Libya (MNN) — U.S. officials announced on Monday that they have begun increased airstrikes against ISIS in Libya. The airstrikes began at the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), backed by the United Nations.
GNA forces have been trying to reclaim territory that was taken over by ISIS fighters, and to keep Libya from becoming another Islamic State stronghold.
Besides the obvious reason of not wanting ISIS to gain more power in general, Libya is a critical country in northern Africa as it sits just across from European countries on the Mediterranean Sea.
And Libya’s current state of political limbo with a transitional government, since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, means it is a country still trying to gain stability.
A Nation in Limbo
Kristin Wright, Advocacy Director with Open Doors USA, shares, “I think we’re seeing a very sad instability in the region right now, and it’s absolutely crucial that Libya not become another stronghold for ISIS simply because of safety in the region for the people living on the ground.”
Even beyond ISIS fighter presence, Libya has seen an increase in Islamic extremism at the local community level, as indicated by Open Doors’ analysis of Libya on their World Watch List — a list that ranks countries around the world based on their religious tolerance of Christians and other religious groups.
“We’re seeing a sad trend towards the issue of Islamic extremism,” explains Wright. “It’s been more of an issue now than it ever has been, and that’s why we’re seeing Christians being targeted for severe persecution simply because of their faith. And sadly, that’s a trend that we observed with the current World Watch List. A number of the countries there, including Libya, the primary driver of persecution is forms of Islamic extremism similar to what we’re seeing as a result of ISIS’ presence in the region.”
Implications for Christians
For a long time, Libya has been a Muslim-dominant nation, and throughout the various power-changeovers in the past few years, Christians have always been in the margins.
Wright says, “At Open Doors, we have work on the ground in more than 60 countries, and one of those countries is Libya. It’s actually ranked number 10 on Open Doors 2016 World Watch List and that’s because of the incredibly severe persecution faced by Christians and other religious groups.”
However, despite the growing presence of ISIS in Libya and the threats of extremist attacks, there are opportunities for the spread of the Gospel. And Wright has witnessed them firsthand.
“I’ve traveled substantially throughout the region, and whenever I go and visit Christians who are persecuted on the ground in these different countries, it is remarkable to me to see how their faith is growing in the midst of persecution. I think in many ways that it’s the greatest witness when Christians are staying strong and they are finding the faith and the hope and the confidence that they need in Christ, then that’s really a light in the darkness, and Libya is a very dark place.”
Open Doors works with Christians in oppressive situations to be an encouragement and help in any way they can. This often looks like Bible and Christian literature distribution, evangelism training, literacy and job classes, and community restoration, just to name a few.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why I feel really excited about the work of Open Doors,” Wright shares enthusiastically, “because it really is about empowering the Church to be the Church on the ground wherever they’re at, whatever circumstances they’re facing, to be the hands and feet of Christ in their communities, and that’s what is happening on the ground in Libya as well.”
What You Can Do
“I think the first thing is to pray for a sense of peace for Christians living on the ground in Libya, to pray for strength for them as they’re undergoing suffering, as they’re undergoing this very serious and intense situation, to be remembering them, to pray for their safety, to pray for their encouragement.”
In addition to prayer, there is a unique way you can get involved in supporting the persecuted Church through Open Doors.
“You can sign our current petition. We’re urging the presidential candidates to raise issues of religious persecution against Christians and other religious groups. We’re encouraging them to state their plan of action for addressing the persecution of Christians that is growing at such an alarming rate,” Wright explains.
“Also, if you feel led, you can make a gift to help Christians on the ground in countries like Libya to support them with basic supplies, with Bibles, with Christian literature, and other support.”
Wright encourages us with these final thoughts: “I’d say that now, more than ever, is a time where Christians need to recognize the danger that their brothers and sisters are in in many countries of the world, including Libya, and to be keeping our fellow believers in our prayers.”