By / Nov 14

A month into the Israel-Hamas war, Evangelicals aren’t just helping fight antisemitism at home – they’re hosting fundraisers and sending volunteers and supplies to the Jewish state

Over a month into the Israel-Hamas war, American Evangelicals are providing moral and material support to Israel, hosting fundraisers and poster campaigns, and sending volunteers and supplies. With more than 100 million Evangelicals in the United States, it is a deep well from which to draw.

War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing 200-250 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.

That intensity was reflected on October 11, when the Ethics and Religion Liberty Commission (ERLC), which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, issued an “Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel.”

We grieve the innocent lives that have been lost since October 7 in Israel and in Gaza. Whether Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, we know that for so many people caught in the midst of this battle, it is not a war of their choosing. Our concern for the loss of innocent life has no borders. Each and every casualty is a person made in God’s image.

Brent Leatherwood

Send Relief, part of the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, is distributing humanitarian aid on the ground in Israel. They are working with Baptist Village, a non-profit organization based in Tel Aviv.

Since October 7 it has funded more than $700,000 in aid for people in the affected areas, said Jason Cox, the vice president for international ministry at Send Relief. The money has helped provide housing for up to 400 individuals, tents with cooling and heating units and generators, cots and bedding, toilet and shower containers and trauma counseling from licensed professionals.

Some ministries are sending help to Palestinians in need, as well. TBM, the disaster relief ministry of the Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission, sent a team of volunteers on October 10 that has so far supplied thousands of meals to Israelis and Palestinians. The commission also established the “Israel-Hamas War Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Relief” fund, which will support humanitarian aid and crisis relief efforts.

Meanwhile, as various churches prepare to help long-term, Leatherwood said that it is Israel’s “moral responsibility” to end Hamas’s terror-making capabilities.

Hamas is the enemy in this, not just to Israel, but to the Palestinian people and everyone who desperately seeks peace in the Middle East.

Brent Leatherwood

Read The Times of Israel article here.

By / Oct 19

The Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7 when we woke up to the news that Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group, launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing 1,400 people in what has been referred to as Israel’s 9/11. In the days following, we have seen the horrendous images, heard the horrifying stories, and learned more about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. 

To help us understand these events and how we can think clearly about them is Paul D. Miller. Dr. Miller is a professor in the Practice of International Affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He serves as co-chair of the Global Politics and Security concentration in the MSFS program. He is also a Senior Fellow with the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council and a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Dr. Miller previously served in the US Army (including a tour in Afghanistan), as an analyst with the CIA, and as Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National Security Council staff. 

We’ll also talk with ERLC President Brent Leatherwood about the Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel and how Southern Baptists should continue to respond to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. 

Here is Dr. Miller’s most recent article at The Dispatch on the Israeli-Hamas war: “To Stand With the Palestinians, Support Israel Against Hamas”.

And just a reminder, we want to make sure you are kept up to date about the important work the ERLC is doing on behalf of Southern Baptists. The best way to do that is by joining us at ERLC.com/updates. Signing up for email updates allows you to hear directly from us about our work and ways we are serving you on the issues that matter most to Southern Baptists. Become an email subscriber at ERLC.com/updates

The ERLC podcast is a production of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is produced by Jill Waggoner, Lindsay Nicolet, and Elizabeth Bristow. Technical production is provided by Owens Productions. It is edited and mixed by Mark Owens.

By / Oct 11

Washington, D.C., Oct. 11, 2023 The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has joined with SBC and other Christian leaders in developing an “Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel,” in response to the horrific atrocities committed against the people of Israel by Hamas. 

The statement has garnered more than 60 signatories from SBC leaders and a broad group of evangelicals to support Israel and advocate for the vulnerable involved with this ongoing conflict. 

ERLC President Brent Leatherwood commented on the statement.

“These repugnant atrocities by Hamas should shake us to our core. Hundreds of innocent Israeli lives have been struck down by a rampaging enemy. There should be no question that the Israeli government has the right to defend its citizens and sovereignty that have been so grossly violated. Our statement today, from leaders across denominational lines in evangelicalism and from various sectors of ministry, represents a significant show of solidarity with Israel as it responds to this evil.

“In the face of such wickedness, this is not the time for false equivalency or excuses by national leaders and policymakers, but clear-eyed moral leadership. Extremists and authoritarians are threatening lives across the globe, rendering countless individuals vulnerable. As we read in the 13th chapter of the Book of Romans, governments have a responsibility to thwart such evil—and that responsibility should translate to action. 

“At the same time, we must pray without ceasing for the families who have and continue to suffer from this attack. We pray that no additional innocent life be taken as Israel rightfully defends itself from this horror.”

The evangelical statement also calls on Christians across the globe to pray for the salvation and peace of the people in Israel and Palestine.  

Excerpts from the statement are below: 

“While our theological perspectives on Israel and the Church may vary, we are unified in calling attacks against Jewish people especially troubling as they have been often targeted by their neighbors since God called them as His people in the days of Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). . . . 

“The tragic events of October 7th further underscore the importance of democracy in our world and stand as a sober reminder that supporting Israel’s right to exist is both urgent and needed. . . . 

“Furthermore, we recognize the dignity and personhood of all persons living in the Middle East and affirm God’s love for them as well as His offer of salvation through Jesus Christ to all people. . . . 

“Finally, we call on American policymakers to use their power to take all forms of terrorism seriously and call governments and civil authorities to confront evil work to prevent future attacks so that the innocent and vulnerable will be protected.”

Daniel Darling, director of The Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, served as a key drafter for the evangelical statement and commented on the crisis in Israel.

“These despicable acts represent a second Holocaust against the Jewish people. As in every generation, Israel needs defenders. There can be no equivocation. This is the time for the church to speak clearly and with one voice that we not only condemn these barbarous acts of terrorism but that we support Israel’s right to defend itself. I’m grateful for the moral clarity of those who added their name to this document and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” 

Southern Baptists passed a resolution at the 2016 annual meeting titled, “On Prayer and Support For Israel” supporting the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign state. 

The full statement can be found here

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 13.6 million members and a network of over 47,000 cooperating churches and congregations. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview, contact Elizabeth Bristow
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 Visit our website at www.erlc.com
Follow us on Twitter at @ERLC.

By / Feb 24

On this episode, Brent Leatherwood and Lindsay Nicolet discuss the SBC Executive Committee meeting and several noteworthy developments, including the “Ministry Check” website and six churches deemed not in friendly cooperation with the SBC. They also reflected on the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine. 

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  • 2023 Public Policy Agenda | The first session of the 118th Congress is now underway, and it begins as the nation is grappling with war around the world, inflation at home, and deep division across our nation. This also begins a new era of divided government with a Democratic president, a narrow Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, and a slim Republican majority in the House. This dynamic ensures legislating and governing will be a difficult task. We recently released the 2023 ERLC Public Policy agenda which includes our priorities for religious liberty, sanctity of life, marriage and family, and human dignity. Download the full agenda and learn how your Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is advocating for issues important to Southern Baptists at ERLC.com/policy
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By / Feb 24

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion into Ukraine, saying the “special military operation” is aimed at “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the country to protect ethnic Russians, prevent Kyiv’s NATO membership, and to keep it in Russia’s “sphere of influence.” Western nations pushed back, saying that it was an illegal act of agrression against a sovereign nation. 

Here are some of the most notable events over the past year related to the invasion.

March 2022: Russia accused of bombing a children’s hospital

A few weeks after the invasion, the Russians proposed a 12-hour ceasefire to provide evacuation corridors from select cities such as Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and Mariupol. But during that period, Russian forces reportedly bombed a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol that killed three people, including one child. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said the bombing was “proof of a genocide.”

March 2022: Governments and corporations impose sanctions on Russia

In March, President Joe Biden announced a U.S. ban on imports of oil, natural gas, and coal from Russia. (U.S. imports from Russia account for only 8% of America’s energy, of which only about 3% was crude oil.) The European Union also cut gas imports from Russia by two-thirds, and the United Kingdom said it would phase out “the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of 2022.”

The U.K. has also frozen the assets of seven Russian oligarchs, including one that owns an English soccer team. Additionally, the U.K. has made it a criminal offense for Russian aircraft to enter British airspace. A number of international companies also imposed voluntary sanctions. The list of companies includes Apple, Disney, Ford, MasterCard, McDonalds, and Visa. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo announced they would be pulling some products from the country.

April 2022: Russian troops kill hundreds of civilians in “cleansing” operation

After Russian troops retreated from Kyiv, the bodies of hundreds of civilians were found on the streets of the town of Bucha and in mass graves. News agencies discovered that in an attempt to neutralize resistance and terrorize locals into submission, the Russian military had ordered “zachistka”— cleansing. “The results of the criminal evidence we’ve gathered so far reveal that it wasn’t just isolated incidents of military personnel making a mistake but a systematic policy targeting the Ukrainian people,” said Taras Semkiv, Ukraine’s lead prosecutor for these war crimes.

June 2022: Claims of torture in Russian-occupied territories

By June, the BBC had documented numerous allegations of civilians being tortured by Russians in the region of Kherson. The claims included acts of rape, electrocution, beatings, strangulation, and burning—including on people’s hands, feet, and genitals. A doctor who claims to have treated such injuries says, “They were tortured if they did not want to go over to the Russian side, for being at rallies, for being in the territorial defence, for the fact that one of the family members fought against the separatists, some got there randomly.” Within the first four months of the war, ​​Ukraine claimed that around 15,000 suspected war crimes had been reported, with 200 to 300 more reported daily.

June 2002: SBC messengers adopt resolution on the war in Ukraine

At the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California, SBC messengers voted to adopt a resolution strongly condemning the actions of the Russian Federation in her declaration and acts of war against the sovereign nation of Ukraine. The resolution also called upon Putin to cease hostilities immediately, withdraw the Russian military, and end this war of aggression against Ukraine and her people. The messengers also noted that the SBC stands in “solidarity with our Ukrainian brothers and sisters in Christ as well as the people of Ukraine who have endured these atrocities and who have witnessed the horrors of war firsthand while seeking to defend their country from an invasion by a hostile army.” 

September 2002: Ukraine retakes much of the northeastern region; Putin calls up reservists

In September, Ukrainian forces launched a surprise counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region which forced Russian troops to pull back from areas that had been seized for months. In response, Putin ordered the mobilization of 300,000 reservists. The move was unpopular within Russia and led hundreds of thousands of Russian men to flee to neighboring countries to avoid recruitment.  

December 2022: Ukrainian President Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress

In his first visit outside of Ukraine since the Russian invasion began, Zelensky visited Washington, D.C., to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. In the speech—given two days before Christmas—Zelensky said:

We’ll celebrate Christmas, celebrate Christmas and even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out. If Russian – if Russian missiles attack us, we’ll do our best to protect ourselves. If they attack us with Iranian drones and our people will have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other. And we don’t, don’t have to know everyone’s wish as we know that all of us, millions of Ukrainians, wish the same: Victory. only victory.

February 2023: U.N. says 8,000 non-combatants killed and 8 million people have fled Ukraine

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) reports that at least 8,000 non-combatants have been confirmed killed and nearly 13,300 injured since the Russian invasion. But the true number is likely to be substantially higher, OHCHR staff have said. More than 100 cases of conflict-related sexual violence had been documented thus far.

Additionally, more than 8 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Poland has seen the largest numbers of Ukrainian refugees (around 1.5 million), followed by other European countries like the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia.

February 2023: President Biden visits Kyiv

Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Feb. 20. In meeting with the Ukrainian president, Biden showed that the U.S. was in solidarity with our Ukrainian allies. The U.S. president announced a half-billion dollars in new assistance, including a variety of military equipment, and the imposition of new sanctions on Russia. “One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” said Biden.

By / Feb 24

Exactly one year ago, I was about to deliver remarks to a Southern Baptist meeting, when the news alerts lit up my phone. The long-predicted Russian invasion of Ukraine had commenced. Russian troops had initiated a new incursion deep into Ukraine’s heartland.

After I announced the development to the room, you could sense the audience was contemplating what this might mean for our nation, as well as what it meant for missionaries serving there and our Baptist national partners on the ground.

Points of clarity 

Twelve months later, many of those questions remain, though we do have clarity on several fronts. 

First, Ukrainians have made a valiant stand against their Russian aggressors. While they have sustained a barrage of attacks that have taken numerous innocent lives and demolished infrastructure throughout their country, many analysts have said the Russian military has taken far greater losses. Backed by an impressive array of support from America and European allies, Ukraine has been able to beat back an initial threat to its capital, Kyiv, and has even  retaken ground lost in its east. Few would have predicted this kind of result a year into the conflict.

Secondly, the Southern Baptist Convention has been engaged from both a ministry and advocacy standpoint throughout the year. Send Relief, the SBC’s compassion ministry, jumped into action to help Ukranians who flooded across national borders, fleeing from the war zone. They provided basic necessities and connected them with partners who could provide shelter. Estimates from Send Relief put the number of displaced Ukrainians around 15 million—the largest such crisis in Europe in generations. To meet the demand, Southern Baptists and our partners have given over $12 million through Send Relief.

Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board, has made several trips to the region during the war. He’s visited Baptist churches in Romania and met with our missionaries who have offered input about what support is needed. In the U.S., the ERLC has advocated for Ukrainian refugees before the federal government to ensure they receive the support and asylum they need from the horrors back at home.

None of this response should be surprising. Baptists have long felt a calling to bring the good news to Ukraine and partner with the many Christians who call the nation home. As a result, an impressive network of Baptist churches, associations, and institutions are spread across the country. In some respects, a gospel bulwark has sprung up in Ukraine against the encroaching lostness that plagues so much of Europe. The solidarity and support expressed for the nation from Baptist communities in Romania, Moldova, and other nearby countries also demonstrates the key role Ukraine plays in the region.

Finally, this conflict is clearly driven by a vision to recapture the influence once held by the USSR and the appetite for conquest of one man: Vladimir Putin. The valiant stand of Ukraine and the incredible outpouring of support should not obscure the fact that the last year, under Putin’s direction, has been nothing short of hellish for Ukrainians. A bipartisan majority of American officials, reminiscent of the kind seen under the Reagan Doctrine—from President Joe Biden to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—have rightly said Russia’s illegal and unjust invasion must be opposed and stopped.

Our European allies have resolutely said the same, knowing that a successful takeover of Ukraine by Putin won’t end there. Who knows how far he will go to restore a Soviet-like domination of Eastern Europe? We would do well to remember he has called the downfall of the USSR the greatest tragedy of the 20th century

Thinking about year two 

So what does this mean for us as we begin a second year of this war?

Unfortunately, as NPR put it in one of its articles this week, “more misery” is ahead. Russia seems unlikely to relent, and so Ukraine, justifiably, will continue fighting for its survival. Those of us outside the immediate theater of war will continue to feel ripple effects in terms of a refugee crisis and unexpected swings in the international economy. 

Western support, especially America’s resolve, will be tested in the coming months. At this point, the U.S. has provided $110 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine, according to The Wall Street Journal. A number of voices, particularly in the political realm, are beginning to question the wisdom of providing that aid or whether it is being used properly.

As a matter of principle, I’m not opposed to scrutinizing how taxpayer resources are utilized. I’m a conservative in my philosophical and policy views. But in this instance, we know the answers. The Journal also indicates that the U.S. Inspectors General have assigned 177 auditors and investigators to track how these funds are deployed. Far from a “blank check,” these funds are being monitored closely to ensure they go to their intended objectives. If Putin accomplishes his aims and become an even larger threat to Europe, the long-term costs would be far greater. 

On a personal level, I have had individuals tell me I am taking an unbiblical view in my support for Ukraine, citing Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I understand their critique. My response is, “Absolutely, I want peace. And, in this situation, I want an aspiring autocrat who attacked a peaceful democratic neighbor to pull back his forces.”

Given Putin is unlikely to be persuaded by such a statement, I believe our next best option is to support Ukraine’s defense while continuing to work all diplomatic avenues that lead to a resolution respecting Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. This route promotes peace (Rom. 14:19) in the region while also ensuring innocent lives have the resources and support needed for protection.

Ultimately, that is my main concern. Putin’s invasion is nothing short of a grave injustice being perpetrated against those made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). Over the last year, we have witnessed the pummeling of a society and annihilation of innocent lives. Our hearts should break with every destructive blow. At a minimum, we should all pray for the Lord to turn Vladimir Putin from this wicked war and for his salvation. We should seek a day when the bombs, rockets, and artillery would fall silent. If our nation’s support for Ukraine helps make that a reality, we should, as the Baptist Faith and Message puts it, “do all in (our) power to put an end to war (Article XVI).”

By / Feb 23

In 2021 and early 2022, International Mission Board missionaries serving in Ukraine heard rumors of war, which led to an overland evacuation. Looking today in the rearview mirror, they realize they couldn’t have guessed the trauma about to mushroom from the east.  

Less than one month after the missionaries’ exodus, war made a forceful entry into the country they’d come to call home. The war ripped the life from the bodies of more than 7,100 civilians, tore husbands from wives and fathers from children, decimated towns and cities, stole childhoods and livelihoods, and wrought immeasurable havoc on the eastern European nation. 

That the war continues one year after the invasion comes as a surprise to many and is a testament to the interminable resolve and resilience of Ukrainians. That the Ukrainian church has grown, despite the upheaval and chaos, is a testament to the power of the gospel and the perseverance of the church. The church’s growth ballooned out from the country’s borders, following like a parachute to the cities and towns where refugees found welcoming hearts and arms.  

Ukrainian Christian refugees brought the light that could not and would not be extinguished to countries with significantly lower populations of evangelicals. Ukraine is home to the highest percentage of evangelicals in Europe. 

Their dispersion meant the gospel was also dispersed. 

Responding to the needs of Ukrainians

IMB ministry to and among Ukrainians has not halted in the year since the war began. Although IMB missionaries cannot currently live in Ukraine, they remain emotionally and relationally present with Ukrainians. Through Send Relief and IMB missionary presence, Southern Baptists continue to respond to the needs of Ukrainians.

What does it mean for IMB missionaries to be steadfastly present in a time of war and exile? It means:

  • loading a truck and trailer with provisions to take to physically and mentally disabled people in Ukraine, 
  • singing praise songs in a community center-turned-church and leading small group Bible studies in church basements, 
  • driving a van across the countryside to host mobile medical clinics, 
  • continuing to provide theological education for Ukrainian pastors, 
  • and making daring trips into Ukraine to oversee disaster relief projects. 

The world’s greatest problem is still lostness. IMB missionaries and their national partners are still running the race the Lord has set before them—a race to share the promise of the gospel with Ukrainians in their hour of greatest need. 

Looking back 

In the first few months of the war, IMB and Send Relief efforts centered around providing food, supplies, access to shelter and emotional and spiritual care. IMB missionaries, European Baptists, and Southern Baptist volunteers met refugees fleeing across the border and met them in the cities where they landed.  

As the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, churches in multiple countries continued to take in refugees and welcome them into their congregations. New congregations of war-weary refugees formed. Refugee children attended Christian camps and reclaimed some of the childhood they had lost. IMB missionaries invested their lives in the refugees living in their cities and made trips back into the country to visit national partners. Missionaries and their national partners hosted Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas parties, which provided much-needed time for community and celebration. 

The poignancy of the gospel and the generosity of Christians led to changed lives.  

Send Relief has facilitated 98 Ukrainian relief projects since February 2022. These projects centered in Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Moldova. Volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief made the trans-Atlantic journey to serve on the border of Ukraine. While there, they provided relief in many forms. 

Southern Baptist generosity knew no bounds. Gifts to Ukraine relief thus far have totaled $12.9 million, with $10 million given to Send Relief and $2.9 million given to the IMB. 

IMB missionaries developed digital engagement strategies to reach Ukrainians both inside and outside the country. The reach has been astronomical—22.5 million people visited a website created as an outreach tool.  

Looking forward 

Dan and Lori Upchurch served with the IMB in Lviv, Ukraine, before evacuating ahead of the Russian invasion. They now serve Ukrainian refugees in Poland with their teammates, Sarah and Kanoot Midkiff. They helped facilitate a relief center to meet the physical needs of refugees and planted a church with their national partner. They lead small-group Bible studies and partner with Ukrainian church planters. Dan continues to teach classes at the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, first online and now by traveling back to Ukraine.  

After evacuating Kharkiv, Ross and Kasey Lewis and Linda Gray, joined later by Journeyman Harrison Martin have invested their lives ministering to Ukrainian refugees in Romania. They minister in refugee centers and now host mobile medical clinics throughout the region. They recently purchased a van and ultrasound machines.  

Mike and JuliAn Domke took up temporary residence in Hungary, where they minister to Ukrainian refugees. Mike also oversees 20 Send Relief projects in Ukraine and makes frequent trips there. 

IMB missionaries who serve across Europe have added ministry to Ukrainians to their ministry routines. 

David and Shannon Brown and Ayden and Lorelei Klarke serve in Moldova and partner with the Moldovan Baptist Union to serve the many Ukrainian refugees who crossed the country’s eastern border.  

Only the Lord knows how long the war will last. Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something about Jesus’ name—the name that extends past rumors of war. 

Send Relief is the joint compassion ministry of the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board.

This article originally appeared at IMB.org. Read past stories from Ukraine of God’s work through Send Relief and the IMB. Look for more stories coming in the month ahead.

Photo details: IMB missionary Dan Upchurch leads a Bible study for Ukrainian refugees in a Polish Baptist Church. The church has been actively involved in meeting the needs of refugees. Upchurch shares 2 Corinthians 4:9-10 and talks about how God does not leave his people in times of persecution. IMB Photo

By / Oct 28

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss the U.K.’s new prime minister, Rishi Sunak. They also talk about Putin’s threat of a radioactive bomb, the Refugee Resettlement Program, and the importance of SBC local associations. 

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By / Oct 21

Over ​​the past few weeks there have been a number of international incidents that are worthy of our attention and prayer. Here are three you should know about from Iran, Ethiopia, and China.

What’s going on in Iran?

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has had a law requiring all women—regardless of nationality or religious belief—to wear hijabs that cover the head and neck while concealing the hair. The Gashte Ershad (guidance patrols) are the “morality police” tasked with enforcing this and other dress codes, as well as modest behavior. The patrols are usually composed of men and stationed in vans in public areas. The patrols generally target women, who are taken to a ​​police station, correctional facility, or re-education center, where they are taught to dress “appropriately.” 

Earlier this month, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested by a patrol in the capital city of Tehran and allegedly beaten while inside a morality police van. She was taken to the hospital where she remained in a coma before dying three days later. 

Amini’s death sparked outrage and protest throughout the country. Women in the country have posted videos of themselves setting fire to their headscarves and cutting their hair in public to chants of “Woman, life, freedom” and “Death to the dictator”—a reference to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

School children are protesting their leaders on an unprecedented scale that may prove difficult to contain, notes CNN. In attempting to put down the protest, an estimated 201 people—including 23 children—have been killed by Iranian authorities. The United Nation’s children agency UNICEF has also called for the protection of children and adolescents amid Iran’s protests. 

How to pray for this situation: Pray that God will protect the children and women of Iran, that the people will obtain freedom and protection for basic human rights, and that the church in Iran will be free from persecution. 

What’s going on in Ethiopia 

For the past year, the Ethiopian government and a regional military group have been engaged in a struggle for power and control over Tigray, the northern region of Ethiopia. Global leaders have so far hesitated to call it a genocide, referring to it as a civil war, or the Tigray War. But the atrocities committed by the Ethiopian and Eritrian governments make it clear the conflict is turning into a genocide. 

United Nations-backed investigators say all sides, including the Tigray forces, have committed abuses, but that the Ethiopian government is using “starvation of civilians” as a weapon of war. Tigray has been under a blockade for 17 months, and an estimated one million people are at risk of starvation. Because they are cut off from medical care, women are also dying during pregnancy or within 42 days of giving birth at five times the rate before the war. Children under 5 are dying at twice the pre-war rate, often because of easily preventable reasons. 

Altogether, an estimated half a million people have already died in the conflict. Tigray is “one of the worst manmade humanitarian crises in the world,” says the European Union foreign policy chief.

How to pray for this situation: Pray that the upcoming peace talks will bring an end to the conflict, that the genocide will end, and that the people of Ethiopia will find healing and restoration.

What’s going on in China? 

The 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party began this week in Beijing. The 2,296 delegates will represent the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 96.7 million members in reelecting the current leader, Xi Jinping.  

The 69-year-old Xi was due to step down in 2023, but in 2018 he further consolidated power by having his party change the constitution to remove the limitation that no Chinese president shall serve more than two consecutive terms.

Xi Jinping was elected as the president of the People’s Republic of China in 2013. In addition to this role as president, Xi also serves as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (putting him in control of the country’s political party) and chairman of the Central Military Commission (which makes him the commander-in-chief of China’s military forces). He also is head of so many other smaller decision-making bodies that he’s been called the “Chairman of Everything.”

After his first four years in office, the Communist Party voted unanimously to incorporate “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” into the Chinese constitution, an honor previously reserved for Mao Zedong and his successor, Deng Xiaoping. This change enshrined Xi’s political philosophy into the country’s supreme law and made any challenge to him a direct threat to Communist Party rule. As the BBC has noted, schoolchildren, college students, and staff at state factories are required to study this political ideology.

The reelection of Xi means the continuation of human rights abuse that have been the hallmark of his presidency. Under his rule, more than a million Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic group living in Central and East Asia, have been detained in a network of concentration camps. The atrocities against them include forced abortions, rape, sexual abuse, sterilization, internment in concentration camps, organ harvesting, human trafficking, scientific experimentation, the sale of human hair forcibly taken from those in concentration camps, family separation, forced reeducation of children, forced labor, and torture.

In 2021, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted the “Resolution 8: On The Uyghur Genocide,” becoming the first major denomination or convention of churches to speak up on behalf of Uyghurs and use the label “genocide” for Xi’s crimes against humanity. 

How to pray for this situation: ​​Pray for the Uyghurs, that they will find earthly protection and an end to the persecution, and that they will obtain ultimate salvation by putting their faith in Christ. 

By / Aug 15

August 15th will mark one year since the fall of Kabul and the official collapse of the Afghan government. The anniversary is a somber reminder of the chaos that entailed following the U.S. withdrawal from the country. We remember the horrific images that came out of Afghanistan as mothers hoisted their children over the airport fences and as people desperately clung to the landing gear of departing airplanes. When it could not seem to get any worse, it did. A suicide bomber detonated near a gate at the Kabul airport killing 13 U.S. service members along with at least 60 civillians. Sorrow ensued as millions across the world watched helplessly. 

Over the last year, much has happened causing the world to shift its attention away from Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine being one of the most notable. While the unjust war in Ukraine deserves our attention and full support, it should not come at the expense of forgetting the thousands of Afghans displaced from their homes and those left behind. They are not afforded the luxury of moving on to the next story, even if the world seems to. 

The evacuation of Afghans

The evacuation of Afghanistan was far from normal operating procedures. Under normal circumstances, someone who is fleeing their country will go through a lengthy process while abroad in order to gain the status of “refugee.” The Department of Homeland Security will approve cases after significant screening. However, a number of factors have made an already extensive process, that typically takes two to five years, nearly unworkable for those who need it. Since, as the State Department put it, “It is undeniable that we were surprised at the pace by which the Taliban were able to pursue their territorial advances,” their response was forced to rapidly evolve. 

Because there was not time for the normal refugee resettlement process to take place, the priority had to be shifted to protecting life on the ground and getting Americans and Afghan allies out as quickly as possible. In the midst of the chaos, many people who had faithfully served the U.S. military or who would otherwise qualify as a refugee were tragically left behind. In order to maintain the highest level of security screening, even in such an unusual process, the first stop on those flights out of Kabul was not the U.S. Everyone was taken to a U.S. military base in Europe or the Middle East for intensive security screenings. Biometrics were taken and cross referenced to criminal and terrorist related databases. If anything was flagged in the databases or in questioning, the individual would not be allowed into the U.S. Those who cleared security were then allowed to eventually travel to the US, where they were subject to additional security and health screenings. 

The arrival of Afghans

Given the unprecedented evacuation of 120,000 people from Kabul in a matter of days, there was not sufficient time for bureaucratic paperwork to be completed and for the formal status of “refugee” to be acquired. As a result, those who fled Afghanistan were brought to the United States using “humanitarian parole,” a tool the U.S. government may use to deliver people quickly to the U.S. in the case of a humanitarian crisis, instead of through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). 

Though it may seem like a minor distinction, it can and has had an extensive impact on the lives of Afghans brought to the US. Typically, parole does not allow for financial assistance such as food stamps or cultural orientation resources such as language classes that would typically be provided to a refugee through a resettlement agency. Thankfully, H.R. 5305 was signed into law to address some of these shortcomings by allowing Afghan parolees to access basic services provided by resettlement agencies as they arrived into the country and began to try and make a home. 

In addition, churches and people of faith stepped to the front lines to meet the needs of vulnerable Afghans who arrived to the U.S. Historically, people of faith have led the way in resettling refugees. On a national level, six of the nine agencies that work with the U.S. government to resettle refugees have religious roots that motivate their work. This instance was no different. Churches opened their doors, families made meals, and Christians rose up to welcome our new Afghan neighbors. In response to the crisis, World Relief, a Christian refugee resettlement organization, saw their number of active volunteers double.

Significant challenges still remain

Despite the work of volunteers and organizations to meet the needs of Afghans and Congress’ move to provide resettlement benefits, other challenges still remain. One of the severe limitations of parole status is that it is intended to only be temporary. Though it can potentially be renewed to avoid deportation, it does not provide any pathway to permanent status and will never allow Afghans to fully settle. Sadly, just as with Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status recipients, they will similarly live in legal limbo and have a fear of future deportation as a permanent fixture in their lives. With the Taliban continuing to search for those who aided the U.S. during the 20-year campaign, deporting our allies and other vulnerable Afghans back to their country is not an option. For the foreseeable future, those who are returned will likely be jailed and potentially killed. Unfortunately, parole ultimately serves as a short-term solution to a devastating, long-term crisis.

The ERLC has joined other evangelical organizations in repeatedly urging “the passing of legislation that would allow Afghans to adjust status to a lawful permanent resident once in the United States. Without a change to law, individuals with humanitarian parole status will face an uncertain future, lacking a clear, direct path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship.” Though many of these individuals could ultimately qualify for asylum, our asylum system is so significantly backlogged already that adding tens of thousands of new cases would leave Afghans in legal limbo for years. Without an act of Congress, many Afghans are left without a real solution.

Additionally, hundreds of Afghan allies who assisted the U.S. remain stuck in Afghanistan or in third countries unable to legally enter the States. Following the immediate evacuation, the U.S. government has been very limited in its granting of parole requests and Special Immigrant Visa requests. This has forced many of these individuals to enter the severely-backlogged and time-consuming refugee resettlement program, which may take years for them to be granted status. Many continue to face intense persecution from the Taliban and are in urgent need of assistance to find safety in the U.S. 

The role of the Church

God provides no ambiguity in where he stands on helping the most vulnerable. The greatest commandments in the Bible are to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-38). Vulnerable, displaced people from Afghanistan are attempting to begin new lives in our neighborhoods, churches, and communities. Many are scared, lonely, and in need of help. For most, their family, friends, and livelihoods had to be quickly left behind. They have been forced to start at ground zero. An immense opportunity exists for the Church to continue rallying around this community and helping people in desperate need of care. A mission field has come to us, and the hope of the gospel remains our greatest gift. 

Below are some resources from Southern Baptist missions entities and other faith-based relief organizations to assist you and your church in meeting both the physical and spiritual needs of Afghans in your community. 

  • Submit a World Relief form to open up your home to Afghan parolees. 
  • Get coaching from a Send Relief team member. Learn how to engage and minister to Afghans. 
  • Watch the “Care for Refugees Workshop” put on by Send Relief. 
  • The IMB has resources for sharing the gospel with Afghans in the US. 
  • Donate to support the efforts of Send Relief in assisting refugees and displaced people around the world. 

Though the world has in many ways moved on from those who have suffered in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, we must intentionally choose to see these people, made in the image of God, to remember their loss, and to offer our help. We have been given an opportunity to show the love of Christ to those who are in desperate need of hope. As we find ourselves in proximity to these individuals forced to flee, let us commit to loving them as Jesus would through extending the good news of the gospel to the broken, meeting the needs of the vulnerable, and welcoming the stranger with open arms into our homes, churches, and communities. (John 13:34-35; Matt. 25)