STORIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED… AND WHY THEY MATTER

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By Donnelly McCleland

Jesus challenged His disciples to be aware of what was going on around them (Luke 12:56) and to respond to changing times from His perspective, rather than seeing things through their human understanding. 2020 was one of those monumental years – on a global scale. Covid-19 has quite possibly impacted every person on earth – directly (through illness, death, death of a loved one, job losses, etc.), or indirectly (through restrictions, economic downturns, etc.). Although it has dominated news headlines, it has not been the only newsworthy event. Not all Kingdom-impacting events make it into mainstream news, and not all events that make it into the news necessarily have Kingdom ‘worth’. But what follows are some stories you may have missed over the December/January Festive Season that are important to know about. Some will impact global missions, others will impact the Church within a country, or maybe just on a local level. Others will result in increased opportunities for the advancement of His Kingdom, while still others may impact the Kingdom and Christian witness negatively.

15 Dec – The US Electoral College confirmed Joe Biden as the next US president. In his speech after the announcement, he said it is “time to turn the page”, and that US democracy had been “pushed, tested and threatened” and “proved to be resilient, true and strong”. He condemned President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the result. Under the US system, voters actually cast their ballots for ‘electors’, who in turn formally vote for candidates after the election. Typically, the meeting of the Electoral College is merely a formality, however, it received international attention in 2020 because of unsubstantiated allegations of massive voter fraud by President Trump.

17 DecNigerian security forces freed 344 schoolboys who had been kidnapped by armed gunmen in north-western Nigeria less than a week earlier. Many details surrounding the incident remain unclear, including who was responsible, why they kidnapped the boys, whether a ransom was paid and how the release was secured. The abduction evoked memories of Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the north-eastern town of Chibok. Despite Boko Haram claiming responsibility, it is thought that a criminal gang in the area were responsible, though they may have intended handing the boys over to Boko Haram. The Islamist terror group has a history of turning captives into jihadist fighters.

18 DecUS Vice President Mike Pence and the leaders of the House and Senate received their first COVID-19 vaccinations as they tried to reassure Americans the vaccine is safe. Mr Pence, in a live-television event, hailed the milestone as “a medical miracle” that could eventually put an end to a raging pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 people in the US alone, and over a million worldwide. A survey found that only about half of Americans want to get the vaccine as soon as possible. Another quarter of the public is unsure, while the remaining quarter says they are not interested – some simply oppose vaccines in general, while others are concerned that the injections have been rushed and want to see how the rollout goes.

21 Dec – An Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia sailed through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf and the US Navy took the very unusual step of making sure everyone knew it was there. They released a statement with photographs and emphasised the vessel’s firepower –154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles (TLAMs), subsonic missiles used for long-range strikes, as far as 1,600km into enemy territory. The submarine was accompanied by two guided-missile cruisers. A Navy official told Fox News the deployment was not a direct response to any recent event but was “long-planned” ahead of the anniversary of the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, former head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was killed in a US drone strike on 3 January 2020, which nearly dragged the US and Iran into armed conflict.

25 DecPakistan’s Christian community celebrated Christmas with traditional festivities and gatherings, although heavily curtailed by the coronavirus. For the first time in memory, the poor Christian community known as French Colony in the capital Islamabad did not stage their famous Christmas display that normally draws thousands of visitors and provides a rare chance for members of this struggling religious minority to showcase their creativity and celebrate their faith. Some special services and cake-cutting ceremonies were held in lit-up churches throughout the country, and believers prayed for the progress and prosperity of Pakistan and the safety of humanity from the deadly pandemic. Strict security measures were taken to ensure the safety of the Christian community and forces were deployed outside churches to prevent any attacks. In this majority-Muslim nation of about 210 million, only two per cent of the population is Christian, and Christians have frequently been targeted.

29 Dec – Four Bangladesh navy ships took the second and biggest group of Rohingya Muslims yet – about 18,800 – from crowded refugee camps to an uncertain future on a bleak island, Bashan Char, three hours from the mainland. The Bangladesh government eventually wants to rehouse 100,000 of the camps’ approximately one million Rohingya on the island. The Bangladesh government has struggled to find a long-term solution for the Rohingya who fled a deadly purge on their villages in Myanmar that the United Nations has said could amount to genocide. Government refugee officials say there are better living facilities and better security for the Rohingya in Bhashan Char, and some refugees have gone willingly – wanting to escape the overcrowded and often violent, drug-affected camps – but others have said they were forced to leave. The United Nations and rights groups have condemned the relocation to the island, which is prone to cyclones and flooding. The UN says it has not been allowed to carry out a technical and safety assessment of Bhashan Char and was not involved in the transfer of refugees there.

30 Dec – At least 26 people were killed and more than 60 injured after an attack on the airport in the Yemeni city of Aden that appeared to target a plane carrying members of the newly formed government. The attack marked a grim start for Yemen’s new unity government sworn in five days prior, ending months of violence and political rifts with southern separatists who are supported by the United Arab Emirates. The rift jeopardised the UAE’s relationship with Saudi Arabia that is fighting the Houthi rebels. Yemen has been embroiled in a devastating war since 2014 when Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents seized control of Yemen’s northern Saada province, and the capital Sana’a.

30 DecBritain‘s Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed the Brexit trade deal with European Union (EU), after years of negotiation. The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 (after 47 years of membership) and officially left the trading bloc – its nearest and biggest trading partner – on 31 January 2020. However, both sides agreed to keep many things the same until 31 December 2020, to allow enough time to agree to the terms of a new trade deal. It was a complex, sometimes bitter negotiation, but they finally agreed on a deal on 24 December. The deal contains new rules for how the UK and EU will live, work and trade together. Now that it is no longer in the EU, the UK is free to set its own trade policy and can negotiate deals with other countries. Talks are being held with the US, Australia, and New Zealand – countries that currently do not have free trade deals with the EU. Freedom to work and live between the UK and the EU also comes to an end, and in 2021, UK nationals will need a visa if they want to stay in the EU more than 90 days in a 180-day period. Northern Ireland will continue to follow many of the EU’s rules to avoid a hardening of its border with the Republic of Ireland.

30 DecArgentina has announced it will drop criminal charges against women accused of having abortions following the government’s historic decision to legalise the procedure. The new law allows abortion for any reason during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, making Argentina the largest country in Latin America to broadly allow the procedure. Senators voted in favour of the bill after a marathon session with 38 in favour, 29 against and one abstention. Large crowds of campaigners both for and against abortion had gathered outside Congress in the capital Buenos Aires, following the debate on huge screens – pro-choice campaigners were ecstatic with the result, will anti-abortion supporters were visibly dejected. The Catholic Church, which remains highly influential in Latin America, had opposed the move, calling on senators to reject the bill supported by centre-left President Alberto Fernández. Abortions are completely banned in El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic and only allowed in certain restricted circumstances in most other Latin American nations. In the wider region, only Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and parts of Mexico currently allow women to request an abortion, with varying limits on the number of weeks of pregnancy in which an abortion is legal.

30 DecUganda opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine (38), and his campaign team were “arrested” in Kalangala in the country’s central region, sparking protests from his supporters, who were then dispersed by police firing teargas. Police denied arresting him saying instead the singer-turned-MP had been “restrained” and returned home due to his rallies being problematic amidst the current coronavirus crisis. Bobi Wine has emerged as the strongest challenger to President Yoweri Museveni (76) in the 14 January election. Mr Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, has been President of Uganda since 1986. While security forces have intimidated the opposition at previous elections, the run-up to the 2021 vote has been especially violent. In November, 54 people were killed as soldiers and police quelled protests after Wine was detained.

4 Jan – A British judge blocked the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, citing mental health grounds. In the US, he faces up to 175 years, for multiple espionage charges for releasing sensitive military documents. US prosecutors have indicated they will appeal against the ruling. The co-founder of WikiLeaks has been held at Belmarsh prison in south-east London for the past 18 months after he was evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy, where he sought asylum for seven years. The judge rejected claims by the defence that Assange was protected by free-speech guarantees. While welcoming the court’s decision, Rebecca Vincent from Reporters Without Borders said:  “We disagree with the judge’s assessment that this case was not politically motivated, that it is not about free speech.”

6 JanUS President Donald Trump addressed thousands of protesters and repeated claims that the election was stolen from him. His supporters then proceeded to storm the Capitol building in Washington DC – on the day Congress was meeting to confirm Joe Biden’s election victory. The Capitol houses the two chambers of the US government that comprise Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate. Clashes began outside the Capitol as crowds started to chant and press up against barricades, the police responded with tear gas and pepper spray. However, police officers struggled to maintain control of the situation as protesters advanced on the building on multiple fronts, entering the building. Senators were forced to abandon the process of confirming President-elect Biden’s victory and the building went into lockdown. Hours later, after the building was cleared, Senators could resume and finalise Mr Biden’s election victory. Many protesters on that day waved signs linking their Christian faith to their actions – for example, “Jesus Saves”; “For the Glory of God”; “God, Guns and Trump.”

FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

We live in a digital age and a time in history where there is unprecedented access to information. We also live in a time where people who call themselves Christians number an estimated 2.3 billion. People who know Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord occupy many different walks of life – from positions of high influence to lowly servants – and there are those today, like King Cyrus in the Bible, who do not call or acknowledge Jesus as Lord, but who act righteously and are used by the Lord to fulfil His purposes. It is important for Christians to be informed, and it is also vitally important that Christians evaluate the information they are exposed to – through Scripture and by seeking the wisdom and discernment of His Spirit. The Lord also requires His children to respond. Micah 6:8 reminds us: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you except to be just, and to love [and to diligently practise] kindness (compassion), and to walk humbly with your God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]?” (AMP)

Much could be said about each news item mentioned in this article on issues close to the Lord’s heart: issues of justice, mercy, righteousness, grace, and truth (and many others). The Lord assured us that He will build His Church and that the gates of Hell would not prevail (Matt.16:18). He assured us that He will be with us always (Matt.28:20), but He in no way instructed us to watch from the side-lines or to throw up our hands in despair and quietly await His return in a ‘safe’ place. His children are called to actively participate in His activities of building His Kingdom, in all facets of life. 2021 holds incredible promise and tremendous challenges for His children to engage with and respond to – next week’s ‘A World in Motion’ (AWIM) article will touch on some of these.

Please pray with us:

  • For world leaders in these very challenging times, that they will make godly decisions, especially when it comes to ones that have far-reaching consequences
  • For wisdom and discernment for Christians as they seek to remain informed
  • For believers to intentionally be ambassadors of hope and peace in these tumultuous times

 

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Images: REUTERS/ RICARDO MORAES, MIKE SEGAR, DOUG MILLS, AFOLABI SOTUNDE, ABACA-PRESS, AKHTAR SOOMRO, MOHAMMAD PONIR HOSSAIN, FAWAZ SALMAN, AGUSTIN MARCARIAN, MATIAS BAGLIETTO, LEON NEAL, HENRY NICHOLLS, LEAH MILLIS

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