The Caucasus region remains a centre of unresolved tensions - with its ethnic and religious diversity, history of war and repression, and its position, straddling the oil-rich but politically sensitive region, where many major powers (Russia, Turkey, Iran, the West) have conflicting areas of concern. In all likelihood, decades of unrest lie ahead. Its peoples represent one of the most difficult challenges for evangelization, with many ethnic groups still unreached. Pray for God to somehow break through these seemingly unscalable barriers to the Gospel.
Russia has re-asserted its power in recent years with growing confidence. It has reeled back into its sphere of influence several of the regions and countries that appeared to be drifting away, and has acted with its old ruthlessness toward restive and problematic peoples and nations. The previous 10-20 years witnessed a power vacuum left by departing Soviets which was filled by oligarchs, mafia and corrupt politicians - who massively enriched themselves and left a disillusioned and impoverished majority reminiscing after the stabilities and certainties of the old Communist regime. Despite declining populations and unresolved tensions, Russia remains a huge player in both the European and the global scenes. Pray for a government that is effective and uncorrupted, bringing economic betterment for its entire population and allowing greater human rights and freedoms.
Restive ethnic enclaves within nations remain potentially threatening to stability. These include Kosovo, the Basque and Catalonian regions in Spain, Northern Ireland, Trans-Dniester in Moldova, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Northern Cyprus, the large Hungarian and Albanian minorities in several Central European and Balkan countries and, more recently, the large Muslim minority in France.
Massive cultural shifts are occurring right across the continent as Europe finally reaps the harvest sown from the Enlightenment through WWI up to today. Christianity was effectively replaced by humanist philosophies and nationalism. Europe can be regarded not only as postmodern, but also post-rational and certainly post-Christian. It is no accident that the regions of the world where relativism, individualism and existentialism reign supreme are also spiritually the bleakest. This has had several debilitating effects:
- Cynicism is now apparently the "-ism" of choice, as the younger generation increasingly disengages from traditional civic responsibilities, such as politics and community service, and feels alienated from older generations. The elevation of the individual and instant gratification spur on hedonistic, nihilistic lifestyles that often end in dysfunction, emptiness, loneliness and despair.
- Moral uncertainty. With transcendent authority undermined (and the authority of the Bible dismissed long ago), right and wrong are determined by consensual bureaucracy or individual inclination, leading to a morass of relativism.
- Societal disintegration. Traditional values regarding the family, childbirth, marriage, sexuality, sanctity of life and community are being dismantled not just culturally, but also legally. These have severe repercussions in the areas of demographic decline, future economic burdens and psychological and social health. As traditional foundations of healthy societies are deconstructed in Europe, some suggest the term "sociocide", self-aware civilizational suicide, as an adequate description. Pray that Europe's sophisticated societies might turn back from the brink, affirming and working out together the Judeo-Christian values that so profoundly shaped them and gave them the freedoms they now misplace.
Freedom of public religious expression continues to erode, largely due to insistent secularism. It is acceptable to have religious faith - as long as it remains a thoroughly private affair that is not inflicted upon the secular public. This manifests itself through:
- Prevalent secular values, which regard Christian absolutes with intolerance. Practicing Christians are marginalized and caricatured in the media and popular culture. There is a growing acceptance of contempt for organized religion and the failure to recognize any positive or redemptive element therein. Christians, and evangelicals in particular, make soft targets for those who hate religion and insist on sidelining it from the public sphere.
- National governments and the EU press on with legislation that attempts to safeguard freedoms and human rights, but in doing so virtually shackles the public practice of biblical faith. In a number of countries, a conciliatory approach to handling Islam, other faiths and even atheism is not equally extended to Christianity. Some regard this as a byproduct of pluralism; others see anti-Christian conspiracies. Historically, the less than stellar track record of most state churches regarding conflict, political meddling and moral purity, plus the effective withdrawal from the fray of Pietists and Anabaptists, places Christianity on a weak footing regarding its right to speak into nation-building in secular Europe.
- The Orthodox Church, which in many countries of central and eastern Europe has equated national identity with specific religious affiliation. Minority religious groups are often discriminated against, harassed and subject to misleading propaganda. The Orthodox establishment's collusion with national governments to maintain religious hegemony often intensifies the difficulties evangelicals face in attempting to worship and minister. Pray that believers might proclaim the good news regardless of the cost. Networks that represent the Church — such as the European Evangelical Alliance - need to negotiate the shifting currents of laws and culture with the shrewdness of serpents, while remaining as innocent as doves in living out pure and blameless lives that glorify Jesus and compel others to do the same.
Political integration carries on as the EU expands its borders and passes legislation to be applied from the Black Sea to the North Atlantic. Laws that influence the daily lives of hundreds of millions are being passed in Brussels. There is great potential strength in consistent laws and economic integration across the EU, but the removal of national sovereignty and civic and political authority from its member states carries inherent dangers. Pray that the EU might act with wisdom and insight that ensures the long-term stability of its member states while caring for vulnerable populations in Europe and around the world.
Ethnic tensions and nationalism, intensifying in some places, are increasingly relevant in others. Many countries live simultaneously with broad ethnic diversity and multiculturalism while also struggling with endemic racism. Beyond regional challenges of long-held ethnic hostilities and restive minority populations, tensions regarding increased immigration have increased as well. This applies to both people movements within Europe as well as immigration from other continents.
Immigrants continue to flow into Europe, both legally and illegally. Europe's ageing population and low fertility rates make immigration an economic necessity, but it is still feared and opposed by many. By extension, multiculturalism and pluralism are inevitably if not already ensconced. The population of immigrants from outside Europe probably now exceeds 30 million. Immigration accounts for the vast bulk of the continent's population growth, and literally millions more seek merely to get entry to Europe by any means in order to benefit from the generous social safety nets available. This can be seen as a threat to traditional European identity; it can also be regarded as an opportunity for the gospel as many come from countries where Christian witness is restricted. Pray for the Church to seize this opportunity for witness to the unevangelized.
Criminal exploitation of immigration was inevitable due to the sheer numbers involved and their great desire to gain entry into Europe. Many pay exorbitant sums for the services of traffickers; others try to sneak in by countless different methods. Hundreds of thousands are illegally trafficked against their will into the EU, most of them women to be used in the sex trade. The majority of these come from Eastern Europe, but in fact women and children from every region of the world are enslaved into prostitution. Others are forced to work in inhuman conditions for low wages, while still others are forced to marry against their will to secure legal access for their bogus spouses. Pray for governments, faith groups and communities to band together to end these evils and see justice done for the victims.
Demographic realities make a return of religious faith almost inevitable. Sub-replacement fertility among the atheist and secular elites is contrasted heavily with higher birth rates among those of religious faith. Add to this the highly religious character of most immigrant populations and, despite its own best efforts, 21st Century Europe will likely become more religious in character - unless it can subvert the majority of its current religionists and its future immigrants to buy into the secularist mindset. Europe's future looks to be a pluralistic one - not secular, not Christian, not Muslim, but an uneasy coexistence of the three.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.