Reports of political and social unrest breaking out in multiple nations have stirred Christian leaders to call for prayer for local believers and ongoing ministry efforts. Countries among some of those impacted by the latest rounds of violence, rioting and protests in recent days are in Africa, the Caribbean and South America.
Meanwhile, Southern Baptist leaders are reaching out to ministry partners, looking for ways they can best respond to the crises.
Nigeria faces “an unprecedented wave of different but overlapping security crises – from kidnapping to extremist insurgencies,” the BBC reported, noting “almost every corner of the country has been hit by violence and crime.”
Over the weekend, there was some good news. On July 25, the Associated Press reported that armed kidnappers released 28 of the more than 120 students who were abducted at the beginning of July from the Bethel Baptist High School in the northern town of Damishi.
Church officials handed those children over to their parents at the school on Sunday. But the Rev. Israel Akanji, president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, said more than 80 other children are still being held by the gunmen.
So far 34 children kidnapped from the school on July 5 have either been released or have escaped from the custody of the gunmen, AP reported. It is unclear when the other children will be released. The gunmen have reportedly demanded 500,000 Naira (about $1,200) for each student.
Akanji said the church did not pay any ransoms because it is opposed to paying criminals, but he added the church was unable to stop the children’s families from taking any actions they deem fit to secure their release.
The violence in Nigeria continues, however. Attacks by Fulani herdsmen last week left more than 33 dead, and four churches and 215 homes were burned in recent attacks. Send Relief noted current security concerns prevent their response at this time, and they continue to urge prayer for Nigeria and other nations where there is ongoing uncertainty and unrest.
The herdsmen are believed to be behind a threatening letter to one pastor who has been assisting displaced communities in southern Kaduna; he found the handwritten note near his car July 12, reported the human rights organization CSW.
A new prime minister has been named following a power struggle set off by the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse. On July 19, the county’s acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph stepped down and turned over leadership to Ariel Henry in a reported effort to bring stability to the country
On July 7, Moïse was assassinated in his private residence. His death comes amid a backdrop of raging gang violence, ongoing economic challenges, food and fuel shortages, the burning of buildings and residential areas, and power outages, an International Mission Board worker reported.
While some churches have been impacted more directly, causing them to cancel services, the IMB worker said that on July 18 his church was “packed.” As the country’s most recent tragedy continues to unfold, the worker believes Haiti’s latest struggles are an opportunity for the Church to rise up and respond to those desperate for hope.
“This is when people start asking the big questions,” he noted. “In our experience, these times open people to hearing the gospel and responding.
“Pray for the people of Haiti as they process the situation,” the worker continued. “Pray for believers, that their faith will be strengthened, that they would have courage to stand up and be the light and salt that the country needs. Pray for the leaders to have wisdom, discernment and to find a way forward for the good of the country.”
Venezuela also is in need of prayer as police continue to battle gangs in western Caracas.
“Pitched gun battles between police and a collection of gangs at least 300 strong” have erupted in areas of the capital city, Reuters reported. Some see the violence as a sign President Nicolas Maduro is “losing control over parts of Venezuela, which is suffering from a deep economic crisis and a protracted breakdown of the rule of law,” the report noted.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Colombia rebels reportedly have been battling Venezuelan troops, leaving dozens of soldiers dead and thousands displaced.
Christian workers continue to ask prayer for local believers, and that the gospel would continue to spread amid recent protests. Thousands have gathered in the streets over ongoing frustration with the government, according to latest media reports. Many reportedly are voicing grievances against shortages of goods, rising prices and power cuts. Some protesters have called for a change of government in a country where protests are rare, the Associated Press reported.
South Africa is among the impacted countries the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief is assessing as they reach out to ministry partners to determine next steps. Unrest broke out in the country following the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma, who on July 8 was sentenced to 15 months in jail for contempt of court related to a corruption inquiry, AP reported. The weeklong protests, rioting and violence — believed to be the worst in the country since 1994 — also have been fueled by frustration over ongoing poverty and discontent with authorities, AP reported.
“Trucks were burned, strategic highways blocked and thousands of rioters ransacked malls and shopping centers in the two provinces,” AP reported. “In the eastern port of Durban, rioters attacked industrial areas, where they emptied warehouses and factories and arsonists set them alight.”
More than 200 reportedly have died amid the protests and violence, with more than 2,500 arrested for theft and vandalism, AP reported July 9. In response to the unrest, The Washington Post reported, South Africa has deployed 10,000 soldiers in addition to its police force, and expects to deploy 15,000 more in the coming days.
Southern Baptist leaders continue to navigate these and other risks as they move forward in finding ways to help those in need.