Bola Tinubu, the 16th president of Nigeria, has “absolute” faith in God.
“I know that his hand shall provide the needed moral strength and clarity of purpose,” he stated during his inaugural speech on Monday, “when we seem to have reached the limits of our human capacity.”
But what if the limits are self-imposed?
Tinubu, who infuriated many Christians by nominating a fellow Muslim as his running mate, became the West African nation’s first president to enter office with less than 50 percent of the vote. Despite record voter registration, only 29 percent of the electorate cast ballots. Tinubu, affiliated with the incumbent APC party, won 37 percent.
Atiku Abubakar of the opposition PDP party captured 29 percent, while the third-party surge of Peter Obi, a Christian, fell short with 25 percent. Neither candidate attended the inauguration, as they contest in court the validity of the electoral results.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), an umbrella grouping of the five main denominations, vociferously protested the Muslim-Muslim ticket, urging a vote for any other candidates. But with the nation roughly divided 50-50 along religious lines, results show that no candidate was able to marshal a conclusive sectarian advantage.
In breaking political protocol, Tinubu, two-term governor of the southwestern megacity of Lagos, stated the choice of Kashim Shettima as vice president simply reflected his personal competency. But most analysts linked it instead with the candidate’s northern origin.
Everyone jostled over this mostly Muslim bloc of votes.
Competition led the PDP to break regional political protocol in nominating a Fulani from the north, when outgoing APC president Muhammadu Buhari, also Fulani, per tradition should have been succeeded by a southerner. Obi also picked a northern Muslim as his presidential partner.
Tinubu, who helped secure Buhari’s victory eight years earlier, had long been acclaimed as a powerful political boss and kingmaker for others. Running for office himself, he declared at the start of his campaign: It’s my turn.
Yet despite alleged fraud and campaigns of voter intimidation, Tinubu lost APC electoral strongholds in the north to Abubakar, and his home city of Lagos to Obi. He enters office amid deep political division, worrying economic conditions, and a host of Christian leaders deeply wounded by his campaign.
“What he did shows no regard for Christians,” said Esther Ayandokun, rector of the Baptist College of Theology in the southern state of Oyo. “We are not happy, but there is nothing we can do.” She urged prayer, and…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on June 1, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Surveying the scene on a rainy day in Berlin, the Protestant gunman recognized his target. Living hidden under an assumed name in the Weimar Republic, the once-famous official exited his apartment, was shot in the neck, and fell in a pool of blood.
For many, the 1921 killing vindicated the blood of thousands.
Neither were Germans. Both would eventually be immortalized.
But the cloak-and-dagger story took another twist when a Berlin court ruled the assassin “not guilty.” The trial captivated the local press, brought a nation’s tragedy to the public eye, and set off a philosophical chain of events that eventually coined a new term and established an international convention meant to render unnecessary any similar future acts.
It was already too late.
Two decades after the trial, the Nazis murdered six million Jews. Hitler, preparing the Holocaust, is said to have justified it in reference to the already forgotten history of 1.5 million people killed by Germany’s then-ally in the fallout from World War I.
The gunman, Soghomon Tehlirian, was an Armenian. The official, Mehmed Talaat, was an Ottoman Turk. And the term created by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin—genocide—continues to haunt the world today.
But the chain of events has not concluded.
Nazi Germany, seeking Axis partners in World War II, repatriated Talaat’s remains to Turkey in 1943, where dozens of memorials and streets are named in his honor. Once the grand vizier of the Ottoman sultan, he is celebrated today as one of the leading “Young Turks” who forged the creation of the modern-day secular nationalist republic.
The descendants of his victims, scattered around the world, consider Talaat—known commonly as Talaat Pasha with his honorific title—the architect of the Armenian Genocide.
Tehlirian, who in prison pending trial was given a Bible by a local Protestant pastor, eventually settled in the United States. He is buried in Fresno, California, where his obelisk-shaped grave marker is adorned with a gold-plated eagle, slaying a snake.
And last month, more than a century after the trial, the city council of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, erected a memorial to honor 16 heroes of Operation Nemesis. Conducted between 1920–22, the campaign secretly authorized by the ruling party of the newly independent nation assassinated eight Turkish and Azerbaijani officials.
It was named after the Greek goddess of divine retribution.
Incorporating a fountain of flowing water, the memorial’s towering structure was built based on a petition from the Descendants of the Avengers of the Armenian Genocide. Tehlirian is at the center, beneath an empty space in the shape of a cross, directing one’s gaze upward to heaven.
Does heaven approve—now or then? “If I was at the planning meeting, I…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on May 30, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
If one pictures “radical Islam,” chances are the image resembles Osama bin Laden, Boko Haram in Nigeria, or the ISIS fighters of Iraq and Syria. And the connotation is that they are out to kill—or at least to turn the world into an Islamic caliphate.
They are known as Salafis: Muslims who bypass accrued tradition to imitate meticulously the example of Muhammad, his companions, and the first generation to follow them. After the death of the prophet in 632 A.D., the nascent faith’s collective zeal established a sharia-based global empire that did not end until the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Muslims who look like these jihadist images are found in every major American community.
Matthew Taylor counterintuitively argues that, at least in the United States, Salafis actually compare better with evangelicals—the religious group with the most unfavorable perception of Muslims in general.
Author of the forthcoming Scripture People: Salafi Muslims in Evangelical Christians’ America, Taylor argues that the Salafi impulse to return to the origins of Islam parallels the evangelical desire to imitate the early church. And both communities, as the title implies, center their approach on sacred text.
The question is: Do the two scriptures take them in radically different directions?
CT asked the Fuller Seminary graduate, now a mainline Protestant scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies in Baltimore, to address the common concern about Salafi extremism and to advise evangelicals on how to pursue a path of possible friendship:
What makes a Muslim a Salafi?
Salafism has very deep roots in the Muslim tradition, and the term Salaf refers to the first generations of Muslims. The idea is to get back to the original authentic practices and theology of Islam, before the tradition became corrupted or diluted.
The Salafi approach involves a direct approach to texts, a deep interest in the Hadith—a secondary scripture in Islam that includes the sayings and actions of Muhammad and the early Muslim community—and a downplaying of the traditional schools of jurisprudence. This is why many Salafis will analogize and call themselves “the Protestant Reformers of Islam.” They see their project as similar to what Martin Luther and John Calvin did in the 16th century.
Can you tell a Salafi simply by their appearance?
It is easier in non-US contexts. A beard is a strong signal that a man is an observant Muslim. And you’ll find Salafi discourse—based on specific hadiths—as very focused around the length of the beard as more than can be grasped in the hand. Traditionally, they adopt distinctive modes of clothing such as the thobe, a long, flowing robe with pants that come up just above the ankles.
Salafi women almost always wear the hijab and others the niqab, which covers the face. But after 9-11, the American security state had an intense focus on Salafis which prompted a process in which many integrated into the American Muslim mainstream, downplaying distinctive Salafi attire and even avoiding always expressly calling themselves Salafis.
How do they justify downplaying their distinctives? Salafis have a sophisticated understanding of the difference between…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on May 25, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
CT interviewed church planters in Barcelona, Beirut, Chennai, Hanoi, Melbourne, Quezon City, Recife, and Vienna about their respective city’s distinctive charms and challenges and how they are contextualizing the gospel there, all with this question in mind: To what extent has Keller’s approach to church planting influenced their ministry?
Marwan Aboul-Zelof in Beirut, Lebanon
Pastor of City Bible Church
The Reformed-Baptist church has a 70-strong congregation and holds services in English.
Sixty percent are locals and the rest of the congregation includes people from every continent.
Beirut is a beautiful and cosmopolitan city with an incredibly rich history. It’s much smaller than New York City, but has twice the population density. Tim Keller never visited the Middle East, although we had hoped that he would come. But he had a great impact on us through his writings, sermons, and social media posts.
Beirut, and our church, has gone through significant challenges in the past few years: revolution; the pandemic; economic and government collapse; and the 2020 explosion. Yet, the Lord remains faithful and gracious to us.
I remember being on a call with Tim, who talked about historical moves of God and how there was often a major crisis that served as a catalyst for those moments. He told me that Lebanon’s multiple major crises may develop greater openness to the gospel, acknowledged the difficulties I face as a church planter here, and encouraged me to remain faithful.
This article was originally published by Christianity Today on May 24, 2023. I contributed additional reporting. Please click here to read the full text.
For the last 25 years, the United States has promoted global fidelity to its First Amendment.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) into law, mandating yearly reports to detail the respect given to this fundamental right in every nation of the world.
Not every nation is pleased.
“We are sometimes asked,” stated Rashad Hussain, US ambassador at large for international religious freedom, “‘Who are you as the United States to speak to other countries about their human rights conditions?’”
Hussain, whose State Department position was also created by IRFA, replied to the rhetorical question during this week’s launch of the 2022 IRF report. Covering 199 countries—US allies and enemies alike—it prepares the ground for year-end designation of the worst offenders as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), with second-tier violators placed on a Special Watch List (SWL).
His two-fold answer began with US leadership grounded in its unique and foundational Bill of Rights. But he continued with immigration, evidencing preference for American rights in so many of the same 199 nations studied.
“People come to the United States from all around the world and demand that their elected representatives and government official promote our values in their homelands,” said Hussain. “In many ways we are representatives of the rest of the world, gathered here in the United States.” The report’s Appendix G provides…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on May 17, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Two Middle East nations share a city named Tripoli.
They share little else, apart from a Phoenician heritage and mutually near-unintelligible dialects of Arabic. One of their starkest contrasts concerns freedom of religion.
Libya sentenced six Christians to death earlier this month for converting from Islam. Lebanon, despite its sectarianism enshrined in politics, allows free movement between religions.
Libya’s Tripoli was commemorated in the official hymn of the US Marines in homage to American intervention on the shores of North Africa. Lebanon’s was an outpost of an eastern Mediterranean–focused American missionary movement that transformed society through gender-inclusive education.
The Italians colonized Libya; the French, Lebanon. Elsewhere, the Middle East is marked by British influence, Ottoman traditions, petrodollar economies, democratic structures, multicultural kingdoms, autocratic republics, and everything in between.
What unites them all is the preponderance of Islam.
But among the followers of Muhammad there is also difference. Some nations are secular; others enforce sharia. Some protect Christian minorities; others discriminate against them. It is difficult to offer a sweeping synopsis—or uniform lessons learned by local Christians.
Yet CT asked four Arab Christian leaders with deep roots in the region to make an attempt. Two currently live abroad; two live in their nation of origin. Yet each represents a space on the spectrum of strategies on how to best live as a Christian in a Muslim society.
One articulation of the spectrum, crafted by theologian Martin Accad, arranges common Christian responses into five categories: syncretistic (the blurring of faiths), existential (the dialogue of diversity), kerygmatic (the preaching of the apostles), apologetic (the defense of the gospel), and polemical (the interrogation of Islam).
The leaders engaged below were not asked to sort themselves accordingly, nor does this landscape article seek to label them. But each was asked the following question:
Whether in a context of oppression or embrace, how should believers in Jesus witness to their faith, keep social peace, and maintain unity with fellow Christians?
Martin Accad / Najib Awad / Harun Ibrahim / Barshar Warda
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on May 17, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Hajj Atiya, an elderly Sudanese woman living in Khartoum, was already ill.
And then the war started.
“The planes bombed from above, the bullets were flying below,” she said. “We stayed in our house, afraid, while all outside was boom, boom, boom.”
All she had in the house was flour, to bake bread. At least she had that.
Mariam, who came to Khartoum from the Nuba Mountains to get medicine, went several days without water. And then a bomb hit the neighboring building, which collapsed upon her own.
“Whenever the airplanes disappeared overhead, we ran outside in search of food,” she said. “But we had to hide behind buildings to avoid the gunfire, with corpses strewn on our right and left.”
An unnamed doorman had it still worse.
“For ten days we couldn’t leave our home,” he said. “The shops are closed, and soldiers are in the streets.”
Every Sudanese of means in his Kafouri neighborhood of Khartoum had left town at the first sign of violence, which began April 15. He and the other guards were left behind to protect the properties. But the building owner, when the doorman called to ask for money or help, hung up on him.
Mariam found someone willing to provide transport out of the capital. But she couldn’t afford the 50-cent fare. All she had was oil and soap.
Atiya had only one option left.
“I prayed to God: Save us,” she said. “God answered, and someone came to take us away.”
Somehow, each escaped with their families 85 miles southeast to Wad Madani. Atiya found a place to rest under a tree. Mariam spent the night on the street. But each now numbers among the 122 families staying in two local evangelical schools, with dozens more sleeping in the city’s churches.
“The war is ongoing, and the people keep coming,” said Edward Hussein, an evangelical pastor. “The situation is difficult, and it is only getting worse.”
Only scant support has come from abroad. But local believers donated funds, food, and beds from their own homes. Until now, every arriving family has been given an aid package that includes lentils, flour, sugar, oil, tea, and soap.
But for how long?
“If the situation continues, what can we do?” asked Habil Thomas, country director for Nigeria-based Calvary Ministries. “God is the only one who can intervene, as we pray for peace in Khartoum and all Sudan.”
So far, Wad Madani has been spared.
Located three hours from Khartoum along the banks of the Blue Nile, the capital of Gezira state governs an agricultural center once anticipated to become a new breadbasket of Africa. While development has stalled, the abundance of crops and relatively lower cost of living—coupled with employment opportunities on the farms—has drawn many here to safety.
“If the fighting doesn’t stop, it will be a humanitarian crisis,” said Ezekiel Kondo, Anglican archbishop of Sudan. “Nobody can help anyone else here, because all are helpless.” His residence in All Saints Cathedral was situated one block from…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on May 12, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, few European institutions have welcomed both Slavic foes. A rare example is found right on the border, in a nation that wonders if it might be next.
Estonia, the northernmost of three small former Soviet republics on the Baltic Sea, immediately rallied in support of Ukraine. Given that Russia’s aggression began on February 24—coinciding with Estonia’s date of independence, first proclaimed in 1918—some wondered if it was a deliberate message.
The initial blitzkrieg toward Kyiv reminded Estonians of the Soviet occupation of the 1940s. Politicians donned blue and yellow ribbons; military brass sent weapons and aid. Citizens, including the 1 in 4 with Russian ethnicity, reacted to the atrocities in horror.
But as many universities closed their doors to students from Russia and allied Belarus, one evangelical institution bucked the trend. Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary (BMTS)—fully united with the national stance condemning the war—insisted instead on the unity of Christ.
“We did not hang a Ukrainian flag, but held a joint prayer of lament,” said Külli Tõniste, BMTS president. “Preservation of community is more important than an outward show of patriotism.”
Founded in 1994 and accredited by the state, the Methodist seminary hosts students from neighboring Latvia, nearby Finland, the United States, Israel, Nigeria, and Ghana. But it was the caldron of Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians—43 percent of the student body—that could have proved to be a tinderbox.
Yet sensing confusion and insecurity among many, Tõniste—an Asbury Theological Seminary alumna with a PhD from the London School of Theology—assured all students that her door was open to hear their stories. The Ukrainian refugee from Mariupol. The Estonian whose grandfather was killed by the Soviets. And the Russian of mixed family with Ukrainians who doesn’t know what to believe.
“Once admitted,” she said, “our students are safe with us.”
One example is Philip Kharchenko, a first-year student from Russian ally Belarus. A physical education teacher back home, he was “shocked” at the invasion—as initially all his colleagues were as well. But as his school and nation rallied behind Moscow, he felt increasingly uncomfortable.
Having long felt called to ministry, he found a home in Estonia.
“I thought they wouldn’t let me in,” he said. “But I am glad to be here, surrounded by people studying the Bible—it opens up a whole new experience of God.”
He has made quick friends with Russians and Ukrainians alike, comparing similar words in each of their languages. And at the annual Christmas celebration—which raised $1,600 for sister seminaries under fire—he watched in admiration as other Russian and Belarusian students included a Ukrainian-language song among their multi-language holiday medley.
Then all joined in an African-led dance.
“In the non-Christian world, I see great separation between peoples,” said Kharchenko. “But at seminary, our borders just dissolve.”
Two months later, it took administrative resolve to ensure this.
Simultaneous translation into Estonian, Russian, and English permits not only a diverse student body but also a diverse faculty. But as the one-year anniversary of the war approached, a visiting professor from Moscow—over Zoom—began to talk politics. Among his complaints was…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on May 9, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
While longstanding offenders in Asia and the Middle East remain epicenters of persecution, Latin America and Europe occupy more space in an annual chronicle by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
For the first time, Cuba and Nicaragua are labeled Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), according to the independent watchdog. Its 2023 report also makes special mention of the religious rights of indigenous communities in Mexico, Chile, and Colombia. And France, Germany, and Ukraine are highlighted as examples where minority believers have suffered for their faith.
The report’s greatest emphasis, however, is monotonously familiar.
The commission recommends the US State Department relist Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as CPCs, in addition to Cuba and Nicaragua. Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam were recommended for additional designation.
Violations in these nations are “systematic, egregious, and ongoing.”
USCIRF chair Nury Turkel highlighted Iran in his opening remarks. The nation brutally represses its minority communities, he said, and this past year cracked down on protestors peacefully demonstrating against mandatory hijab laws.
Mahsa Amini, who died in custody, was the feature image of the 2023 report’s cover.
“USCIRF is disheartened by the deteriorating conditions for freedom of religion or belief in some countries,” said Turkel. “We strongly urge the Biden administration to implement USCIRF’s recommendations.” These include…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on May 2, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Sudan’s most Christian neighborhood is under attack.
Collateral damage amid severe clashes between the army and its previously partnered militia, churches in the Bahri district of the capital Khartoum and surrounding areas have witnessed the worst of the past three weeks of fighting.
The Evangelical Presbyterian church suffered a fire as munitions exploded in a nearby market. The Coptic Orthodox church was struck by a rocket. And All Saints Anglican Cathedral was occupied by militant forces.
Over 500 people have been killed, with more than 4,000 injured.
“The situation is very serious,” said Ismail Kanani, general secretary of the Sudanese Bible Society. “I am trapped in my house, without power and water.”
Prices for food and fuel are skyrocketing, electricity supply has been cut off in much of the capital, and hospitals have been looted and are barely operating. A three-day truce has been agreed—and violated—to allow civilian escape and embassy evacuations.
Almost all Christians have left the area, said Abdalrahim Musa, director of the Evangelical Cultural Center of the Khartoum Presbyterian church. An eyewitness to the carnage, like many other Christians he fled three hours south to Wad Madani, an area relatively distant from the conflict.
But in their absence, he hears reports of widespread looting of their properties.
They are not the only ones displaced. More than 100,000 people have fled Sudan, according to the United Nations, with an additional 334,000 displaced within the country.
Foreign governments have frantically sought to evacuate their citizens. Under cover of armed drones, the US organized a land convoy for 300 Americans and other nationalities to the Red Sea city of Port Sudan. From there, many board a boat to Saudi Arabia for relocation elsewhere.
It is more difficult for Sudanese—and sometimes exploitative. One family stated it was stuck at the Egyptian border, unable to pay the $40,000 fare demanded for crossing. While there is no collected list of Christian casualties, three family members of the guard at Musa’s center were shot in the head, presumably caught in the crossfire. Two children from his church were also killed, as was his…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on May 2, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Syria has been suffering for 12 years, plagued by civil war, jihadist violence, foreign occupation, and autocratic governance. Yet widening US economic sanctions have made it increasingly harder to help—until now.
A February waiver offers a 180-day window for earthquake relief.
“If God has put it on your heart to give to Syria, be generous,” said Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), also known as the Baptist Society. “Find trusted organizations, because it is not easy to get it to the right place.”
On March 10, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) joined the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Catholic charity Caritas to detail the “chilling effect” sanctions have on the ability of faith-based and other NGOs to transfer money and goods to struggling Syrians. Most banks have deemed such transactions too risky to facilitate.
Therefore, unlike in neighboring Turkey, the February 6 earthquake was not followed by an immediate outpouring of international aid. Despite a death toll of 6,000 and an estimated 500,000 more displaced amid the rubble, United States and European Union policy—and distrust of the Bashar al-Assad government—prevented most nations and international humanitarian organizations from rushing to the scene.
A false step could result in a $1 million fine and 20 years in prison.
US sanctions against Syria began in 1979 with a declaration that it was a state sponsor of terrorism, and tightened in 2004 for its undermining of the war in Iraq. In 2011, Syria’s repression of civil protest resulted in additional sanctions, subsequently strengthened throughout its civil war—especially after the use of chemical weapons in 2017.
Two years later, after a whistleblower smuggled out alleged evidence of the torture of civilians, the Caesar Act implemented secondary sanctions against anyone conducting business with the Syrian government.
Legislation permitted humanitarian exemptions for food and medicine, and in 2022 allowance was made for unfettered aid into regions outside of government control. Turkey and various rebel entities occupy territory in northwest Syria, while a US military base supports Kurdish forces administering large swaths of the northeast.
The United Nations designated a number of humanitarian aid corridors from Turkey, but Russia and China vetoed all but one—in protest of their ally’s dwindling sovereignty. Iran and Hezbollah have also backed Assad militarily, while Israel occupies the Golan Heights and regularly bombs the alleged transport of weapons near its frontier and before crossing into Lebanon.
Amid it all, Syria’s Christians help who they can.
Following the earthquake, Aleppo’s churches hosted hundreds of frantic neighbors fleeing their cracked and crumbling homes. But the WEA report, written prior to the tragedy, outlined how many faith-based organizations lacked the resources and legal expertise necessary to navigate the myriad regulations to apply for permitted exemptions. Costa said LSESD did not attempt it, relying instead on “existing channels” to get aid into Syria.
“Everything we do is transparent,” he said, “but not everything is advertised.”
Even large NGOs like Caritas have struggled. “It should be like math, one plus one equals two,” said Karam Abi Yazbeck, Caritas’s regional coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. “But I can’t make sense of…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today on April 3, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Scheduled to switch for daylight savings on March 26, the nation’s Sunni and Shiite political heads postponed it until the end of Ramadan to ease Muslim fasting.
Christian politicians ignored it and carried on with the international standard. Airlines stuck to the government decision, throwing schedules into confusion. Some schools adjusted, others refused, and parents juggled clocks to show up at work on time.
Not that there is much work these days. The government eventually relented.
But these decisions were taken while Lebanon has no president, no prime minister, and a fractured parliament. The economy is in free fall, emigration is soaring, and justice still escapes the victims of the 2020 Beirut port explosion.
It is the last place one would look for lessons on leadership.
While laughing at the absurdity of the four days, Mike Bassous believes differently. Author of Leadership … in Crisis, published last July, he says Lebanon is uniquely situated to assist an entire region regularly subject to chaos. Surrounded by dictatorships, there are not many traditional examples to choose from.
“For books on leadership, the Arabic library of the Middle East is empty,” Bassous said. “But Lebanon can absorb the best of Western principles and contextualize them for the East.”
Such is the goal of his book, combining personal experience, the professional corpus, and Christian reflection. And as general secretary of the Lebanon Bible Society, he is offering his insight to Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox friends around the region—starting in his home country.
Last year, 44 Lebanese leaders gathered in Cyprus for a retreat from the crisis in their country.
“We need this in our churches—from A to Z, we need it all,” said Linda Macktaby, principal of Blessed, a school in Beirut for special-needs children. “We teach the youth the Bible, but not how to lead.”
One of Bassous’ key principles is confrontation.
Serving at Blessed since 2010, Macktaby resolved to address the Arab assumptions about leadership head on. Contrary to the “typical manipulators” who avoid conflict, promising solutions while buying time amid acolytes reluctant to make any decisions, she instead empowers her staff. Each is given a “kingdom,” she called it, with authority to carry out assigned responsibilities.
And if she interferes, her staff is instructed to…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today on April 3, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Saudi Arabia stunned foreign policy observers this month by publicly agreeing to normalize relations with Iran, under Chinese sponsorship. The deal between the neighboring Sunni and Shia arch rivals, known for sectarian proxy fights, is expected to ease tensions within Islam.
Meanwhile, the kingdom has recently taken less publicized steps toward another religious normalization: public Christian faith.
In this case, Egypt is the supporting nation.
“Nine years ago, I was told, ‘Pray, but don’t publicize it,’” said Bishop Marcos of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church. “This time, Saudi Arabia is publicizing it themselves.”
On January 7, Marcos headlined a month-long pastoral visit by celebrating the eastern Christmas liturgy amid 3,000 Coptic Christians residing in the kingdom. Facilitated by the Egyptian embassy, additional services in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Khobar, and Dhahran were “held under the full sponsorship of the Saudi authorities.”
It was the first public Christmas celebration admitted by the Islamic nation, home to the pilgrimage sites of Mecca and Medina. Muslim traditions cite Muhammad as forbidding the existence of two religions in Arabia, though scholars differ as to the geographic scope.
But Marcos’ trip was not the first Christian worship permitted.
He began praying about visits to Saudi Arabia after being sent in 2012 to help solve a dispute between authorities and an Egyptian Christian migrant worker. Marcos estimates there are about 50,000 Copts in the kingdom, among 2.1 million Christians—mostly Filipino Catholics.
None have a church to worship in. Open Doors’ World Watch List ranks Saudi Arabia No. 13 among the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian today. Visiting Coptic clergy used to meet the faithful in neighboring Bahrain.
But when Marcos returned in 2014, he said he conducted liturgies for about 4,000 believers. Leaks covered by the Qatari news network Al Jazeera resulted in some attention, but the Saudis told him they were not troubled by it. Weeks-long pastoral trips continued annually, and in 2016 Saudi King Salman bin Abdel Aziz visited Coptic Pope Tawadros II in Egypt.
It was 2018 that led to further openness. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (known as MBS) visited the Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo in March, taking a famous photo with Tawadros in front of an icon of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He invited the Coptic pope to visit Saudi Arabia, while encouraging continuation of Marcos’ visits.
That December, the first liturgies were officially reported. Not everyone was pleased. Medhat Klada, spokesman for the European Union of Coptic Organizations…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on March 29, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
On an Advent Sunday in a small Protestant church in St. Petersburg, a Russian pastor nervously approached the pulpit. While his senior leadership was publicly neutral about the war, he was about to preach from the Sermon on the Mount against the invasion of Ukraine.
And in the pews before him was another potential land mine.
A congregant had been bringing along a childhood friend, who happened to be a Wagner Group mercenary. Wounded during combat for Russia’s private paramilitary company, the man was not there to spy. Yet while the pastor knew his close-knit congregation well, he could not predict the fallout from his message.
Relations remained good with the pastor’s mentor afterward, while the mercenary recovered and returned to the front lines. For now, the pastor has been left free to continue in ministry and—whether known to the intelligence services or not—in clandestine theological work against the war.
“Of course, we could go out and protest, but this would get you in jail,” he said, requesting anonymity. “For us, the most effective means are to work within your spheres of influence—and ours are very small.”
Over the course of the yearlong conflict, only a tiny minority of Russian Christian leaders have voiced complaint publicly. The response from authorities has been uneven: Minor church figures have been fined or jailed, while others continue to use their names on social media.
But no major denomination in Russia has condemned the war outright.
The St. Petersburg pastor, along with about 25 of his scattered multifaith colleagues, desired to confront their silence at the biblical source. Christianity Today spoke with three of them, on condition of anonymity, for insight into the antiwar movement.
The group released its declaration to “all Christians of Russia” in advance of Christmas.
“We are terrified by the fact that many church officials and theologians … are distorting the truth of the Holy Scriptures,” the Russian Christians stated via their Christians4Peace website and Telegram channel. “[But] we are convinced that participation in this war—on the side of the aggressor—is unacceptable for any Christian.”
The provided Russian and Ukrainian downloads of the declaration include an appendix with an extended theological treatise. Last summer, the pastor and a few like-minded friends began a study group on…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today on March 17, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
The stark warning was issued by Pinchas Goldschmidt, the former chief rabbi of Moscow, as 2022 came to a close. After 30 years in office, he left two weeks after the invasion of Ukraine and later revealed the Kremlin pressured him to support the war—“or else.”
A student of history, he fears Jews will again become scapegoats as the government tries to “redirect the anger and discontent of the masses.”
The resulting question: Where does God want them to go?
Goldschmidt, currently in Israel, has been joined by 41,813 Russian Jewish immigrants since the war began a year ago, according to recent data released by the Knesset. Another 90,000 arrived without immigrant status. Israel’s immigration minister stated 600,000 Russians are currently eligible.
But according to its 2010 census, Russia has only 156,000 Jews.
The discrepancy comes from the concept of aliyah—the Hebrew word for “ascent”—in which Israel grants automatic citizenship to anyone who has at least one Jewish grandparent and has not converted to another religion. A controversial coalition deal in the new government includes revising the Law of Return to ensure these olim (immigrants) qualify under religious law—and thus reduce intermarriage. Over 70 percent of last year’s war-induced immigrants are not considered Jewish per Orthodox law, stated the Aliyah and Integration minister.
In many cases, Messianic Jews have been disqualified, and their status is disputed. But last September, the seventh World Conference of Russian-Speaking Messianic Leaders overwhelmingly declared the return to Zion to be a “blessing.”
The only dispute was whether it is also a commandment.
Russian Jews are not the only aspirants. The Knesset stated 13,490 Ukrainian Jews have also immigrated to Israel, as “Operation Homecoming” opened 18 aid centers in Ukraine and neighboring countries. An additional 1,990 Jews immigrated from Belarus.
A 2020 study identified 43,000 Jews in Ukraine—making it one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities—though those eligible to make aliyah could be as high as 200,000.
Of these, about 1,000 have gone to Germany, where they doubled the local community.
“Aliyah is a certain type of coming home—to the land that belongs to us,” said Vladimir Pikman, executive director of Beit Sar Shalom. “But I don’t see a direct commandment to go to Israel.”
Centered in Berlin, his is the largest Messianic Jewish organization in Europe. Its Hebrew name translates to “House of the Prince of Peace,” and has been a refuge to Ukrainian Jew and Gentile alike, providing translation, logistical help, and trauma care counseling. Of the Jews, believers in Jesus included, they took…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on March 7, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
As the dust settled on the rubble of Turkish cities, citizens began asking hard questions. Why was the government response so slow, and why did so many buildings fall in the first place?
Some Christians have joined the chorus.
“During the earthquake, some serious mistakes were made,” said Melih Ekener, executive director of SAT-7 TURK, an inter-denominational satellite television ministry with offices in Istanbul. “But with the destruction of cities with large Christian populations, we are feeling more alone than ever.”
The mistakes came both before and after, he said. But the church paid a disproportionate price, as the ancient cities of Antakya, Iskenderun, and Diyarbakir collectively held the majority of Turkey’s Christians—about 1 percent of the overall population of 85 million.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to rebuild affected areas. And with a local death toll of over 40,000 and one million people displaced across a 10-province region roughly the size of Switzerland, any government would struggle, Ekener said.
But nodding his head at a long list of reported failures both before and after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake and 7.5-magnitude aftershock, Ekener said trust in official institutions has been shaken.
The results are tragic.
Not all can be blamed on the government. The earthquake damaged the local airport and road systems, bottlenecking equipment necessary for rescue. Freezing temperatures, lack of electricity, and the sheer scale of devastation handicapped relief efforts.
But three or more days were lost due to poor coordination in the centralizing of effort.
“The system makes sense,” said Ekener. “But it does slow things down.”
One Turkish Christian, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, was blunt, warning there will be consequences for mistakes.
“Earthquakes don’t kill people; the shoddy works of men do,” said the senior ministry leader. “The government failed this test, and many who could have been saved died.”
Elections are scheduled for June but may be postponed.
Analysts remarked that after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in 1999 killed 18,000 people in northwest Turkey, the army acted quickly to lead the emergency response. But given the nation’s long history of military coups, when the Islamist-tinged Justice and Development Party (AKP) of now-president Erdogan came to power in 2002 it established civilian control over the largely independent brass.
As an unintended consequence, the military, like everyone else, had to wait on the official Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). And AFAD, critics remarked, is headed by a graduate of an Islamic seminary with no experience in the field.
“For years, the AKP has packed almost every institution in the country with their staunch loyalists, often purging people with real know-how and expertise,” said Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity and an expert in Islam and public policy. “The result has been a huge loss of quality and competence.”
Following a 2016 coup attempt, the government removed tens of thousands of civil servants, many connected to a rival Islamic movement accused of conspiracy. Other civil society organizations have also been suppressed, and Akyol said an effective, national effort against disasters is impossible in a climate of suspicion against domestic enemies.
Drawing no connection, an AFAD internal report described deficiencies in personnel and earthquake preparedness. It still consisted of more than 10,000 employees.
Erdogan acknowledged “shortcomings” in the earthquake response, pledging to care for every affected citizen. But he also blamed “dishonorable people” for spreading lies and rumors against the government.
Ekener said that after delays, overall coordination has been smooth.
But while the “after” errors have been tragic, critics point to a criminal “before.”
This article was originally published at Christianity Today on February 23, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
An unnamed Turkish man dug through the rubble. The stench from rotting corpses filled his nostrils; the cries from trapped survivors pierced his ears. Finally, he located a little girl he could help, removed the surrounding debris, and gently pulled her from the clutches of death.
And social media cursed him.
The man filmed the whole episode on Facebook Live. And contrary to his expectations, comments of derision poured in from across the country. While his religion is unstated, Turkish Christians warned of similar earthquake exploitation from their brothers and sisters in faith.
When Bibles were distributed in Kahramanmaras, between the epicenters of the 7.8- and 7.5-magnitude quakes that killed 47,000 people along the Turkey-Syria border, local authorities responded by saying they did not want help from the church.
“This is not the way of Jesus; it is opportunistic, and doesn’t work,” said Ilyas Uyar, an elder in the Protestant Church Foundation of Diyarbakir. “We say we are Christians all the time, but it is disgusting to connect this to aid.”
The Protestant Association of Turkey (TeK) has been hard at work to establish guidelines. Last week, after expressing a “debt of gratitude” to all who have prayed and given to support relief efforts, it issued six directives.
Alongside the prohibition of Bibles and evangelistic materials was a basic request to work with the local church to navigate Turkish sensitivities. These included basic requests to coordinate aid, as well as the avoidance of political commentary and unauthorized photos.
But permission is not the only issue. A Christian group from Italy came to Diyarbakir to offer help, Uyar said. They filmed and took pictures and then asked for church assistance to move onward to Kahramanmaras.
Perhaps they will return home and help raise funds. But to spare overburdened local volunteers from playing tour guide, TeK suggested three hubs for communication and collection of donations.
The first is an organization.
First Hope Association (FHA), a disaster relief agency founded by Turkish Protestants, has long cooperated closely with the official authorities. Over 10 tractor trailers have been dispatched to deliver 55 generators, 150 beds, 200 heaters, 3,000 blankets, and 12,000 cans of food.
Over 4,000 people benefit daily from FHA hygiene trucks.
But echoing TeK concerns about Bibles, FHA board chairman Demokan Kileci described his anger at how many Christian organizations are fundraising off the disaster.
Others, he lamented, are well-intentioned humanitarian tourists.
“They fly over a group of 20 people, stay in hotels, and rent cars and to come to the area,” he said. “Meanwhile, our people can’t even find places to sleep.”
Turkey is not backwards, he continued, as it works according to European standards with professionally trained experts. And the church has started to supply psychological support for its many volunteers.
Trauma care workers and programs for children can wait for a month.
Even so, the job is too large for Turkey alone. FHA was designated by the government to facilitate the assistance of Samaritan’s Purse, which has set up a virtual mini-city with 22 tents, a 52-bed field hospital, and a rotating crew of about 100 international disaster relief specialists.
“We offered our help, and they immediately took it,” said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the evangelical aid association. “We are open about our Christian faith, but did not come to distribute shoe boxes.”
Operation Christmas Child, the popular holiday outreach which has sent 209 million gift boxes around the world, has direct evangelistic and discipleship purposes. But in Turkey, Samaritan’s Purse is focused on the immediate need to save life, Graham said. Working through the US embassy, he praised the Turkish military for helicopter delivery to the parking lot of a collapsed hospital facility outside Antakya.
The local medical profession is devastated, he added.
A week after the quake, Samaritan’s Purse chartered a 747-sized airplane to deliver 600 oversized tents that can shelter up to 1,000 families. More than 900 have received medical care, including 25 surgeries. Graham expects Samaritan’s Purse to be present for up to four months, replenishing supplies every 10 days, and will leave everything behind when Turkey is able to assume local care.
Until then, its staff lament the fires lit in the streets to help people stay warm.
“You look at great suffering, but don’t get paralyzed,” stated Aaron Ashoff, deputy director of international projects, who takes strength from the psalms. “You need to walk into that pain, and then walk out, and say, ‘We’re Samaritan’s Purse, we are going to act.’”
So have the other two TeK hubs. Many churches and organizations are helping in relief, TeK board member Soner Turfan said. But the sister churches in Diyarbakir and Antakya were identified due to…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today on February 22, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Christian leaders in Nigeria are convinced: The outcome of Saturday’s election is crucial.
Against a backdrop of widespread insecurity, persecution, and corruption, on February 25 a record 93 million registered voters will decide the presidency of Africa’s most populous nation. And for the first time since the restoration of democracy in 1999, no candidate has a military background.
One contender is a Christian.
Christianity Today interviewed seven Nigerian Christian leaders, and five directly declared support for their fellow believer, Peter Obi. None indicated any other candidate. And of the 18 candidates seeking office, Obi is one of only three projected to have a realistic chance.
But with no clear frontrunner, Nigeria may face another presidential first—a runoff election. In a nod to the nation’s ethnic diversity, a first-round winner must claim 50 percent of the overall tally as well as at least 25 percent of votes in 24 of 36 regional states.
The West African nation of about 220 million—nicknamed the Giant of Africa—contains roughly 370 ethnic groups, speaking 520 languages.
Each leading candidate represents one of the three largest groups. Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is a Fulani Muslim from Nigeria’s north. So is outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari, who at age 80 is completing his second of two constitutionally limited four-year terms.
Bola Tinubu, a Yoruba Muslim from the southwest, represents Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC). The incumbent party won elections for the first time in 2015 when Tinubu, the former Lagos governor, offered his considerable political heft. He now openly proclaims it’s “his turn” for the presidency.
The PDP and APC are traditionally Nigeria’s two strongest parties.
The third candidate is Obi, an Igbo Christian from the southeast. A political free agent formerly with the PDP, the Catholic politician joined the then-minor Labour party last May just prior to the primaries. Now he is riding a wave of youth-led popularity, with many seeing in him an alternative to an aging political class.
Beyond the ethnic, regional, and political aspects to the race, there is also the religious: Nigeria is roughly divided 50–50 between Christians and Muslims. All these factors contribute to making this year’s contest far different than the norm. And unwritten rules that in the past attempted to ensure social cohesion have been discarded.
The presidency is understood to rotate geographically between the majority-Muslim north and majority-Christian south. But this election the PDP decided instead to stick with five-time failed candidate Abubakar, perhaps in part to seize the traditionally unified voting bank of northern Fulani peoples that helped bring Buhari to power.
More painful to Christians is the failure of the APC to nominate a split religious ticket. In choosing Tinubu as a southern Muslim, the party feared losing the northern vote and assigned a northern Muslim as his running mate. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)—which represents Protestant, Pentecostal, Catholic, and independent churches—pledged to oppose the Muslim-Muslim ticket, outraged at the breach of religious-political protocol.
Rather than submit to political machinery, Obi struck out on his own. Beside disrupting what had been an emerging two-party system, he also represents the political ambitions of the Igbo.
Following a series of military coups in the 1960s, many Igbo were driven from their homes in northern Nigeria. And in fleeing to their heartland in the southeast, some pronounced the creation of an independent republic. The resulting civil war from 1967–1970 killed thousands; some say the election of an Igbo president would represent a moment of national healing.
The government has made strides to ensure a transparent voting process this year by instituting biometric safeguards on voter identity. But at least 23 officials are being investigated for alleged roles in illegal registration, as authorities scrubbed 2.7 million names from the list.
Additionally, past elections have been impacted by violence and many fear repetition. There have been more than 125 attacks on federal election offices, with 280 polling stations closed in insecure areas. Already one senate candidate has been assassinated, a Labour politician in the Igbo-majority southeast state of Enugu.
Meet the Candidates
Obi’s campaign does not focus on ethnicity but on competence and youth. At age 61 he is the youngest of the main candidates, and his supporters label themselves “Obidients” in reference to the social movement that has rallied around him outside of traditional political structures. Both as a businessman and as former governor of the southeastern Anambra state, the philosophy graduate earned a reputation for thrift and left behind a budget surplus while investing in education and paying salaries on time.
His critics point to his name being mentioned in the offshore accounts investigation known as the Pandora Papers—though Obi was never charged—and a likely inability to govern smoothly if victorious, since he lacks a political base in the halls of government. The Labour party has only two representatives in the House, one in the Senate, and zero governors in the states. To assist in the north, he has chosen a Muslim vice president from the northern Kaduna state.
At age 70, Tinubu also promotes his competency and justifies his Muslim vice presidential choice by saying it reflects the principle that religion should not be a factor in politics. With a Christian wife ordained in a leading Pentecostal denomination, Tinubu downplays any fears of sectarianism. Once exiled for his pro-democracy activism among those who helped lead Nigeria away from military rule, he is credited with generating growth as governor of Lagos, the economic capital, and aims to replicate this success on the national stage.
His critics say that despite increased revenues, Lagos lagged in infrastructure development while political patronage distributed the spoils. Twice cleared on corruption charges, Tinubu was also named in a US Justice Department report about heroin trafficking, though he settled via fine without an establishment of guilt.
At age 76, Abubakar is relying on his long political history while campaigning on a platform of reuniting a divided country—noted by his Christian vice presidential partner from the southern Delta state. An oil sector businessman and former vice president under Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian who served as president from 1999–2007, Abubakar led that administration’s economic team and instituted a series of successful reforms. Charitable, he established the American University in his northern Adamawa state, which offered scholarships to some of the Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram jihadists.
His critics say it will be difficult for Abubakar to unite a nation when his controversial geographic candidacy divided his own party. Also accused of cronyism, he is named in a US Senate report for transferring “suspect funds” but faced no trial, while accusations have never been proven in Nigeria. And many Christians are concerned that in transferring power from one Fulani to another, Muslims will continue to dominate the nation’s top offices. Husband to four wives and 28 children, Abubakar controversially deleted a tweet condemning the mob murder of a Christian university student accused of blaspheming Islam.
“My vote is for Peter Obi,” said Emiola Nihinlola, president of the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary (NBTS) in southwest Nigeria, citing Obi’s performance as governor. “There are good reasons to fear that a Muslim-Muslim presidency will lead to greater discrimination of Christians.” “My preference for president is…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today on February 24, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Radio first brought Nolla Azar fame. Then it brought her Jesus.
Today she uses it to bring others to him, via a new ministry.
“I know how to get women’s attention,” said the host of Listening to You, an afternoon talk show on Lebanon’s BeLight FM. “I use the same methods here, but for a higher purpose.”
Once working with Dubai-based MBC, one of the largest media companies in the Middle East, Azar returned to Lebanon in 2009 after desiring the warmth of home. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities she found in the local industry, she turned instead to social media and became a celebrated influencer.
Doing a podcast for women, she accumulated 275,000 followers on TikTok, boasting 17 million views. Still, she felt empty, complaining often to her mother about dissatisfaction with her finances, career, and love life.
In 2021, COVID-19 isolation sparked a spiritual search. Maronite Catholic by background, she read books about God, watched religious TV, stumbled upon a new and unheralded radio station, and gave her life to Christ.
Today, she is one of its top-rated hosts.
“When I first came [to BeLight], it was hard to balance between entertaining people and being ‘Christian,’” said Azar. “But it is God who brought me here, and when lifting people’s spirits, I redirect them to Jesus.”
She has contributed to the increasing professionalism among a motley crew that is quickly growing in popularity. BeLight began on Thanksgiving Day 2020 as an initiative of Arabs determined to launch a Protestant-led FM station in Lebanon. Many had backgrounds in TV production, but none in radio.
It began with 90-percent worship music, culled from English-language favorites and the mostly Egyptian-composed praise songs popular in Arab evangelical churches. Over time, BeLight increased its spoken content to almost 50 percent, at first through sermon recordings of Lebanese pastors and eventually developing its own unique programming.
And it has won itself an audience. According to an Ipsos advertising survey from last April, it now reaches 300,000 Lebanese, reeling from economic crisis and political turmoil. Its 7.5 percent market share trails the top-ranked pop music stations (which average 11 percent each), but puts it ahead of longstanding Catholic and Muslim offerings.
“We are trying our best,” said Mireille Eid, host of BeLight’s first talk show, Thought for Tomorrow, broadcasting five mornings per week. “People are happy listening to a message of hope, not just all bad news.”
She has grown with the job. With a sonorous voice but no radio training, Eid’s background was in theater and interior design. But her infectious style and transparent nature invites many to call in—requesting prayer or sharing their stories.
Lebanon boasts 18 official religious sects, with BeLight listeners hailing from many. “Good morning, you beautiful hearts who live in the hope that everything will be more beautiful,” said Sarah, from the Lebanese…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on February 8, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Local Christians were among the first responders to the massive earthquake in Turkey and Syria that left more than 5,000 people dead and more than 20,000 injured. They just don’t know how to make sense of it.
“God have mercy on us, Christ have mercy,” said Gokhan Talas, founder of the evangelical Miras Publishing Ministry in Istanbul. “This is our only spiritual reflection right now.”
His first instinct was to go. But as reports came in of deep snowfall and damaged roads, he shifted gears. His wife stayed up all night making phone calls to believers in Malatya, trying to coordinate aid. And with members of his church and Protestant congregations throughout Turkey, they bought blankets, medicines, baby formula, and diapers to send onward to the afflicted areas.
“From this side of eternity, nothing is clear,” Talas said. “But our sweet Lord is suffering with us.”
He warned of scams preying on the outpouring of generosity from around the world, even among the small Turkish evangelical community of roughly 10,000 believers.
Their own supplies are being donated through İlk Umut Derneği—in English, First Hope Association (FHA), a Turkish Protestant NGO working closely with the local Red Crescent and AFAD, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority.
Officials said more than 5,000 buildings have been destroyed by the 7.8 magnitude quake. More than 13,000 search and rescue personnel have been deployed, supplying 41,000 tents, 100,000 beds, and 300,000 blankets. Almost 8,000 people have been rescued so far.
This includes pastor Mehmet and his wife Deniz in Malatya, longtime friends of Talas, who spent half the day freezing under the rubble until neighbors succeeded in pulling them out.
Founded in 2014 to assist the refugee flood from Syria, FHA works “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the Association of Protestant Churches, said Demokan Kileci, chairman of the FHA board.
Conveying the first batches of aid in a solid 4×4 vehicle, it took him 14 hours—double the standard time—to drive 440 miles southeast from his home in Turkey’s capital Ankara to Gaziantep, a scant 20 miles south of the epicenter.
One of FHA’s five mobile hygiene units—and a mobile bakery—stayed there. Another two were dispatched to Antakya, the ancient biblical Antioch, and a fourth sent to Kahramanmaras, site of a 7.5 magnitude aftershock.
The fifth went to Diyarbakir, another 200 miles east. Overall, 10 Turkish cities suffered devastation. With Syrian cities included, the distance covered is greater than an imagined epicenter in New York City destroying the eastern seaboard from Boston to Washington, DC.
“We are doing whatever we can to help our country,” said Kileci. “And right now, prayer is the most important.”
Multiple houses of prayer have been badly damaged. The list is long. In Turkey, it includes…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today on February 7, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.