Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Libya advances on freedom

Libya (MNN) ― Now that rebels have stormed Tripoli, there are growing rumors hinting that Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi could flee to Venezuela or Cuba.

In the meantime, the European Union welcomed the advance and called for Gaddafi to step down. Whether or not the state of Libya will remain the same over the next 72 hours is yet to be seen.

What makes this advance particularly significant in the six months of civil war is the absence of key leaders who defected over the last few weeks, leaving Gaddafi increasingly isolated. Could another assault force a reset of the conflict? That's unknown.

However, says Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs, change is likely to favor those seeking freedom, specifically, the Christians. Libya is ranked 25th on the Open Doors World Watch List, a spot earned because "there was heavy persecution, particularly of Muslim converts. There were some churches in the city of Tripoli that were allowed to be open, allowed to operate, but primarily they dealt with foreigners."

Libya adheres to Islamic law, and all citizens are Sunni Muslims "by definition." Conversion to Christianity is forbidden, and there are few native Libyan believers. Nettleton explains that "where you run into persecution is where a Muslim changes [his or her] faith and comes to Jesus Christ. Those are the people who face really heavy persecution."

The National Transitional Council is urging Libya to start an "all-inclusive" dialogue leading to democratic elections.

Watchdog groups warn that the transition could bring more violence with it. Nettleton says, "There's just a lot of questions at this point, and we need to pray that Christians will be protected, that whoever ends up in government authority will provide protection, will recognize the rights of minority groups like Christians."
Currently, most Libyan Christians are forced to believe in secret and are afraid to meet with other believers. Small

Christian communities do exist, mostly consisting of sub-Saharan migrants and Western expatriate workers. They've remained active throughout the longest periods of oppression. Nettleton says because of this, "In some cases, Bibles have been able to be delivered into Libya because of some of the upheaval. Maybe the border is not being as tightly monitored as in previous years. "

That's nothing new. With Gaddafi's strict control of the country, evangelism has been difficult and any Christian literature that got into the country was smuggled in. At the crossroad of change, could there be more freedom? Nettleton indicates it's too early to know yet, but "we can pray about that as well, that Scriptures will go in and that Christian work can fill some of the voids."

Given the significance of the persecution and harassment in Libya, just 3% of the population is believers.  That begs the question: Is Libya home to a remnant church? Nettleton replies, "There is a vibrant group of believers that are there, that are sharing the Gospel. So while I would say a 'remnant' is a fair description, don't be confused into thinking that there aren't really bold, on-fire believers there, because there absolutely are."

As Libya looks forward to a new beginning, Christians are encouraged to "pray first, pray second, and pray third. I think at this point, because there's so much upheaval, I think prayer really is the frontline of the spiritual battle for the nation of Libya."

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