I hope December 26 is a day of calm, joy, and peace for Christians around the world. The Savior's arrival has been celebrated, songs have been sung, gifts given, family gathered with, holiday meals eaten—and, in America, football played (Chicago at Green Bay). December 26, the second day of Christmas, is a good time for a day of rest.
The day after Christmas will probably not be tranquil for some Christians. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian under a death sentence for apostasy from Islam, will be spending it in prison. Arrested in 2009, Nadarkhani has refused to save his life by renouncing Jesus Christ and professing himself a Muslim. As of mid-December, the clerical authorities in Iran have delayed any further decision on his execution for at least a year. A renunciation by Nadarkhani would solve the problem for the Iranian authorities; it is unlikely he will merely languish in prison for the next year. He will probably face intense pressure, and perhaps torture, to induce him to recant. The outcome of his case will affect conditions for all Christians in Iran.
Christians in much of the Middle East—Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Iraq—face an increasingly uncertain future as well. Indeed, the future is more uncertain for more peoples than at any time since the end of the Cold War, as decades-old autocracies crumble and tyrants see their hold on power slip. North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Il has died, leaving a son ill-prepared to rule; Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey are reported to be more stricken with cancer than their governments have disclosed; Vladimir Putin in Russia faces a growing domestic protest movement, as do the clerical rulers of Iran and the Communist leadership of China. Even the future of the European Union is in doubt, on a continent where, in the aftermath of the Cold War, there is no unifying political idea to replace it.
In this time of turmoil, the societies that propagated the gospel of Christ across the earth are seeing a decline in belief. A U.S. Air Force chaplain serving in Afghanistan reported in late 2011 on his interactions with chaplains from the other allied nations:
[Chaplain (Captain) Kevin Humphrey] met with Canadian, British, Dutch, Australian and other American chaplains . . . They discussed the state of spirituality back in their home countries.
"A chill ran down my back," Humphrey recounted. Taking turns, each chaplain—with sadness in their hearts and voices—began describing the deteriorating spiritual state of affairs back home, regardless of their nationality.
"The Dutch chaplain spoke of being in a post-Christian society. He described Dutch people who didn't even know who Jesus is. Each chaplain gave a similarly negative report from his own nation."
At Humphrey's suggestion, the international chaplains now meet and pray every Monday at 11 a.m. (Afghanistan time) for God to move in each nation and to bless their ministries.
Yet the gospel is thriving as never before in places like India, China, Africa, and Latin America. Satellite broadcasting and the internet are bringing the good news into even the most repressive regimes. Information technology is also making Christians increasingly aware of each other, putting us in touch across a restive, fractious globe and allowing us to intercede for our most distant fellows in Christ, very often at an hour's notice or less.
As we face a new year that seems certain to bring more turmoil and danger, we can be cheered by Chaplain Humphrey's report from Afghanistan:
The very real presence of Christ has been here in the midst of difficulty . . . Psalm 91 has become very real for me. I have not feared for my life since I have been here—not because I think I'm brave but because Christ has been so present.