Reflections on Arab Spring
by Gary Corwin
In a world where geo-political considerations dominate the news, another question looms large in a more eternal direction: “What are the implications of this for an Arab Spring of gospel advance?”
In a region that generated so much hope just a few short years ago, despair has descended. It’s not so much that people were totally unaware of the potential pitfalls, but that the most obvious ones now seem too powerful to overcome. Everyone knew that the forces of militant radical Islam were waiting in the wings for any and all openings to fill the vacuum resulting from the downfall of long-term dictators. And thus it has happened, and is happening, in many of the nations of the Arab World.
The passion for freedom and equality under the law that drove so many into the streets and raised hopes for an “Arab Spring” have not gone away. Rather, they have come face to face with the harsh reality that those who are well organized around a unified vision for the future have a distinct advantage over those who are unified by a vision for democracy and freedom, but have no structural unity to effectively put forward their case.
In a world where geo-political considerations dominate the news, another question looms large in a more eternal direction: “What are the implications of this for an Arab Spring of gospel advance?” For God’s harvest laborers, this is the most important question of the hour. Several observations come to mind:
First, it is a mistake to be intimidated by geo-political disaster, as gospel opportunity is a most common by-product. Geo-political disaster may in fact be the springboard to significant spiritual progress. Times of transition have often been periods of great harvest. A friend in North Africa recently wrote,
Do give thanks to our Lord for a greater openness to the truth and more activity in sharing the truth by folks here during the last year or so. This has been the upside of the tumult and struggle that has gone on. I have heard this from a number of folks. Pray for hearts to be open as their earthly securities are shaken. Praise God for the spread of the Word and its work in people.
Similar stories can be heard from other nations in the region, often from those suffering the most severely. This same pattern can be quite dramatically seen in the experience of Iran over the last thirty years, a period in which the number of Christian believers in the nation ballooned from a couple of hundred in 1980 to multiple tens of thousands today. And all of that in the shadow of the most oppressive religious and political regime the nation had ever known.
Another indicator that something significant is happening in the region is that various media endeavors—radio, TV, and especially the Internet—are experiencing unprecedented response rates to their programming. People are shaken and distraught and looking desperately for answers to life’s big questions: the ones that only the gospel can answer satisfactorily.
Second, the Lord is every bit as capable of changing the whole global geo-political situation as he is of changing any individual’s heart. Effects that we can’t even imagine are sometimes the “unintended consequences” (from our point of view), and sometimes those consequences have huge ramifications for the spread of the gospel.
I have sometimes wondered, for example, what it would mean for gospel progress in the Arab World if North America replaced the Middle East as the world’s leading producer of fossil fuels. Given the new technologies that have been developed for extracting oil and natural gas, it is not hard to imagine that it could happen. What would that mean for the power structure of the region, and what might that mean for the cause of the gospel? At best we will have to wait to see, but even this possibility serves as a cogent reminder that dramatic change may be just around the corner.
Finally, while pain and even martyrdom may be by-products of geo-political crisis, God’s promise to the believer is real: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). When the eyes of God’s people shift from seeking their own comfort and prosperity to trustfully seeking his purposes first, “the sky is the limit” to what can be accomplished.
This has been a large part of the history of modern missions, even though a laser-like focus on God’s purposes has not always been the case. There is little doubt, however, that the greatest breakthroughs in gospel history have almost always been accompanied by many of those involved paying significant personal costs.
As I write, good friends are in the process of moving, with God’s purposes very much in mind, to an unstable part of the region. The husband, after several decades in a successful business career, also just completed seminary training. His wife is very much in agreement as they begin a new phase of life that will leverage all their experience. As they go, we commend them to the Lord for his grace, blessing, and protection. We also pray that their tribe—those who share their God-centered optimism—may increase.
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and staff missiologist with the international office of SIM.
EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 262-263. Copyright © 2013 Billy Graham Center. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.