For Christians, important stories the world over can fall into two categories. The first is the Great Commission, the work of evangelism. The second is Satan's response to the Commission: persecution and bedlam. Tangled between are flare-ups reflecting both man's fallen nature and the redemptive work of Christ. Ten "flareups" from 1996 are highlighted below.
**red_square**By last February 15,000 American troops had arrived in Bosnia as part of a NATO force to carry out the peace agreement reached last December in Dayton, Ohio. The show of force brought a near-immediate end to fighting between Muslims, Croats, and Serbs battling for territory in the former Yugoslavia. The year-long deployment of troops was less successful in securing the long-term provisions of the Dayton Peace Accords: a guarantee to return all refugees to their homes (see WORLD, Mar. 30 and Apr. 20). Nearly two million people remain displaced, and sporadic fighting broke out when some returning refugees tried to reclaim homes they lost during the war.
Meanwhile, some American soldiers continued to describe their stint in Bosnia as "incarceration with work release" because of General Order No. 1. It requires the troops to remain in camp, to refrain from alcohol, and to be on high-alert, "combat ready" status at all times. The order is meant to avoid terrorist-sponsored debacles like the attacks on U.S. troops in Beirut and Somalia. Performance and mortality ratings have improved, if not morale. Five American soldiers died this year in Bosnia, one from a mine explosion, two from heart attacks, one in a traffic accident, and one when a burner exploded in his tent.
Humanitarian aid poured into Bosnia this year alongside the troops. Headaches as well as help resulted. Leaders in Bosnia and Croatia, for instance, face finding ways to destroy more than 900 tons of useless drugs sent during the war. The drugs are outdated or meant for treating cholera and other tropical diseases that don't exist in these two countries. Health workers say disposing of such quantities of drugs may pose its own health risk or poison the environment, and government officials estimate the cost of disposal at $2 million.
**red_square**Russian President Boris Yeltsin survived his country's first general election in May and a run-off in July, but nearly succumbed to heart trouble (see WORLD, July 21). The 65-year-old chief executive underwent heart surgery in November to restore his physical strength but ended the year with his political stamina still in doubt. The landscape of the country's emerging democracy continues to defy categorization. Russia's most nimble politician, Alexander Lebed, moved his country closer to peace in Chechnya and cooperation with NATO, but he frightened Christians with his xenophobic statements about missionaries working in Russia and efforts to make it difficult for some to remain there. "We must make ourselves round," said missionary Tim Campbell, borrowing a Russian expression that means "hurry up."
**red_square**Cuban leader Fidel Castro seemed in no hurry to quit communism, despite Cuba's crumbling economy and new sanctions from the United States. After Cuban MiG fighters shot down two civilian aircraft flown by Americans over the international waters between Florida and Cuba last February, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act. The legislation restricts American travel and business activity in Cuba but also penalizes other countries that do business with Cuba. The third-party sanctions, to be fully implemented next year, infuriated American allies like Canada and the European Union nations.
**red_square**Taking a tough line on communists next door did not preclude the Clinton administration from embracing those across the sea. The president insisted on Most Favored Nation trade status with China--one item on the "to-do" list of big-time Indonesian donor Mochtar Riady--and announced plans for a 1997 summit, even as greater evidence of human rights abuses in mainland China were in the news. In mid-January top Communist Party officials and members of the Chinese government's Religious Affairs Bureau met to hammer out a new strategy for dealing with growing numbers of religious adherents, particularly Christians (WORLD, Feb. 17). A crackdown on the country's rapidly growing house-church movement and its leaders followed. "China now has the largest number of Christian prisoners in the world," said human-rights expert Nina Shea. "Religious intolerance is not dissipating with the expansion of the capitalist system."
**red_square**China threatened to take democracy captive when it lobbed three nuclear-capable missiles into the sea near Taiwan March 8. Part of military exercises designed to intimidate the Taiwanese into foregoing their first presidential election, the move prompted the United States to dispatch two aircraft carriers to the region. President Lee Teng-hui, 73, became Taiwan's first democratically chosen president in the elections. Both his margin of victory--54 percent--and voter turnout--76 percent of 14 million eligible voters--were considered high under the circumstances.
**red_square**Nicaraguans cast ballots in their second free national elections Oct. 20 (see WORLD, Oct. 26). Seven years have passed since Nicaragua emerged from civil war and a Marxist dictatorship. Still, international observers and $3.5 million from the United States were required to ensure fair elections. Democratic candidate Arnoldo Alem n was the top vote-getter, succeeding Violeta Chamorro. Mr. Alem n won on a promise to continue the liberal economic and social agenda that he credits with transforming Nicaragua's capital, Managua, where he was mayor.
**red_square**Israelis also went to the polls, seeking an end to the political turmoil that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995. Mr. Rabin's Labor Party was turned out of office in May elections, and Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party took over as prime minister (see WORLD, May 25/June 1). Mr. Netanyahu's reputation for toughness put a chill on the three-year-old Mideast peace process. Talks with Palestinians stalled over the issues of trading land for peace and Mr. Netanyahu's decision to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
A United States-brokered accord brought about a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon. Israel shelled areas supposed to be enclaves for the Muslim terrorist group but invited international condemnation for killing 200 civilians in April bombings.
**red_square**South Africans kept their head of state but adopted a new constitution in May. The move by South Africa's Parliament sealed the coffin on apartheid by calling for unrestricted majority rule after 1999. Acknowledging the new order, Vice President and National Party leader F. W. de Klerk, the last president under the apartheid system, resigned from President Nelson Mandela's coalition government the day after passage. He agreed to lead his party in forming a loyal opposition within Parliament. While apologizing to his country for participating in the apartheid system, Mr. de Klerk said other contentious issues were raised by the new constitution. Chief among them is abortion on demand, which Mr. de Klerk opposes. But in December President Mandela passed a law making abortion permissible for women and teen-age girls. Under apartheid, most abortions were outlawed.
**red_square**In May the United Nations ran out of money for daily operations. The financial crisis was blamed on the United States' refusal to pay $1.5 billion, a stand meant in part to reform U.N. spending habits. The U.N. bureaucracy expected payment from other countries, too. By the U.N.'s contribution formula, Russia owed $400 million; Japan, $128 million; and Germany, $50 million.
The budget crisis came to a head in November when the United States vetoed Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's bid for a second term. U.S. Representative Madeleine Albright insisted the secretary-general had not done enough to reform the U.N.'s bloating bureaucracy (see WORLD, Oct. 21). But the year-end selection of Kofi Annan as the new secretary-general did not look like a step toward the kind of reform the United States wants. Mr. Annan, a career U.N. bureaucrat from Ghana, was head of peacekeeping operations, one of the functions reformers would like to trim.
**red_square**And finally, the issue of persecution itself became a mainstream news story when the cause found an odd patron. Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, who is Jewish, used prime op-ed space in The Wall Street Journal to denounce a campaign against Christians in Muslim countries. "This issue tests us all," he concluded. "For American Jews who owe our very lives to the open door of 'the blessed land,' silence should not be an option in the face of persecutions eerily parallel to those committed by Adolf Hitler."
Thus ignited, several prominent Christians and human-rights groups pressed Congress and the Clinton administration to grant the problem the political attention it deserves (see WORLD, Sept. 21). Congressional testimony and a concerted effort on the part of evangelical denominations--including the first ever International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church held in September--drew attention to specific cases of Christian persecution. Bowing to growing pressure, President Clinton in November announced the formation of a commission on religious liberty. Don Argue, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, will serve on it along with other Christian leaders. In a move meant to keep the political pressure politically correct, the president also included representatives from Buddhist, Muslim, and Native American groups in the commission.