2016: International Stories that Matter to Missions

It’s always a bit strange to attend an event and hear someone speak about his or her desire to “just raise awareness” about a given cause. An expensive event with musicians and presentations and videos and celebrities can leave a participant wondering just who the true benefactor is: the participants or the cause. But that may just be my cynicism speaking.

Even so, here we are expecting to do the same thing. The International Mission Board wants to raise awareness among believers in regards to the circumstances of billions of people the world over who are loved by God but do not know him. We want Christians to see how events shape people far from them and be compelled by love to engage them with the gospel of Jesus.

We want Christians to see how events shape people far from them and be compelled by love to engage them with the gospel of Jesus.

The Current Events channel on our site is a new venture toward that end. Its purpose is to take a look at events happening around the world and consider how they might affect cross-cultural missions. That’s not always a simple task because it’s not always clear. I mean, war, genocide, natural disasters, hunger, forced migration of millions—who knows exactly how these realities could affect a particular people? It may drive them to despair or give them courage to overcome, cause them to fight for freedoms or leave them burying family members in unmarked graves.

We may never understand the implications of these events, but we do know one thing: they do have effects, and we trust that God is sovereign over them all. Therefore, there are ramifications, whether we recognize them or not, for our participation in God’s mission. Our hope here is not to answer all of the questions about their impact but to encourage and challenge the church to think and pray and act, knowing that the people they affect matter.

As we look back at some major global events of 2016, that’s our prayer. We simply want to inspire God’s church to be aware, and because of that awareness, to act. The events that follow may or may not be the biggest events that took place in 2016, but they matter to believers around the world who are communicating the gospel among people who need to hear it.

January

Africa finishes a giant Jesus statue

Nigeria unveiled what’s being called the biggest Jesus statue in Africa. At thirty feet tall, the white marble statue was built on the grounds of a church. Although many hope it becomes a symbol of peace, others are wary of potential conflicts it could exacerbate between Nigeria’s Christian and Muslim populations. Some wonder how long it will stay standing with Boko Haram operating in Nigeria’s north.

Discussions are also circulating among the local Christian community as to whether putting Jesus in statue form constitutes idol worship, or why white marble had to be chosen rather than black. Still, local church leaders hope all who see the statue are reminded of Jesus’s importance as a savior and a peacemaker.

February

Anti-Islam groups rally in Europe

Anti-Islam groups across Europe hold rallies in protest of the influx of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East. The migrant crisis in Europe has undoubtedly become a catalyst for discussions and policies with political, social, and religious ramifications.

The rise in terrorist attacks on European soil has made many people in Western Europe uneasy as some citizens promote giving migrants asylum, some demand closing their country’s borders, and some continue to wrestle with the balance of serving the sojourner and safety. Those same discussions are happening worldwide today as the forced migration of refugees continues.

March

Africa’s worst drought in decades

Thirty-six million people across Sub-Saharan Africa are suffering under the worst drought in decades. Scarce rainfall and record-high temperatures have created one of the worst repercussions of El Nino on record. Farmers in Ethiopia have lost 80 percent of their crops, more than twenty million people join the millions of other Africans who are already food insecure, and children are unable to attend school because they need to help their families source sustenance.

Help fight poverty caused by the drought by donating here.

April

An earthquake resurfaces former horrors in Japan

A 7.3 earthquake in Kumamoto and the subsequent aftershocks claimed the lives of more than 40 Japanese and injured more than 900. Damaged homes, landslides, and blackouts forced hundreds to evacuate to temporary shelters. Victims not only dealt with loss of loved ones and property but the psychological trauma amplified by memories of Japan’s worst recorded earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

May

The UN’s first meeting to address global humanitarian crises

The 125 million people worldwide requiring aid prompted the United Nations to organize the first World Humanitarian Summit in its seventy-year history. World leaders gathered to problem-solve various humanitarian issues, most of which stem from the Syrian refugee crisis.

Although many agree that the two-day conference is a good, albeit delayed, step in the right direction, many others continue to challenge world leaders to do more to alleviate the suffering of millions around the world. One leader of a worldwide aid organization said, “Rich nations cannot wash their hands of the suffering for which they are partly responsible and [must] do more to take in their fair share of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

June

The UK’s exit from the European Union

Although news of the United Kingdom’s narrow vote to secede from the EU made headlines across the world, the effects it has had on migrant communities are still being realized. Before the vote, pro-Brexit voters expressed a desire to see immigration numbers decrease, and the post-vote outbreak of harassment and racial discrimination has created fear and angst among Britain’s migrant and minority populations, even those who are from predominantly white and Christian countries.

July

Turkey’s military staged a coup, and failed

Turkish soldiers rolled tanks into Ankara and Istanbul while politicians organized a blackout of media outlets to call for an end to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political power. As the midnight chaos unfolded, the president addressed Turks via FaceTime and asked them to fight back on his behalf against the rebelling military faction.

Surprisingly, it worked. Turkish authorities resumed order and the current political administration retained power. But the failed coup served as a reminder that roughly half of Turkey’s population is concerned about the president’s blurred lines between church and state and his clamping down on free press, and well as the influence of jihadists from Turkey’s southern neighbor, Syria. Here’s more about what it means for Turkey and for the church.

August

The boy pulled from rubble in Syria

The Syrian war has resulted in unspeakable tragedy and the largest displacement of people since World War II, yet it’s often difficult to fathom the true measure of such loss, heartache, and despicable evil. However, when footage surfaced of a solemn, dazed five-year-old Syrian boy who had just been pulled from the rubble of a bombed building, the world gasped and could hardly exhale. Thankfully, the boy survived, but his dust- and blood-covered face became a symbol for the more than 4,500 children who have been killed in Aleppo alone and the millions more who have been displaced by the war.

September

Mark Zuckerberg’s surprise trip to Africa

Young developers and entrepreneurs in Nigeria and Kenya were surprised when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sauntered into their workplaces to check out how the upcoming generation is changing the worldwide tech industry. The reality of rapid urbanization in Africa, along with African millennials’ insatiable desire to make a difference through tech at home and abroad, prompted Zuckerberg to say, “This is where the future is going to be built.” His visit may not seem significant to outsiders, but for Africa’s entrepreneurs, it served as validation of their rightful place among the world’s future tech and business game changers.

October

Hurricane Matthew wreaks havoc in the Caribbean

After the Category 5 hurricane brought destruction upon Haiti and Cuba, aid groups rushed to the countries to provide valuable aid. The immediate aid from Southern Baptists through the BGR, state conventions, and local ministries was used by Cuban Baptists to feed up to 3,200 people a day through twenty feeding kitchens.

Today, Cuban Baptists are transitioning to supplementary feeding for children, pregnant women, the elderly, and disabled. Local churches in the non-affected provinces have rallied around their sister congregations, sending brigades of workers to aid in community recovery. These teams provide free labor for construction, clear farmlands, minister to needs, and preach the Gospel. To date, they’ve distributed 200,000 gospel tracts. Bibles are also being given to believers who lost their copies of God’s Word in the storm, as well as to those who have come to Christ in its aftermath.

November

India voids 86 percent of its currency to curb black money

On the night of the US election, India’s prime minister made the surprise announcement that all of the country’s 500 and 1,000 rupee notes would be void by morning. The announcement was short notice on purpose so people involved in tax evasion and the black money market wouldn’t have time to unload their illegally held currency.

However, the new policy also has caused stress and financial hardship among India’s poor, many of whom don’t have access to banks and have kept their life savings in the now-voided currency at home. While many hope the plan succeeds in curbing black money in the long-term, millions are currently cash-strapped as the population learns how to transition out of a cash-based society.

December

South Korea impeaches its president

South Korea’s National Assembly voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye after she was accused of corruption, sharing classified information, and a litany of offenses centering on the puppetry of a dark friend, who was discovered to be a member of a shamanistic cult known as the Church of the Eternal Life. Thousands of South Koreans have made their anger and angst known at candlelight protests to demonstrate their weariness of the legacy of governmental corruption. Many say the demonstrations were an impetus for impeachment and a harsher reprisal of Park—demonstrating the power and beauty of democracy and its citizens.


Rachel Cohen is a writer and editor for IMB. She and her husband currently live and work in South Asia.