As we gather and, rightly, celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this Christmas, we should remember the parts of the world where there will be little peace and good will. There are conflicts raging both in full view of the Western media and those which are much less well-known. Our fellow Christians in many countries find themselves in places where it’s difficult to be a believer, and these countries won’t allow their citizens to worship freely this Christmas.
When South Sudan became the newest country in the world in 2011 there was much optimism. Since the country descended into civil war in 2013, that optimism has been replaced with heavy hearts.
A political dispute between the President and Vice President erupted into violence on the streets. With over a quarter of a million people now killed in the conflict, you’d think the country would be a focus of the world’s attention, but the story rarely makes the headlines.
The future looks bleak for South Sudan after a period of relative calm was brought to an end earlier this year with renewed fighting and bloodshed.
Hopes were high that Burma would enter a period of progress and increasing freedom when long-term political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2010 and the Burmese military junta was officially dissolved.
However, the transition to a more open form of government has not been without significant problems. Aung San Suu Kyi herself has been criticized for failing to speak out against persecution faced by the Rohingya minority. In addition, violence against Christians is said to be on the rise according to Open Doors.
Our thoughts turn at this time of year to Bethlehem. The West Bank town is home to a decreasing number of Christians, as the Israel/Palestine conflict rumbles on.
Although both sides (and the Obama administration) have made the right statements about seeking peace, a two-state solution seems further off than ever.
None of the major stumbling blocks to a deal (Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the future of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem) show any sign of being resolved.
The ongoing political and social turmoil in Venezuela seems to be reaching crisis proportions. The BBC reports that for ordinary Venezuelans, “salaries are losing value by the minute, and… [they] have to queue for hours to buy basic foodstuffs that they can scarcely afford.” The Venezuelan government has blamed US interference for its economic problems while critics of the Maduro administration blame government policy.
The Independent says, “Venezuelan parents are giving up their children to survive as the South American country’s suffers with a catastrophic economic crisis.” Another stark picture comes from a Reuters report which says, “Women from Venezuela are crossing the border in droves and selling their hair in a Colombian border town in order to afford scarce basic necessities such as food.”
So, as we gather around the Christmas meal table, we should remember these places. We should pray for churches which minister in these countries with varying degrees of freedom. Most of all we should pray for the swift realization of the angels’ proclamation to the Shepherd’s near Bethlehem… “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
The small Gulf state of Yemen has been in turmoil since an uprising began there in 2011. In the last two years, violence has intensified and external influences have poured fuel onto the conflict.
The scale of devastation in Yemen has led to the Disasters Emergency Committee launching an appeal to prevent the worst of the impact – chronic food shortages and a lack of medical supplies.