December 2017

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Sowing and Reaping Anger and Revenge in Libya

by

The recent history of Libya is very turbulent. In 2011, simmering discontent exploded on February 17 in a “Day of Rage” that set off Libya’s part in the Arab Spring which was reverberating throughout the Middle East and North Africa. 2011 was Muammar Gaddafi’s 42nd year in control of Libya after his own coup as a colonel in 1969. He was an enigmatic ruler during that time he was in power, claiming the title of “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution.” While he claimed to be merely a figurehead, he functioned as an absolute ruler. During most of these years, Libya was largely cut-off from the world. Information inside the country was tightly controlled. Any dissent was ruthlessly crushed. Some have said that as many as one in six Libyans (or close to one million citizens) functioned in some way as informants for Gaddafi’s regime.
Many Libyans now look back on those years with immense regret. They feel that the capital city of Tripoli could have become more prosperous like Dubai, and that their country should have been a leader in the region. They themselves could have been much better off, and the country as a whole could have been more affluent.
Gaddafi was accused of investing very little of the wealth generated from the country’s oil back into the country. Much went to revolutionary causes around the world such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and many Palestinian groups. Sometimes Gaddafi would even switch the sides that he supported part way through a conflict. But many Libyans feel that he ignored the critical needs at home, leading to outdated systems: electrical, transport, and Internet. The country fell behind much of the rest of the world and continues to be a challenge up to the present time.
Ironically, this neglect of the home front in favor of spending on revolutions elsewhere played a significant part in the revolution at home. As Gaddafi sowed anger and rage, he reaped much dissatisfaction. The revolution lasted from February 2011 until he was killed on October 20 of that year. His extrajudicial and deadly beating and killing in the street essentially continued his heritage of doing the same thing to his opponents.

No Stability or Unity After Gaddafi
In the aftermath of the revolution many Libyans were thrilled at the opportunity to plot a new course for their country. Libyans of many stripes had united against Gaddafi, but with many different motivations. Some wanted secular democracy, others were seeking an opportunity to live in a truly Islamic state. After fighting as part of various militias that came together in common cause against Gaddafi, many started realizing that their problems were not solved by his ouster from power.
During the revolution, a National Transitional Council was set-up which was supposed to give way to an elected General National Congress (GNC) that would prepare the constitution and then give way to new elections. Unfortunately, the GNC did not complete a constitution, nor did they give way to the newly elected House of Representatives (HoR). They did go through a number of official leaders who resigned or were kicked out for various reasons. Both groups consider the other to no longer be legitimate, which has led to off and on fighting as the GNC stayed in Tripoli and the HoR set themselves up in the eastern part of Libya. Ongoing talks eventually led to a third “Government of National Accord” (GNA) which neither side decided to ratify. This led to three governments all trying to operate in various ways and in various locations. As can be imagined, this has led to significant chaos which continues today. Currently, there are an estimated 1,500 militias in Libya, each supposedly under one of the governments, but really operating autonomously.
This chaos has also predictably resulted in other challenges: very few employment opportunities, currency fluctuation and devaluation of money, radical groups such as Islamic State (ISIS) trying to take advantage, and a distinct sense of desperation and disillusionment. Neighboring countries as well as world powers have attempted different solutions. But nothing has lasted with much effectiveness.
The lack of opportunity has led to a lot of boredom among many youths. Some have said this is the biggest problem in Libya, when thousands of bored youth feed upon the chaos. ISIS has been ejected from the cities that they had taken. But they and groups related to them are still a threat to security. There is no unified strategy to defeat them, even though nearly all Libyans consider them as the enemy and even anti-Islamic. One military commander in the east, Khalifa Hafter, has managed to unite some of these militias in an attempt to bring security to the region, but many Libyans believe he is now aiming to take Gaddafi’s place. It is difficult to say what anyone’s motivations really are.


On a More Positive Note
However, chaos and frustration are not the only themes in Libya’s story. There is a rugged spirit in much of the country. People who have lived in a harsh region for centuries continue to uphold many positive traditional values in the culture such as honor and hospitality. Much of Libya is covered by the Sahara Desert. In other areas there are rugged mountains where the inhabitants have carved out their homes from the mountain or down into the earth. These isolating forces help to shape a strong loyalty to one’s tribe and one’s family that still defines so much that happens.
There are still many hints of the gospel in the ruins of ancient times in Libya. Rome controlled much of northern Libya for centuries and some of the best preserved Roman ruins are present in places like Leptis Magna and Sabratha in the west, or Shahat (Cyrene) in the east. Yes, Cyrene is the hometown of Simon, who carried Jesus’ cross. Early disciples from Cyrene and Cyprus first announced the gospel to Greeks in Antioch (Acts 11:20). They even had a hand in the first sending of Paul, Barnabas, and Lucius of Cyrene in the small group of prophets praying, fasting, and evangelizing (Acts 13:1). This is a wonderful spiritual heritage! North Africa was one of the leading regions in the early church, and signs of this are still present in the Roman ruins. There are remains of baptismal fonts, church buildings, etc. Most of these are no longer recognized or understood by Libyans living nearby. Yet they point to the work of God in this country many centuries ago.
This heritage has now been mostly forgotten. Many Libyans now assume that to be Libyan is to be Muslim. For centuries, this has been true. Libya has been nearly untouched by Christian workers since the Islamic takeover in the mid-600s. Under Italian control in the early 1900s, there were many Catholics in the country. But sharing Jesus with Libyans was discouraged. Although the Italian influence is clear in Libya, even showing up in Libya’s unique Arabic dialect, the spiritual side seems to have been largely skipped. Even now, the likelihood of a Libyan meeting a follower of Jesus who can explain the way of salvation is very limited.
The tragic current situation, however, seems to be changing the prevailing attitude. Libyans are becoming more open and asking more questions. Although the number of known believers is still very small, the church is gradually growing in numbers and maturity. Efforts through social media, radio, and television are receiving responses. Many Libyans have had to leave the country, and some of those are having the opportunity to hear the gospel. As you pray through this guide, ask with hope and expectancy. God has great intentions for Libya!
• Pray for revival fire to build up a community of Christ followers among every people group in Libya!

From the Editor

by Keith Carey, editor-in-chief, GPD

As a student of history, I found this one statement to be especially shocking. Missionary statesman, Ralph D. Winter, pointed out at the time when long-term Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, was ousted, that the people of Iraq probably didn’t know how to function without a dictatorship. Sure enough, self-serving militias and ISIS filled the power void, and there has been fighting ever since. Next came Syria, and then Libya. In each case a long-standing dictator was removed, and the power vacuum has had tragic results, especially for those who don’t have the power to defend themselves. For that reason, most of our Bible verses this month will deal with fear and protection.
When people lack a healthy fear of God, they fall into the “might makes right” trap which destroys the lives of many, and holds entire civilizations back. Ralph Winter used to point out that the reason why the human population stayed so low for centuries is that mankind could not get past the survival level due to constant fighting.
Libya is in this situation right now. They must recognize that the “might makes right” ethic will only lead to death and destruction. Jesus taught the radical, counter cultural teaching that any leader must be the servant of all. As you pray for the peoples of Libya this month, pray for them to embrace the ways of Jesus!