17 International Stories That Mattered to Missions in 2017

We do it every year. We come to the end of December, usually in the lull between Christmas and New Year, and we decide what kind of year it was. Jobs, family, health, political or social climate all become metrics to measure how satisfied or unhappy we are with our lot this past year.

Some may remember 2017 as the year they were finally welcomed into a safe country. Others may mourn this as the year their life was marred by terror. Still others may remember how one person’s selfless gift impacted their lives for eternity.

Whether we wait in hopeful expectation for 2018 or wonder if it could be any worse than the year we just had, we trust God’s sovereignty in our circumstances. We as Christians can claim hope and joy because we know “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). We can view any news headline through the lens of the gospel and understand God wants to use everything to make his name known.

To that end, we’ve rounded up our 2017 list of stories around the world that matter to missions. They may not all have an overt missions connection, but we are confident that God is presiding over each circumstance and inviting us to consider our place in the Christian calling among these peoples and places.

Stories from Central and South America

Venezuela hits rock bottom

Venezuelans continue to suffer under a devastated economy and political misrule, and they are looking to world superpowers for help. Millennials are fleeing to ports such as Miami to secure stability. Earlier this year, Venezuelans became the top nationality seeking asylum in the US, with three thousand applicants sent in each month. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government has granted indigenous lands to China and Russia, forcing native peoples off their homesteads. The scattering of all Venezuelans presents a unique opportunity for those who welcome them.

Natural disasters pummel Central America

Central and Latin America couldn’t catch a break this summer as multiple hurricanes and a devastating earthquake leveled islands and major cities. First, Hurricanes Irma and Maria leveled many islands in the Caribbean and claimed an estimated 627 lives. Half of all Puerto Ricans on the island were still without power two months after the hurricane. Shortly after, central Mexico was shaken by a 7.1 earthquake that claimed over 350 lives. The epicenter was one hundred miles away from Mexico City, one of the world’s most populous regions. Support from the international community poured in, including from Turkey, Israel, and Japan.

Stories from Europe

Catalonia tries to break up with Spain

Catalans—residents of Spain with their own language and culture—have long fought for independence from a country they say isn’t theirs and inhibits their culture. It seemed they officially broke free in October after Catalan political leaders and supporters publicly announced their separation. Protests and violence ensued, and the Catalan politicians were driven from Spain. Although the dust has somewhat settled, the self-proclaimed, free Catalonia is experiencing the fallout from their decision, including the relocation of 2,700 businesses away from the region and a block from EU membership.

Paris edges out Los Angeles for Summer Olympics 2024

After losing three consecutive bids to host the Olympics, Paris secured a win for the summer games of 2024. Most in Paris are thrilled with the decision and believe it will bring jobs and ecologically conscious development to the city. Many also hope the 2024 games will bring positive publicity to Paris after a string of terror attacks have left tourists and locals fearful of ISIS’s influence in the city. More than half a million athletes and visitors visited Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 games, putting people from more than two hundred countries in the same place at the same time.

Stories from Central Asia

Turkey is feeling the pains of brain drain

Turkey’s political divide continues to pit the religiously conservative against the religiously nominal or secular as the country grapples with how to balance government and religion. As unrest intensifies, Turkey’s brightest professionals, students, and those with financial means are looking for freedom elsewhere. Their exodus has caused a vacuum in professional services such as medicine, law, and education. The US will likely see very few of these immigrants due to the two governments’ current visa ban.

The world’s largest minority group lobbies for their own country

Nearly twenty-five million Kurds are sprawled across five countries in the Middle East and Central Asia. Since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s, they’ve been subject to what they consider foreign rule after Turkey, Iraq, and Iran denied them an independent Kurdistan. Despite a recent referendum in which Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence, they continue to face challenges. Iraq’s central government, as well as surrounding countries that also have large Kurdish populations, responded to the referendum by closing the region to international flights and building up military forces on their shared borders.

Stories from North Africa and the Middle East

Women get the green light to drive

In a decision lauded worldwide, Saudi Arabia lifted the longstanding ban on women driving vehicles. The country is an absolute monarchy ruled by Shariah law, and officials previously prevented women from driving, arguing it was inappropriate, would lead to promiscuity, or may lead to confusing gender norms. Saudi rulers ended the ban in hopes of boosting the country’s economy and modernity. Those who oppose fear the latter and believe it will lead to impropriety, danger to lone females, or an inappropriate shift in gender roles.

The world’s worse humanitarian crisis carries on

War, ISIS, refugees—a lot of real tragedies in the Middle East consume the news cycle. Perhaps that’s why the ongoing war and epidemics ravaging Yemen have gone widely unnoticed. A once wealthy country, Yemen has been plunged into chaos following a rebel overthrow in 2014, the following military response, and the spread of cholera and other diseases due to sanitation infrastructures damaged in the war. The situation is so dire that many are saying it is worse than the current crisis in Syria.

Stories in Sub-Saharan Africa

TED visits Tanzania

Worldwide leaders in tech, entertainment, and design set their eyes on Tanzania for TEDGlobal, a sister conference of the TED organization. It had been nearly a decade since TEDGlobal was hosted by an African nation. In true TED fashion, presenters cast vision for global cooperation in the arts, social issues, and technological development. The selection of Tanzania to host the event is momentous for African business, political, and social leaders who want the world to know one thing: Africa is open for business.

Kenya wasn’t sure who was president

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first president, appeared to win a second term in August before his main opponent filed a challenge due to suspected voter fraud. Chaos erupted as people razed and burned businesses and clashed with police. The Supreme Court issued an order for a second vote, and Kenyatta won with 98 percent of the vote and 38 percent voter turnout. The ordeal has fractured trust in the country’s democracy and instigated a lingering sense of instability.

Thirteen million Africans are in limbo

Armed conflicts, unstable governments, and natural disasters have caused millions of Africans to leave their homes in search of safety and stability. They’ll likely not find it. These internally displaced people (IDPs) leave calamities in their villages—think Boko Haram or ethnic violence in South Sudan—only to live in a lurch of nonpermanent housing, education, or health care. While the Red Cross and the African Union are working to address issues that keep African countries from providing aid, Christians are working alongside Africans and aid organizations to meet present and eternal needs.

Stories from South Asia

Conversion is criminalized

Nepali parliament passed a bill in August criminalizing religious conversion. The bill prohibits anything that may hurt “religious sentiment.” It’s fairly vague what actions qualify as hurting religious sentiment, but many see similarities between this law and Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws that criminalize insulting (or simply disagreeing with) another’s religion. Nepalese opposed to the law also fear it’s a veiled attempt to discriminate against religious minorities, who are in many cases Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims.

Toilets became a political and social hot topic

When Bollywood—India’s Hollywood—released a movie about toilets, the box office boomed. The premise addresses the issue of open defecation, which may just seem gross, but it’s a reality that leads to violence against women and bad hygiene among India’s poor. Women, in particular, vocalized their support for the film and their hope for continued progress in the government’s campaign to provide clean, free toilets across the country by 2019. Although critics labeled the film as government propaganda, others don’t care either way if it becomes a catalyst for the respect and safety of women.

Stories from Southeast Asia

Thailand concludes a year of mourning

When Thailand’s king died last year, the country initiated a year of mourning to grieve his passing. Thais highly revere their monarch, placing photos of the royal family above all other images in their home and business. More than ten million Thais visited the king’s remains before he was officially laid to rest in late October. Thais spent the past year wearing monotone colors to express their sorrow, but now they return to donning colors considered to be lucky, containing power, or exuding good traits.

ISIS couldn’t keep the Philippines

ISIS proved their reach goes beyond the Middle East when they laid siege to the city of Marawi in the Philippines in May. But after more than one thousand deaths and billions of dollars of damage to the city, the Philippine armed forces pushed back militants, retook Marawi, and claimed they “defeated terrorism” in the Philippines. However, small pockets of ISIS fighters remain, which has led some to form the Christian militia to continue pushing back the threat of terror.

Stories from East Asia

South Korea wants Muslim tourists

Although South Korea’s Muslim population is by far the minority, the country is going to great lengths to develop businesses and infrastructure to welcome the world’s Muslims. This focus comes after tourism is up by 33 percent for Muslims, with 1.2 million Muslim visitors expected by the end of 2017. Restaurant owners in South Korea are seeking halal certification to accommodate Muslims’ dietary restrictions, and tourist sites are working to add prayer rooms. This comes as South Korea’s younger generations express dissatisfaction with religion and adopt more secular lifestyles.

Pollution poses a serious health problem

Global cities with sizable populations have, for the most part, recognized the need to curb carbon emissions. China launched a “war against pollution” nearly four years ago to campaign against practices that burn fossil fuels or release chemicals into the air. However, pollution levels in cities like Shanghai pose dangerous health risks for people exposed to the toxic air. Researchers attribute the pollution to twelve thousand premature deaths per year since 2014.

Rachel Cohen is a media specialist for IMB and a content editor for imb.org. She lives with her husband and daughter in South Asia.