By / Feb 3

The tensions mounting between Russia and Ukraine are cause for grave concern. As Vladimir Putin teeters on the edge of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, many are understandably voicing deep concern about the potential ramifications for the world order. But often lost in this conversation are the citizens of these countries who will suffer greatly in the face of conflict. And for me, the situation in this particular region is deeply personal.

I was born in Bucharest, Romania, and adopted as an infant. My family is built through adoption, and I have a brother from Romania, four siblings from Russia, and a cousin from Ukraine. Over a decade ago, I visited Romania. As I strolled through the streets of Bucharest, the remnants of communism existed in the bleak, colorless buildings that lined the streets — a visual reminder of its former life as the Socialist Republic of Romania. Like many of its neighbors, Romania was a Communist country for decades, and its citizens lived under a brutal dictatorship. The people of the Eastern Bloc were isolated from the rest of the world and faced issues such as starvation and poverty. But the year 1989 turned out to be a pivotal year for the countries in the Soviet orbit as unrest ultimately led to reforms.

It was then that the Iron Curtain fell. Unfortunately, after initial democratic progress was made, Russia now finds itself looking increasingly like an authoritarian regime. The Russian government is a particularly severe violator of religious freedom, earning the designation as a “country of particular concern” from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). According to USCIRF, “in 2020, religious freedom conditions in Russia deteriorated. The government continued to target “nontraditional” religious minorities with fines, detentions, and criminal charges. Russian legislation criminalizes “extremism” without adequately defining the term, enabling the state to prosecute a vast range of nonviolent religious activity.”

Praying for the people of Ukraine and Russia

In a globally-connected world, what happens on the other side of the globe affects all of us. As my colleague Jason Thacker writes, “The tensions in Eastern Europe should concern us all given the worldwide effects of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Not only does the prospect of a ground war raise concerns about major unrest in the region, untold loss of life, and the possible inclusion of other major powers in the conflict, but this situation also indicates what Russia may seek to do in the coming years.”

But more than that, Christians should care about this because millions of image-bearers live in Ukraine and Russia. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” People will dialogue and debate about what our response to the crisis should be, but, above all, we should endeavor to pray for the people in those two countries. Here are a few ways you can pray:

  • Pray for Christians in Ukraine and Russia, that they would not place their ultimate trust or hope in government leaders, but would firmly fix their eyes on the Lord. 
  • Pray for the missionaries in both countries, that they’ll continue to boldly proclaim the good news of the gospel and that many might come to a saving faith in Christ.
  • Pray for the safety of the citizens of Ukraine and Russia, that amid the geopolitical tensions, their lives would be honored and protected.
  • Pray for global leaders as they navigate geopolitical tensions, that they would act with wisdom.
  • Pray that Vladimir Putin’s heart would be changed and that he would withdraw from conflict with Ukraine. 

Times of trial and suffering are often used by God to draw people to himself. And we should ask, seek, and knock with confidence that this would be the case with the escalating tension between Russia and Ukraine. In the midst of the darkness, may it be that the light of Christ brings hope and help through his people, his Word, and his mercy shown to a war-torn region.

By / Feb 2

This week, Chelsea Sobolik sits down with David Curry, President and CEO of Open Doors USA. They discuss the release of Open Door’s 2022 World Watch List, and where it’s the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. David shares ways that Christians can pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.

Guest Biography

Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry advocates on behalf of those who are persecuted for their Christian faith. He provides leadership to Open Doors in its mission to strengthen and equip Christians who live under extreme restrictions, while encouraging these believers to remain strong in their faith.

For over 60 years, Open Doors has worked in the world’s most oppressive regions, empowering and equipping persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries by providing Bibles, training, and programs to help strengthen the church.

Since assuming the role of CEO in August 2013, Curry has traveled extensively to encourage those living under persecution and support the work of Open Doors. In addition, Curry is often present in Washington, D.C., advocating for religious freedom at the highest levels of our government. He has testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and met with a wide range of policymakers in Washington from both sides of the aisle, including at the White House, in the Senate and at the U.S. State Department.

Curry appears frequently on Fox News and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. He has also been published or featured in sources such as CBS News, CNN, The Washington Post, Christianity Today, USA Today, The Christian Post, and other news outlets.

Prior to coming to Open Doors, Curry served as CEO and president at Christian organizations that serve homeless and neglected children in several countries, including India and Peru.

Curry is the author of four books and holds a bachelor’s degree from Northwest University in Seattle and an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Faith Evangelical College and Seminary based in Tacoma, Washington

Resources from the Conversation

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By / Feb 1

Down Ukrainian roads, cloaked in the golden hues of the vibrant but short-lived autumn, comes help and hope. A caravan of cars following a yellow panel van borrowed from a church carries suitcases and plastic tubs filled with medical supplies. A mission team, including healthcare professionals from both Ukraine and the U.S., prepares each day for the hours of work ahead, sometimes catching a needed nap on the journey to or from the day’s location.

The caravan of hope is part of an ongoing medical ministry of IMB teams in Ukraine to bring care to underserved communities. The need for medical care in eastern regions has been critical since violence began in 2014, part of the Russo-Ukrainian war, now considered a “frozen conflict.” After the height of the crisis, many local businesses, including clinics and hospitals, closed, leaving residents who have stayed with little or no access to medical attention.

This particular team is a unique group, a last-minute replacement for a team of volunteers that could not travel due to COVID-19 restrictions. The team is made of IMB missionaries, a Ukrainian doctor, a retired nurse, a volunteer paramedic and Ukrainian believers. When Ukrainian partners aren’t serving as interpreters, they fill in at an eye-glass station or make-shift pharmacy. 

In one church that hosted a clinic, chairs from a simple choir loft soon become a triage unit. Pews are unbolted from the floor to make room for tables where Svieta, a Ukrainian doctor, and Harrison Martin*, an IMB Journeyman nurse practitioner, will meet with patients. Women from the church work in a small kitchen adjacent to the sanctuary to prepare food for the mission team. A breakfast of tomatoes, potatoes, beet salad, crepes, and bread is waiting when the team arrives. Smells from the multi-course meal that will be served at lunch already waft through the small building.

IMB missionary Jack Gibbs* explains that the mobile clinics are a partnership between churches in the U.S. and in Ukraine. They are funded through Send Relief and through gifts given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®. Gibbs organizes the trips with local pastors and Ukrainian ministry partners, following the guidance of local governments.

For the least of these

Medical clinics give access to entire villages, Gibbs explains. 

“It’s amazing that a one-day clinic can give access to a local evangelist or church planter for years to come.” 

After each clinic, Gibbs gives the local host pastor the registration cards completed by visitors to the clinic. 

“These are people in your community who need care and the gospel. We will pray for you as you minister here,” Gibbs tells local pastors.

Dennis, his stained hands revealing work in the coal mines, comes with an eye infection, probably caused by coal dust. He leaves with antibiotic eye drops, vitamins and blood pressure medicine, provided through the generosity of Southern Baptists. These things would otherwise be very expensive for Dennis, if available at all in his region.

Nine-year-old Timothy comes with his father. Timothy has an abscess on his throat. Martin is able to lance and clean the wound. An old sofa in the corner of the church replaces a sterile medical table Martin would use in the U.S. But Timothy still receives the care he needs, plus a children’s Bible and stuffed tiger, and even comes to the team’s hotel the next morning for a follow-up visit.

Many senior citizens come with diabetes and high blood pressure. Parents bring children for well-child check-ups and allergies. All receive kindness and care and the love of Christ. At the end of the week, the team knows of six people who have chosen to follow Christ. One woman cries as she leaves the pharmacy, saying that she has never been treated with so much kindness by doctors.

Beauty of partnership

Vlad, a Ukrainian ministry partner who Gibbs calls “one of his very best friends,” says that people in the areas where they serve have little access to doctors or pharmacies. Some must travel more than two hours to find a clinic, if they have money for transportation. The clinics that come to them are welcomed.

Vlad is a former professional soccer player who now coaches soccer and teaches English, in addition to his ministry beside IMB missionaries. On clinic days, he translates, shares the gospel, entertains children, and fills in where needed. His stoic demeanor hides his tender heart for God and others. 

He shares the gospel that transformed his own life — a message he received when he heard a mission team leading a soccer camp in his community. He connected with Christians over his beloved sport and met his beloved Savior. 

“This is my family,” Vlad says of the IMB missionaries and Christian friends he’s met in his ministry. “We’ve done so many things together since 2012.” 

He recognizes that those who come to the clinics need more than physical care. “God is my Father; God is my direction. He is merciful and He is love. And He can be your best friend,” he shares in his testimony.

Vlad was one of the first workers to meet Ludmila, age 66. As she waited in a line of chairs against the small church sanctuary wall to have her blood pressure checked, Vlad asked her if she knew Jesus.  She explained that she was shy, too afraid to pray to receive Jesus, though she understood her need. Vlad asked the pastor of the hosting church to pray with him for Ludmila. As she went through the medical stations — first to the nurse for a temperature and blood pressure check, then to speak with the doctor, then to the table in the back corner of the sanctuary serving as a pharmacy — she felt her need for Jesus grow. When Vlad approached her again, she was ready. She followed Vlad and the pastor to the choir loft for space to kneel, pray, and accept Christ’s gift of eternal life. 

“She was so shy at the beginning, and then she was telling people about following Jesus as she was leaving!” Vlad recounts.

More relief must be sent

As Gibbs prays for more Send Relief teams to come to Ukraine, he also prays for a medical professional to join their team in a permanent missionary role to help facilitate the clinics and further the healthcare strategies in Ukraine. He sees evidence that God can use so many people if they are willing to serve.

“There’s so much need here. The medical needs give us an opportunity to come and to help, but at the same time we’re not going in to just meet just medical needs,” Gibbs says.

Gibbs, a church planter without medical training, believes that healthcare strategies are one of the greatest ways to engage adults with the gospel. As he leads the teams, he witnesses God work in and through team members, just as God works in the lives of those in need of care. 

“The Lord is gracious and anytime His children are walking in what He has laid out for them, you’re going to see amazing things. Things you can’t imagine. And God does those things and it’s amazing to be a part of it.”

Discover now how you or your church can serve through Send Relief and IMB healthcare strategies.

*The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® is a registered trademark of Woman’s Missionary Union.

By / Jan 26

Editor’s Note: This explainer will be updated as news continues to unfold.

Over the last few months, tensions have mounted on the border between Russia and Ukraine. This has led to international coverage of this conflict because of the countries involved, the potential toll of an invasion, and the role of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in global affairs. The situation is dire and extremely volatile at the moment, where it seems at any point Russia may decide to invade the nation of Ukraine, leading to a full-scale military and humanitarian crisis. Details of this situation change rapidly with each passing moment, but below is what we know so far about this international conflict and why Christians should be paying attention to the situation.

What is happening?

Russia is currently assembling an unusual amount of forces on the border of Ukraine and in neighboring Belarus, which is led by the authoritarian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, a known ally of Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and close associate of the Kremlin. Some estimates indicate that the military force is at least a “hundred thousand troops, and a sizable arsenal of armor and missile systems” including field hospitals and fuel dumps along the border of Ukraine. In Belarus, two “Battalion tactical groups” have been deployed, indicating that Russia may try to divide Ukrainian forces in an all-out assault, including a possible attack on the Ukranian capital of Kyiv. Currently, Russia has troops surrounding three sides of Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

On Jan. 19, United States President Joe Biden stated that he expects Russia to “move in” on Ukraine soon. Just a few days prior, Russian hackers broke into Ukrainian government websites, displaying “a poster of the Ukrainian flag and map crossed out, and warning Ukrainians to ‘be afraid and expect worse.’” Microsoft reported that these hackers also placed destructive malware in Ukrainian systems which could cause catastrophic damage. Some have warned that the threat of cyberattacks in Ukraine may also ripple out to the rest of the world as well, which led the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to warn critical infrastructure operators to prepare for the likelihood of future cyber attacks. But what is behind these growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine?

While the exact reasoning is still unclear, Russian officials, including President Putin, have made it clear that they believe the possible admission of Ukraine and the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe is in direct violation of promises made by Western leaders in the 1990s as post-Cold War settlements were made. Of note, Putin has long desired to rebuild the former Soviet states and reemerge as a dominant global player since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s under President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Russia claims that this expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe threatens their national security and that Russia is well within their rights to defend their own national interests. Some, including the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, believe that these are not the true reasons for the build-up and that Ukrainian democracy is seen as the real threat to Russian authoritarianism, not the prospect of any future NATO members. Regardless of the motivations, Russia seems to want military infrastructure removed from Eastern Europe and for the U.S. to promise not to allow Ukraine to join NATO.

What is NATO?

NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is an intergovernmental military alliance consisting of 27 European countries, two North American countries, and one Eurasian country. Also known as the North Atlantic Alliance, NATO is tasked with implementing the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty —  popularly known as the Washington Treaty — and is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.

Originally, NATO was made up of 12 member states but over the years has expanded to include 30 countries. NATO officially recognizes three countries who have declared their aspirations to NATO membership: Bosnia and Herzegovina (a country in the Balkans), Georgia, and Ukraine. The Republic of North Macedonia was the latest country to join the Alliance in March 2020. NATO has an “open door policy” which is based on Article 10 of the Washington Treaty. The treaty states that membership is open to any “European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area.” NATO’s stated purpose is “to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.”

How are countries around the world responding?

The United States has sought to de-escalate the tensions with Russia, warning of dire consequences for an assault on Ukraine. The U.S. has stated that aggression toward or the invasion of Ukraine will not be tolerated, but the U.S. has not committed to deploy additional troops to the border of Ukraine. President Biden had stated that the U.S. has already deployed over $600 million of “sophisticated, defensive equipment” to the Ukrainians, and he has stated bluntly to Putin that he must choose “either de-escalation or diplomacy; confrontation or the consequences.” On Jan. 23, the U.S. ordered the evacuation of diplomatic families from our embassy in Kyiv, and on Jan. 24, the Pentagon stated that it had placed 8,500 troops on “heightened alert” amid the tensions.

The U.S. and other countries have also considered sanctions and other means to dissuade Russia from an invasion. Officials in the U.S. are considering the use of novel export controls, which could “damage strategic Russian industries, from artificial intelligence and quantum computing to civilian aerospace.” If these export controls are broadly applied, Russian citizens may be deprived of “some smartphones, tablets and video game consoles,” according to a Washington Post report. These rules may also apply to other countries, as well, that do business with Russia, essentially crippling parts of the Russian economy. The Biden administration is also considering imposing personal sanctions on Putin if Russian troops invade Ukraine. 

Other countries have also committed supplies, weapons, and troops according to NATO leadership. Denmark will send a “frigate” to the Baltic Sea and will continue to deploy jet fighters to Lithuania as part of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission. France also expressed its support to send troops to Romania under NATO command. Spain is sending ships to join NATO naval forces, and the Netherlands is sending aircraft fighters to Bulgaria for air policing as well as putting other units on standby for the NATO Response Force. It has also been reported that for the first time in decades, the U.S. has placed a carrier strike group under NATO command.

Why should Christians pay attention to this situation?

The tensions in Eastern Europe should concern us all given the worldwide effects of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Not only does the prospect of a ground war raise concerns about major unrest in the region, untold loss of life, and the possible inclusion of other major powers in the conflict, but this situation also indicates what Russia may seek to do in the coming years. As an international affairs expert and ERLC Research Fellow recently wrote, the battle over Ukraine is important for many reasons, including being “a testing ground for Russia’s post-Cold War intentions.” He goes on to state:

Russia has been steadily undoing the post-Cold War world. Putin famously said the collapse of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical disaster. Russia cyberattacked Estonia in 2007, invaded Georgia in 2008, and invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. Putin withdrew from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe—another post-Cold War cornerstone—in 2015. Now he has amassed an army on Ukraine’s border that has every appearance of preparing to invade. Putin plainly wants to undo the post-Cold War settlement, restore Russian arms and glory, and force the world to recognize Russia’s place as a global superpower on the international stage.

Along with Paul Miller’s warning of a possible reunification of the former Soviet Union and the reassertion of Russian dominance on the global stage, David French notes that territorial aggression like this rarely stays confined to a particular area, which would inevitably destabilize the world order.

Many scholars, including Miller and French, have rightfully expressed grave concerns with the U.S. entering into armed conflict with boots on the ground. While Christians should be among the most vocal opponents of armed conflict in this situation, especially any type of full-scale war, there are much deeper reasons to pay attention to these developments than simply self-protection or global interests. 

Given what we know about how Russia and other authoritarian regimes around the world — such as the Chinese Communist Party and their inhumane and genocidal treatment of Uyghur Muslims — override basic human rights and freedoms in the name of national security, it should concern all Christians when a nation like Russia seeks to expand its territory through illegal and deadly authoritarian land grabs. While many Christians in the West rightfully cherish the blessings of governments that recognize and uphold basic God-given rights, many believers around the world live under these types of repressive regimes that routinely put profit over freedom and power over human rights. People created in the very image of God are frequently put in harm’s way and seen as nothing more than a pawn in the relentless pursuit of power and global influence.

As many weigh the variables of this conflict through the Christian moral theory of just war and evaluate the merits of entering into conflict, Christians should pray for de-escalation efforts and for the avoidance of a Russian-led invasion of Ukraine. It is far too easy to see those in harm’s way as simply a news headline or a mere statistic — especially in our increasingly digital society. But Christians understand that all people are created in the image of God, even our enemies.​​ This truth is central to the Christian ethic, including how we navigate tensions of this scale and their importance on the global stage. 

By / Dec 17

Human dignity and the basic rights inherent to every individual are precious and should be protected. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, this is far from the case — and in egregious ways. While there were encouraging events at the end of this year in the United States, citizens of other countries were subjected to persecution, assault, and death. Below are 10 significant human rights events around the world that you should be aware of. 

United States: New ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom

This week, the Senate confirmed Rashad Hussain to the post of ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom in a vote of 85-5. Hussain garnered support from a wide range of religious liberty advocates including the Religious Freedom Institute, Open Doors, and past members of United States Commission on International Religious Freedom including former chairs, Katrina Lantos-Swett and Robert George, as well as former Ambassador, Sam Brownback. Hussain makes history as the first Muslim nominated and confirmed to the position. He fills a vacancy at a crucial time as religious rights are threatened around the globe. 

Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the ERLC, noted the important role that his position plays for this fundamental right: “I want to congratulate Mr. Hussain on his confirmation to this important and crucial role for America’s diplomatic efforts. We are praying for his success and we are eager to work with him. Religious freedom is under assault around the globe and his position is vital to confronting those who would undermine this fundamental right.”

One of the early tests for Hussain will be confronting China on the atrocities being carried out against the Uyghur people. Just this week, the U.S. House and Senate voted to pass a bill that would ban all imports from the Chinese region of Xinjiang unless the U.S. government determines that the products were not made with forced labor. President Biden has signaled that he will sign the bill. “We have been clear,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “that we share Congress’ view that action must be taken to hold the [People’s Republic of China] accountable for its human rights abuses and to address forced labor in Xinjiang.”  

Unfortunately, the genocidal treatment of religious minorities in China is but one of the major violations of human rights to occur in 2021. 

Myanmar: Military coup results in the deaths of hundreds of citizens

In February, the Myanmar military took control of the country and declared a year-long state of emergency following a general election that Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide. The military, which backed the opposition, claimed election fraud, though the election commission found no evidence to support that accusation. When civilians protested, the military responded by imposing a brutal crackdown that killed hundreds of people

Belarus: Government crackdown on peaceful protests

Peaceful protests that followed a contested election in August were met by a harsh response by ​​ government. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in September she continued to be alarmed by “persistent allegations” of “widespread and systematic torture” of protesters in the European nation. According to Human Rights Watch, protestors who were detained by ​the government described “beatings, prolonged stress positions, electric shocks, and in at least one case, rape. Some had serious injuries, including broken bones, skin wounds, electrical burns, or mild traumatic brain injuries.”

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Attacks on civilians by armed groups and government forces 

An alarming number of human rights abuses have been carried out against civilians this year by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, says UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In the two most affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, UNHCR and its partners recorded more than 1,200 civilian deaths and 1,100 rapes, constituting a total of 25,000 human rights abuses. In total, more than a million Congolese have been internally displaced in the eastern part of the country. 

Afghanistan: Taliban takeover results in large number of civilian deaths

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the Taliban were responsible for 45% of attacks that caused civilian deaths and injuries in the first nine months of 2020. Since the takeover by ​​the Taliban earlier this year, abductions and targeted killings of politicians, government employees, and other civilians have ​increased significantly. 

Ethiopia: Underage girls sexually assaulted to terrorize ethnic minorities

Widespread sexual and gender-based violence in northern Ethiopia “constitute some of the most egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law” say human rights experts. From November 2020 through June of this year, some 2,204 survivors reported sexual violence to health facilities across the Tigray region. From 50 to 90% of the reported victims have been underage girls. “They appear to have been used as part of a deliberate strategy to terrorize, degrade and humiliate the victims and the ethnic minority group that they belong to with acquiescence of the State and non-State actors’ parties to the conflict,” said experts appointed by the UN.

Mexico: Over 95,000 registered as disappeared

More than 95,000 people have been officially registered as disappeared in Mexico, according to a UN committee. That number includes an increasing number of women and children, who are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked. The committee notes there are “scenarios of collusion between State agents and organised crime,” with some enforced disappearances “committed directly by State agents.”  

Burundi: Political opposition leads to beatings, arrest, torture, and killings

The people of Burundi continue to endure serious human rights violations including possible crimes against humanity, report UN-appointed independent investigators. President Evariste Ndayishimiye had pledged to address the situation in the country after years of violent repression. But according to Human Rights Watch, killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, beatings, extortion, and intimidation persisted against people perceived to be against the ruling party.

Somalia: Sexual violence against women increased by 80%

There has been an 80% increase in sexual violence in Somalia, according to two reports this year by the United Nations. The reports (the Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and the Report of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.) documented that in 2020, 400 civilians, primarily girls, were victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence. More than 100 cases of sexual violence against girls were verified by the UN in the first quarter of 2021. Perpetrators often exploited the vulnerability of displaced girls, targeting them when they left camps to perform domestic chores, the reports noted. 

North Korea: Citizens executed for watching K-pop

The Transitional Justice Working Group says North Korea has executed some of its citizens for watching videos of K-pop music (i.e., Korean pop music from South Korea). Kim Jong Un had previously made it illegal to possess or distribute entertainment from South Korea, with violations punishable by death. Most of the executions occurred between 2012 and 2014, but the number of unreported killings is likely to be higher. News from inside North Korea often comes to the West years later, so similar incidents are believed to ​​have occurred in 2021.

By / Nov 5

President Biden traveled to Rome last week to attend the annual G20 summit, a gathering of leaders from the world’s most powerful nations. Here is what you should know about the influential forum.

What is the G20 summit?

The G20 Summit is an informal forum, held annually, that includes 20 of the world’s major economies, known collectively as the G20, G-20, or Group of Twenty. The G20 was founded in 1999 with the aim of studying, reviewing, and promoting high-level discussion of policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability. The members of the G20 account for more than 80% of world GDP, 75% of global trade, and 60% of the population of the planet.

What countries comprise the G20?

The G20 includes the European Union (EU) and 19 individual countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Several international organizations also regularly participate in the G20 summits, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), the Financial Stability Board (FSB), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the United Nations (UN). Each hosting country can also invite other countries, regional organizations, and international organizations to the summit.

Who represents these countries at the summit?

Each country is represented by their head of government, finance minister, and governor of the central bank. The EU is represented by the heads of the European Commission and by the European Central Bank. For the United States, the representatives are President Biden, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powel, and United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

​​How is the G20 organized?

The G20 has no permanent staff or organization, but rather rotates annually among the members. Each member is assigned to one of five groups to ensure a “regional balance over time”:  Group 1 includes Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and the United States; Group 2 includes India, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey; Group 3 includes Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico; Group 4 includes France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom; Group 5 includes China, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea.

A revolving three-member management group of past, present, and future chairs, referred to as the “Troika”, ensures continuity. The Troika countries are currently Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Indonesia. 

Where is the current G20, and where were they held in the past?

Italy assumed the G20 Presidency for 2021 and will host the Summit of the Heads of State and Government on October 30th and 31st in Rome.

Previous hosts of the G20 Leaders’ Summit were the United States (2008 and 2009), the United Kingdom (2009), Canada (2010), the Republic of Korea (2010), France (2011), Mexico (2012), Russia (2013), Australia (2014), Turkey (2015), China (2016), Germany (2017), Argentina (2018), and Japan (2019). Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia was held virtually. 

What issues were discussed at the summit?

The G20 started in 1999 as a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. Since the global financial crisis in 2008, though, the focus has expanded to include “working to strengthen the resilience of the global financial system and to improve the regulation and supervision of financial market participants, including what is known as the shadow banking system. The aim is to ensure that no financial market, financial market participant or financial product remains unsupervised.”

The summits have traditionally focused on issues relating to financial market regulation, global economic growth, and international trade. But almost anything of global significance that is closely linked with economic questions may be considered. Previous summits have included discussions about climate change, counter-terrorism, development policy, digital technology, migration, and refugee flows.  

For 2021, the G20, under the Italian Presidency, will focus on “three broad, interconnected pillars of action: People, Planet, Prosperity.” 

On the issue of the climate, these leaders committed to the key Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, pledged action against dirty coal plants, and pledged to reach a target of net zero carbon emissions “by or around mid-century.”

On financial regulation, they approved an agreement that will subject multinationals to a minimum 15% tax as part of an effort to build “a more stable and fairer international tax system.” (This must first be approved by each national legislature, such as the U.S. Congress.)

On the pandemic, they vowed to support the WHO’s goal of vaccinating at least 40% of the world’s population against COVID-19 by 2021 and 70% by the middle of next year.

Despite including in their agenda “protecting the most vulnerable,” the summit will not include discussion of how to deal with the ongoing genocide of the Uyghur people by the Chinese Communist Party or other issues related to religious liberty.

By / Jun 21

What does the future of Christianity in America look like? Better yet, what will the global religious landscape be like in a couple of decades? As secularism broadens its appeal and more and more people are religiously unaffiliated, we may find ourselves struggling to answer these questions. Or, we may simply be fearful of the answers.

A recent report titled “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050,” published by the Pew Research Center, outlines more than six years’ worth of data collection, coalescing their research into a document projecting the world’s religious makeup in 2050 and the trends that lead there. While the authors of this report are quick to admit how fickle some of these projections may be (due to potential factors like war, famine, disease, and others that cannot be accounted for), nevertheless, there is much in “The Future of World Religions” that should grab our attention. 

Here are three takeaways from the Pew Research Center’s report.

1. More religious, not less

If you are paying attention to Western religious trends, you may assume that the global religious trajectory is consistent with what we seem to be experiencing in the U.S., a wayward procession toward secularism. But you would be wrong. Even now, if we were to peer out beyond our own geographic context (and some would argue, even within our own), we would find that the world is not becoming irreligious but more religious. Pew researchers project that this will not only continue, but will surge in the coming decades.

“Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion (the report refers to this group as ‘the unaffiliated’) – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France,” the report states, “will make up a declining share of the world’s population.” Of course, because the global population is forecast to increase by 35% from 2010 to 2050, the raw number of religiously unaffiliated people is projected to increase, as we would expect among virtually every religious group. However, “their share of the global population is projected to decrease” from 16% in 2010 to 13% in 2050.

What this means, fundamentally, is that people, despite our technological advancements and “progress,” still possess a deep-level “ache” that goes unrelieved without some sort of transcendent remedy. There are questions that atheism and/or secularism (or any other false worldview, for that matter) simply cannot answer. Religion is not losing global influence. On the contrary, it is growing, and picking up steam. And while religious adherence grows among many faith traditions, Islam is projected to grow most rapidly. 

2. The continued growth of Islam

“By 2050, the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.” 

There is not a religious group that is projected to experience more rapid growth in the next several decades than the Muslim population, both worldwide and here within the United States. From Middle East-North Africa to the Asia-Pacific to Europe and North America, Islam is forecast to grow both numerically and in its share of each region’s total population. If Pew’s projections hold, Christians (31.4%) and Muslims (29.7%) will make up a nearly identical percentage of the world population, totaling an estimated 60% of all people on earth

While Christians will undoubtedly find this news distressing, we should view these predictions not as something to fear but as an opportunity. After all, these are projections, not certainties. Who’s to say that Christians can’t win to Christ those who are searching, those who are spiritually hungry, and those who are seeking a remedy for their “aches” rather than losing them to another religion like Islam or to the hopelessness of atheism? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, what if the church set out to upend these projections?

What would this take? Well, for one, we’d have to stop all the in-fighting and get serious about the Great Commission. And, certainly, we’d have to take the Great Commandments, the very words of Jesus, seriously — to love God with all that we have and love our neighbor as ourselves. And if we can do that, Lord willing, the Pew Research Center might just have to make significant amendments to their report. 

3. Christianity’s net losses

By far, the most distressing projection included in Pew’s report as it relates to Christianity is what they call the “Projected Cumulative Change Due to Religious Switching, 2010-2050.” According to their projections, no religious group will lose more adherents to “switching,” or leaving one’s faith tradition for another belief system, than Christianity.

“Over the coming decades, Christians are expected to experience the largest net losses from switching. Globally, about 40 million people are projected to switch into Christianity, while 106 million are projected to leave, with most joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated” (emphasis added). If you do the math, that is a projected net loss of more than 66 million people, exponentially more than any other group represented in the report. 

While the report isn’t concerned with answering this question, it would be negligent of us not to ask “why?” Is it because those leaving will have found Jesus’ teaching “hard” (John 6:60) like we read in John’s account of the gospel? Is it because we will have practiced some sort of Pharisaical hypocrisy, driving them away from the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 23:13-15)? Or, will they have “gone out from us” because “they were not of us” (1 John 2:19)? Regardless, this projected seismic “switch” will be a tragedy if we do not resolve to prevent it. 

The thing about projections is that they don’t come true until they come true. May we work with all the strength God gives us to see to it that these 66 million who are expected to desert Jesus never actually do. 

Perseverance in the face of projections

Regardless of what any report might project, the church of Jesus Christ is assured of its perseverance. 

Will Christianity always maintain its majority in global population numbers? I don’t know, maybe not. Will American culture continue to secularize? According to this report, it looks that way for the next 30 years or more. Does this put Christianity and Christ’s church in jeopardy of ceasing to exist? By no means!

The first-century church, under the threat of its Roman overlords, would not have been on the favorable end of any projections. I am certain that Christianity’s eventual extinction would have been the recurrent prediction in that day. But here we are, continuing to persevere, because we do not live by the words and projections of man, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). And the Word that has proceeded from the mouth of God has clearly stated that not even “the gates of hell will prevail” against his church (Matt. 16:18). 

We should take Pew’s projections seriously, but let’s not allow them to drive us to despair. Instead, let’s be driven to carry out our mission. Those hungering for some sort of transcendent answer to their aches, those flocking to Islam, and even those disillusioned by their experience of Christianity — whatever the source of that disillusionment —let’s echo the words of Philip in the gospel of John when he said to Nathaniel, “Come and see” (John 1:46). And let’s bring them to Jesus.

By / Feb 11

Jeff, Chelsea, and Travis discuss three big international stories for Christians to consider. They cover an update on the Chinese Uyghur genocide, how Christians are often left out of Middle East peace accords, and what we can learn about the fragility of democracy from the coup in Myanmar. 

This episode was sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of Being the Bad Guy by Stephen McAlpine.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Jan 19

Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an official determination that the People’s Republic of China is “committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, for targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.” This announcement comes on Secretary Pompeo’s last day in office and a day before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. According to Axios, the U.S. has become the first country to adopt these terms to describe the Chinese Communist Party’s unconscionable human rights abuses in its far northwest.

Some of the reasons cited for the determination include “the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians, forced sterilization, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained, forced labor, and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.” 

Secretary Pompeo stated that one of the key facts in his determination was the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) efforts to severely oppress Uyghur women with draconian birth control measures. Uyghur women are subjected to forced pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstrual period, forced abortions, and surgical sterilizations. One of the major reasons that Uyghur women are sent to the internment camps is for having too many children. China’s goal, it seems, is to eradicate future generations of Uyghurs by manipulating who can and can’t bear children, and how many children a family can legally conceive. 

Why does this declaration of genocide against Uyghurs matter?

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group. The geographic scope of the CCP’s campaign against Uyghurs is global, but primarily restricted to Xinjiang, China’s western-most territory, where Uyghurs have lived for centuries. Under the guise of national security, the CCP is seeking to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. Once Chinese police detain a Uyghur for questioning, they are often sent away for “political reeducation.” China has constructed upward of 1,000 internment camps for this purpose. Estimates vary, but experts posit that China has detained between 1 million and 3 million Muslims in these facilities. Aside from political indoctrination, physical and psychological abuse is commonplace throughout these camps, ranging from rape and torture to malnourishment and forced organ harvesting

The CCP also uses these camps to break apart Uyghur families. In cases where Uyghur husbands are sent off to camps, China has sent ethnically Han men to rape, and forcibly procreate with, the wives who are left behind. In some cases, where both the mother and father are detained, the CCP has sent Uyghur children to government-run boarding schools where all communication with the outside world is strictly regulated.

Members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China sent a bipartisan letter asking that the Administration make an official determination as to whether the Chinese government is responsible for perpetrating atrocity crimes, including genocide, against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim ethnic minorities. Additionally, Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bipartisan resolution to designate human rights abuses perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China against the Uyghur people and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) as genocide. 

What is genocide?

The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” The acts enumerated include:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

A genocide determination sends a powerful signal to the international community that the United States will not remain silent in the face of the CCP’s atrocities towards the Uyghur people.

What’s next after this declaration of genocide?

Secretary Pompeo called upon the People’s Republic of China “immediately to release all arbitrarily detained persons and abolish its system of internment, detention camps, house arrest and forced labor; cease coercive population control measures, including forced sterilizations, forced abortion, forced birth control, and the removal of children from their families; end all torture and abuse in places of detention; end the persecution of Uyghurs and other members of religious and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, and afford Uyghurs and other persecuted minorities the freedom to travel and emigrate.”

Additionally, he called on “all appropriate multilateral and relevant juridical bodies, to join the United States in our effort to promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities.”

“The Chinese government’s atrocities against the Uyghur people in Xingjiang is clearly genocide. I welcome the State Department’s recognition of it as such. The world must not turn our eyes away from this genocide against human beings made in the image of God. I pray that President-elect Biden and Secretary-designate Blinken will have great success in rallying our nation and our allies to stand against this injustice. We can never again allow genocide to go unnoticed and unanswered. In addition, I urge the business community to take seriously what is happening to this imperiled religious minority.  Few issues these days seem to transcend our country’s partisan divisions, but this should be one of them,” Russell Moore stated.

How has the ERLC advocated for persecuted people?

In December, Dr. Moore sent Secretary Pompeo a letter urging him to issue a genocide determination. Additionally, the ERLC has been advocating for the Uyghur Forced Labor Act, which prohibits goods made with forced labor in the Xinjiang region or by entities using Uyghur labor forcibly transferred from Xinjiang from entering the U.S. market. The ERLC hosted a high-level discussion on the Uyghur situation in China and shared ways pastors and Christians can get involved and help. The ERLC will continue working to counter China morally, and will continue to stand up for persecuted people.

By / Dec 11

More than two decades ago, the United States made a significant commitment to promoting religious freedom as a foreign policy objective with the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA Act). Designed to “strengthen United States advocacy on behalf of, individuals persecuted in foreign countries on account of religion,” the law authorized “actions in response to violations of religious freedom in foreign countries.”

The act also requires that the Secretary of State identify “countries of particular concern,” a designation reserved for nation’s guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The classification is used for countries that have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” including violations such as:

a) Torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;
b) Prolonged detention without charges;
c) Causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or
d) Other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons. Nations so designated are subject to further actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States.

On Monday, the State Department released this year’s list of offenders. The countries of particular concern are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Nigeria was the only new addition for 2020. 

Secretary of State Pompeo announced the designation of specific sanctions for Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, and North Korea, satisfying the IRF Act’s presidential action requirement.   However, an amendment to the act allows the president to waive punitive measures against a concerned country if they believe it is necessary to advance other foreign policy interests. This year a presidential waiver was given to Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan after “determining that there were important national interests of the United States requiring the exercise of the waiver authority.”

Four other countries—Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Russia—were also placed on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” Sudan and Uzbekistan were removed from the Special Watch List based on significant, concrete progress undertaken by their respective governments over the past year. Secretary of State Pompeo said, “Their courageous reforms of their laws and practices stand as models for other nations to follow.”

The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016 also calls for the president to identify any non-state actors operating in a reviewed country or surrounding region that have engaged in particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Al-Shabaab, al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban are all listed as Entities of Particular Concern. Two other non-state actors that were previously listed as an Entity of Particular Concern designations—al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Khorasan—were removed “due to the total loss of territory formerly controlled by these terrorist organizations.”

On Tuesday, Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, spoke to reporters about the list and the current climate of international religious freedom.

“We are seeing on the good side a number of religious groups and theologians—Christians, Muslims, and Jews in particular—stepping up to push back against the use of religion for violent purposes and saying no, our faith is a peaceful faith and using theological arguments,” said Brownback, “And I’m very hopeful that as these things move forward that we’ll see more peaceful theologians step forward and say that our faith is for the use of peace, not war. “

The ambassador said he was encouraged by a recent peace summit of Christians, Muslims, and Jews religious leaders who said their faiths were for the use of peace, not war. “We cannot concede the theological ground to those who would push for violent use of religion,” added Brownback. 

See also: 

The state of religious liberty in China

The continuing persecution of Nigerian Christians

What is the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act?

What you need to know about the International Religious Freedom Report