A lot can happen in a year. Governments can fall. New countries can be formed. New leaders can be elected, and the whole atmosphere of a nation can radically shift. When it comes to missions, these shifts can either blow the door wide open for the Gospel or close it shut.
Nowhere is this more prominent than in the Middle East. 2017 brought many dramatic changes to this region, and there is no doubt that 2018 will bring many more. As Christians, it is good for us to keep up to date with these changes and hope and pray that they would benefit the spread of the Gospel in these needy countries.
If you’re a news junkie, no doubt you hear constantly about the ups and downs of this part of the world. But sometimes the news misses the most important things occurring. Maybe it’s because they aren’t that world-shattering in a political or historical sense. But when souls are coming to Christ or the good news of eternal life is preached, the world is changed. And any shifts that make that possible are things to celebrate.
What are those things? Let’s explore just a few:
1. The Opening of Saudi Arabia
In June of 2018, you will see a very rare sight in Saudi Arabia. Women all over the kingdom, many clad in head-to-foot coverings, will get into their cars and drive without being arrested.
That may sound ridiculous to you, but for this country, it’s a major milestone. When the Saudi government announced the overturning of the ban on women driving, it was a signal of the direction the country is going.
We are watching this extremely conservative country, governed by an absolute monarch and Sharia law, transition to become more open. Not just to commerce or freedom or other ideas, but most importantly to other religions. Perhaps even to Christianity.
Most of this is thanks to the king’s son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The 32-year-old millennial has a bold plan to take the country into the 21st century. He said that he wants the country to go back to the way things used to be under “a moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world and to all traditions and people.”
This is huge! The nation that contains Islam’s two holy cities—Mecca and Medina—could be giving missions a chance to come in. Of course, God is already at work in the country. But if the crown prince takes the throne this year, expect opportunities for missions to skyrocket. And consider how you might be a part of it.
2. The Demise of ISIS
Another thing you probably did not notice in all the bad news of the year was this good news—ISIS is failing and falling apart. This year, Iraqi and Syrian forces retook the two major cities under ISIS control—Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. ISIS remains in some rural areas of both countries and some border regions between them. But the Iraqi government has declared all the country free of ISIS.
It will be a long road before both countries heal, particularly with the civil war in Syria still ongoing with no end in sight. But this is significant news regardless. Who knows what this year will hold for this region? In the wake of devastation, will missionaries and believers pour in with the life-giving news? Will Christian Iraqis be able to return home and rebuild their houses and churches? Will Syrian refugees who came to Christ overseas be able to return to their hometowns with the Gospel?
We don’t know what the Lord is up to, but one thing is certain—in the midst of great persecution and distress, the Gospel has been spreading and God has been glorified. No doubt that will continue this year, even if ISIS rises again. Let us pray that it does not and that missionaries and believers—maybe even ourselves—have opportunities to reach into this region this year.
3. The Stabilizing of Egypt
Another country to keep your eye on for missions is Egypt. The country has seen a lot of turmoil in recent years with longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak ousted during the Arab Spring, only to be replaced by an even more brutal Muslim Brotherhood government. These leaders in turn were ousted by the Egyptian military, and now President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi governs the nation. Egypt has seen several major terrorist attacks this past year, most recently an attack on a church in December. But the Egyptian government has shown a willingness to work with believers and a concern to protect the nation’s Christians.
In November of last year, President el-Sisi met with evangelical leaders from the United States to discuss their concerns. The meeting went very well, and some are hopeful that it will lead to a closer relationship between Christians and the Egyptian government. With connections like these, perhaps the government could be persuaded to allow more missionaries to come in and work freely.
If you’re looking for a country that could open to missions, keep Egypt on your list.
God is at work in the Middle East. He is using secular rulers and even radical Muslims to accomplish His purposes to spread His good news.
What could happen this year for missions in the Middle East? No one can really predict, but one thing is certain—the Gospel will go forth and people will be saved.
One question remains: What is your part in all this?
This post was originally published on the CGO blog. To begin 2018, the CGO will be featuring three posts focusing on events that could happen or are happening this year that could radically impact missions. To read the other two posts in this series, visit bjucgo.com/blog.