians as their country is still divided. Despite the overthrow of two governments, they now live in a police state because of tension between opposing factions.

Learn More: For more stories that give a Christian perspective on Northern Africa and the Middle East, follow The Gospel Side of the Story.

Give: The greatest needs among the forcibly displaced are blankets, food, water, propane burners, pillows, mattresses, wheelchairs, carpets to insulate against the cold and provide some comfort, along with baby formula and health care. Donate $10 to ongoing relief efforts by Baptist Global Response by texting “‘BGR”‘ to 80888 or designate another amount online at gobgr.org/donate. Text-to-give terms: igfn.org/t. Message and data rates may apply. Full disclaimer at http://goo.gl/jdm4QJ.

*Names changed.

 

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The image John Kerry WON’T want you to see: U.S. Secretary of State pictured dining with Assad and his wife at Damascus restaurant before war broke out in Syria

The image John Kerry WON’T want you to see: U.S. Secretary of State pictured dining with Assad and his wife at Damascus restaurant before war broke out in Syria

  • Kerry pictured around a small table with his wife and the Assads in 2009
  • Assad and Kerry lean in towards each other, deep in conversation
  • Picture taken in February 2009 when Kerry led a delegation to Syria
  • Kerry yesterday compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein

By ANTHONY BOND

PUBLISHED: 07:53 EST, 2 September 2013 | UPDATED: 11:29 EST, 2 September 2013

This astonishing photograph shows U.S Secretary of State John Kerry having a cosy and intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Kerry – who compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein yesterday – is pictured around a small table with his wife and the Assads in 2009.

Assad and Kerry – who was then a senator for Massachusetts – lean in towards each other and appear deep in conversation as their wives look on.

A waiter is pictured at their side with a tray of green drinks – which are believed to be lemon and crushed mint.

Cosy: This astonishing photograph shows the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife having an intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife in 2009Cosy: This astonishing photograph shows the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife having an intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife in 2009
Cosy: This astonishing photograph shows the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife having an intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife in 2009Relaxed: A waiter carries over a tray of drinks, which appear to look like cocktails

The picture is believed to have been taken in February 2009 in the Naranj restaurant in Damascus when Kerry led a delegation to Syria to discuss ideas and talk about the way forward for peace in the region.

Despite President Barack Obama taking a step back from his threat to launch an attack by putting  a vote in Congress, his Secretary of State has been outspoken about the dangers posed by the Syrian regime.

He said that Assad ‘has now joined the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein’ in deploying chemical weapons against his population.

He said on Sunday that the U.S. now has evidence that sarin nerve gas was used in Syria and that ‘the case gets stronger by the day’ for a military attack.

Speaking out: US Secretary of State John Kerry last week said the U.S. knows 'with high confidence' the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in an attack last weekSpeaking out: US Secretary of State John Kerry last week said the U.S. knows ‘with high confidence’ the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in an attack

Couple: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is pictured with his British-born wife Asma AssadCouple: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is pictured with his British-born wife Asma Assad
Under pressure: Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, is pictured in a meeting yesterday. Kerry has described him as a ¿thug and murderer¿ Under pressure: Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, is pictured in a meeting yesterday. Kerry has described him as a ‘thug and murderer’During a passionate speech in Washington last Friday, he also called Assad  a ‘thug and murderer’ and urged the world to act as he warned ‘history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’.The U.S. administration put the Syrian chemical weapons death toll on the outskirts of Damascus at 1,429 people – far more than previous estimates – including more than 400 children.

SEVEN MILLION SYRIANS DISPLACED

The head of the U.N. refugee agency in Syria says seven  million Syrians, or almost one-third of the population, have been displaced by the country’s civil war.

Tarik Kurdi said that five million of the displaced are still in Syria while about 2 million have fled to neighboring countries.

He says two million children are among those directly affected by the war.

Kurdi says U.N. assistance has been a ‘drop in the sea of humanitarian need’ and that the funding gap is ‘very, very wide.’ He says international donors have sent less than one-third of the money needed to help those displaced by the war.

More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011.

Kerry has  said he is confident that Congress will give Obama its backing for an attack against Syria, but the former Massachusetts senator also said the president has authority to act on his own if Congress doesn’t give its approval.

Speaking today, Senator John McCain said President Bashar Assad will be ‘euphoric’ about Obama’s decision to wait for Congress over Syria.

One of the loudest critics of the administration’s handling of Syria, McCain criticised Obama in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Referring to Obama’s famous remark when he said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line, McCain said: ‘He didn’t say, “It’s a red line – and by the way I’m going to have to seek the approval of Congress.”

He said it was a red line, and that the United States of America would act.

‘And that’s a big difference, and that’s one of the reasons why this is so problematic.’

The Arizona Republican, who Obama beat for the presidency in 2008, said the President asked him to come to the White House specifically to discuss Syria.
Hundreds died in the alleged chemical attacks on Wednesday, including many women and children

Horrific: Hundreds died in the alleged chemical attacks, including many women and children

Awful: Secretary of State John Kerry said images like these contributed to the U.S. assessment that chemical weapons were used in Syria

Obama is hoping one of Congress’s most intractable foreign policy hawks will help sell the idea of a U.S. military intervention in Syria to a nation deeply scarred by more than a decade of war.

Having announced over the weekend that he will seek congressional approval for military strikes against the Assad regime, the Obama administration is now trying to rally support among Americans and their congressmen and senators.

Today’s meeting with McCain is meant to address concerns of those who feel Obama isn’t doing enough to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government for the chemical weapons attack.

On the other side of the spectrum, some Republican and Democratic lawmakers don’t want to see military action at all.

Obama’s turnabout on Syria sets the stage for the biggest foreign policy vote in Congress since the Iraq war.

Tension:Tension: President Bashar Assad will be ‘euphoric’ about Obama’s decision to wait for Congress over Syria, according to Sen. John McCain
Firm:Firm: Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said evidence of alleged chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime presented to Moscow by the U.S. and its allies is ‘absolutely unconvincing’

Meanwhile Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the information the U.S. showed Moscow trying to prove that the Syrian regime was behind an alleged chemical weapons attack is ‘absolutely unconvincing.’

Lavrov said today ‘there was nothing specific’ in the evidence presented by Washington: ‘no geographic coordinates, no names, no proof that the tests were carried out by the professionals.’ He did not say what tests he was referring to.

Lavrov say U.S. officials said they cannot share with them all the evidence because some of it is classified.

He did not describe the tests further.

Crisis talks: President Obama and Vice-President Biden meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice to discuss Syria on SundayCrisis talks: President Obama and Vice-President Biden meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice to discuss Syria on Sunday
Debate: The President meets national security advisers to discuss possible military actionDebate: The President meets national security advisers to discuss possible military action

Lavrov brushed aside Western evidence of an alleged Syrian regime role. Russia, along with China and Iran, has staunchly backed Assad throughout the conflict.

‘What our American, British and French partners showed us in the past and have showed just recently is absolutely unconvincing,’ Lavrov said at Russia’s top diplomatic school.

‘And when you ask for more detailed proof they say all of this is classified so we cannot show this to you.’

U.N. chemical inspectors toured the stricken areas last week, collecting biological and soil samples, but it is not clear when the will present their findings.

The Syria conflict erupted in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad that quickly transformed into a civil war.

More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict.

Kerry describing Syria’s Assad as a thug and murderer