COVID dominated the news today. And yesterday. And the day before. Afghanistan has made understandable headlines but is dropping away – for now. China, submarines, AUKUS, Olympics, Paralympics, have all come and gone, replaced with the next breaking news story, like the resignation of a state premier, and a deputy, and an ICAC inquiry. The immediate important stories push aside the ongoing important stories.

News editors review a story’s potential on several criterion – Impact (how many people will be affected by the subject of the story) is one; Proximity (how close to home the story took place or will take place) is another. News outlets can’t report on everything; they must choose. And those choices can influence our understanding of the world and our memories.

But just because we don’t see the crisis reported in the news, doesn’t mean it has ended, only that it has dropped off our news radars. Even though the event may be important to understand, it can be pushed aside for something more immediate.

Afghanistan

News interest in Afghanistan will ebb and flow depending on the Taliban’s next steps and those that follow. Ironically, recent news from Afghanistan is the Taliban-imposed media restrictions and how 32 journalists have already been detained with some being severely beaten. It is a warning against critical reporting.

But we do know that tens of thousands of Afghans have fled the country—mostly into neighbouring Pakistan and Iran with as many as half a million predicted to flee before year’s end. Thousands more have fled their homes but will likely remain within Afghanistan as internally displaced persons. As such, they will struggle to access essential items and services like food, employment, education, and healthcare.

Even before the Taliban takeover, there were 2.6 million Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in the world – 2.2 million of them in Pakistan and Iran. Another 3.5 million Afghans are displaced within Afghanistan.

Myanmar

And then there is Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar for Bangladesh in 2017. They are still there, approximately one million of them—men, women, children—living in camps outside of Cox’s Bazar.

Today, we hear about them only when something new happens; like when monsoonal rains flooded the camp and 21,000 displaced people were displaced again. Or when a rise in COVID cases threaten to decimate those already vulnerable.

Myanmar’s Tatmadaw (military) staged a coup on 1 February 2021, ousting democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Tatmadaw has since committed widespread human rights violations that have left more than 1,120 killed and approximately 200,000 displaced. Meanwhile, the country is in an economic freefall as it deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of those violations was against Baptist Pastor Rev. Thian Lian Sang, the pastor of Falam Baptist Church in Shwe, Mandalay. Rev. Sang was abducted on 16 September and his whereabouts remain unknown.

In a report released on 23 September, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for urgent action to end the escalating conflict. ‘There is no sign of any efforts by the military authorities to stop these violations nor implement previous recommendations to tackle impunity and security sector reform,’ she said.

The report described the situation in Myanmar as ‘a human rights catastrophe that shows no signs of abating’.

One of those violations was against Baptist Pastor Rev. Thian Lian Sang, the pastor of Falam Baptist Church in Shwe, Mandalay. Rev. Sang was abducted on 16 September and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Two days later, Baptist Pastor Rev. Cung Biak Hum was shot and killed as he was trying to help a member of his congregation whose house was being burned down by the military. Both instances provide evidence to the reports of the intentional targeting of religious leaders.

The Baptist World Alliance is now calling on the release of Rev. Sang and for justice to be brought to those responsible for the killing of Rev. Hum.

Tigray, Ethiopia

The civil war which broke out in November 2020 in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has left thousands dead and approximately two million people have been forced to flee their homes. Despite warnings of a severe famine confronting those refugees, our news is eerily quiet.

Martin Griffiths, the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, said in late September that only 10 per cent of the needed aid over the past three months has managed to get through.

‘We predicted that there were 400,000 people in famine-like conditions, at risk of famine, and the supposition was that if no aid got to them adequately, they would slip into famine,’ he said. ‘I have to assume that something like that is happening.’

Sometimes it’s hard to get news – even for the UN.

Haiti

A long way from Tigray and Myanmar lies Haiti. It is a country decimated from an earthquake in 2010 and again on 14 August this year. Two days later in August, Tropical Depression (cyclone) Grace hit Haiti, sending people whose homes have been crushed in the earthquake into makeshift tents for cover. Aftershocks, strong winds and wet, unstable ground significantly lessened the disaster response capability.

And there is violence. Haiti has seen a steady increase in gang violence in recent years, but the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the wounding of his wife in July this year, has sent the country hurtling towards anarchy. Then on Sunday morning, 26 September, Sylner Lafaille, a deacon at the First Baptist Church in Port-au-Prince died from his wounds in hospital following an attack on the church. Tragically, Lafaille was wounded while trying to prevent the abduction of his wife, Marie. (News late Friday 8 October reported Marie had been released and was safe.)

Thousands of Haitian refugees are trying to cross into the United States from Mexico but are being returned to Haiti under the contentious Title 42 policy that uses the pandemic as a reason to clear the border. Many are choosing to flee back into Mexico rather than risk deportation back to Haiti.

• •. •

Despite the violence and turmoil around the world, many are hopeful that persecution will produce faith, as history has shown time and again. Right now, 13 Christians are killed every day because of their faith; 12 churches are burned, 12 are arrested or imprisoned, and five are abducted. Every day.

But instead of the church dying, we see growth, according to David Curry, President of Open Doors USA in an interview with Christianity Today. ‘The numbers of God’s people who are suffering should mean the Church is dying—that Christians are keeping quiet, losing their faith, and turning away from one another. But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, in living color, we see the words of God recorded in the prophet Isaiah: “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”’ (Isa. 43:19, ESV), he said.

The same article stated that the number of Christians living in the top 50 countries responsible for the most persecution of Christians, has risen from 260 million to 309 million.


Jesus knew persecution. And he knew violence. Because of it, we know faith and we have hope. It is crucial that faith-based organisations like Baptist World Aid report on the parts of the word that they are involved in – and even those they aren’t.

It is crucial that we remember and act – and keep God’s people front of mind in our prayers.

Amidst the chaos in Afghanistan, Micah Australia asked their followers on social media recently to remember and pray for Myanmar. It was a good reminder that immediate and tragic news can push aside news of other issues. We too ask you to pray for Myanmar. And Haiti, and Tigray, and Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, and to remember the stories, places and people, we don’t always hear about in the news.