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2014 Year in Review | Back to the future

Now 14 years into a new millennium, the year jerked us back to a past we thought we’d left behind: Beheadings, race riots, Soviet-style conflict, and runaway epidemics.

In the subterranean reaches of ancient churches in Mosul, Iraq—turned suddenly and in broad daylight to ISIS shrines—the captives of the 21st century met an abyss of medieval-minded militants, and the unenlightened dawn of a new dark age.

The year turned on regifting. Like the stiff-necked aunt who keeps handing out fruitcake after all the relatives say, “Enough!” 2014 gave us ample taste of old and familiar history only wrapped in new paper.

With Ferguson, Mo., the streets of America demanded a new civil rights era, six years into the first African-American presidency and half a century since legal remedies took shape to end a long U.S. history of injustice to blacks.

Vladimir Putin took us back to Cold War days with an audacious takeover of Crimea and continued provocation in eastern Ukraine. Drawing a page from the agitprop era, he blamed his actions on “the enemies of yesteryear.”

Africa’s Ebola epidemic proved resilient to the world’s best public health protocols—affecting more than 25 countries on six continents and continuing unabated, with more than 18,000 cases and nearly 7,000 confirmed deaths by year’s end.

A long-ignored ISIS rebranded itself as the Islamic State and served notice on the United States with the August beheading of journalist James Foley that war in Iraq was not over.

President Obama, who came into office pledging to end that war, found himself standing before the American people ordering airstrikes and then more military personnel to Iraq again. He pledged a “relentless effort” to help ensure that “those who offer only hate and destruction [are] vanquished from the Earth.”

Despite that pledge, ISIS by year’s end controlled nearly all the same territory it captured in 2014. With oil supplies and other revenue, it appeared poised to mount a bigger threat than al-Qaeda prior to 9/11.

Lost in the takeover: the destruction of Christian institutions in Syria and Iraq—a civilization stretching back to the first century. In Mosul the militants destroyed or converted to mosques 45 Christian churches or institutions, all now flying the black ISIS flag.

During a standing-room-only service in Rome that included Pope Francis, the Orthodox bishop of Damascus Jean Kawak recounted stories of starving, homeless Christians: “How much longer denied, we believers? We are not resigned to the darkness of evil. We are not people of resignation or despair. Christians are the people of faith and hope. … The anonymous prayer of many people has changed the course of history.”

Domestically amid a growing world disorder came midterm elections securing Republican control of Congress, falling oil prices, and signs of economic recovery. Unemployment rates dropped but remain stubbornly high for 20- to 30-year-olds (in some places above 10 percent).

With a changing economy, plus changing values, the American family slid further into decline—under half as many new households (559,000) formed in the United States in the five years ending with 2014, compared to the five years before 2009 (1.2 million).

At the same time America’s “non-religious bloc” has nearly doubled to over 17 percent, prompting researchers to conclude, “The religious canvas of American life is being repainted before our eyes.”

In this sea of old and new, there is a gift we never tire of, and a Regifter who breaks through our retrograde tragedies moment by moment. One who knows our frame and remembers we are dust.

“The answer to the WHY is WHO,” wrote Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini from prison in a September letter on his daughter’s eighth birthday. “The confusion of ‘WHY has all of this happened?’ and ‘WHY your prayers are not answered yet’ is resolved with understanding WHO is in control … LORD JESUS CHRIST, our GOD!”

Once again, but in a new millennium, we learn from a prison epistle the story of triumph despite a year’s suffering. “And so I want you to know that the answer to all of your prayers is that God is in control,” wrote Abedini, “and He knows better than us what He is doing in our lives and all around the world.”

Here are some of the key players and events in the year gone by:

ISIS
Islamic State militants on June 30 take part in a parade in the Raqqa province of northern Syria to celebrate the declaration of an Islamic caliphate. Throughout the year the al-Qaeda offshoot gained territory while fighting against Syrian, Iraqi, and Kurdish forces, brutally ousting Christian and Yezidi residents from the region.

Flight 370
A Boeing 777 that went missing over the Indian Ocean. Search efforts in the months since have failed to locate the plane, which had 239 persons on board, or any wreckage from it.

Midterms
U.S. Sen.-elect Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Iowa, and her victory was part of a nationwide wave that handed Republicans control of the U.S. Senate for the final two years of the Obama administration.

Ebola
The deadliest outbreak of Ebola on record infected 18,000 persons in Africa in 2014, killing more than 6,000 of them, and for the first time spread to the United States and other Western nations.

Canada
On Oct. 22, a Muslim terrorist, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, shot and killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial and then entered the Parliament buildings where Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers shot and killed the assailant.

Nigeria
Muslims from the terrorist group Boko Haram on April 14 abducted more than 200 other Christian girls from a school in Chibok.

ObamaCare
On June 30 the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision protected the religious freedom of employers to opt out of the requirement to provide contraception to employees under the Affordable Care Act. The case involved the craft store chain Hobby Lobby.

IRS Scandal
Former IRS official Lois Lerner swears to tell the truth before invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to testify at a House hearing on March 5. The hearing investigated whether the IRS had targeted conservative groups based on their political beliefs. The IRS later reported pertinent emails from Lerner had disappeared in a computer crash. A Treasury inspector general in late November found the emails.

South Korean Ferry
On April 16 a ferry sank off the coast of South Korea. Only 172 of the 476 passengers and crew survived the sinking. The ship’s captain, Lee Jun-Seok, later received a 36-year jail term on convictions of gross negligence and dereliction of duty.

Immigration
U.S. Border Patrol agents on May 23 arrested migrants trying to cross the border illegally in McAllen, Texas. Tens of thousands of mostly unaccompanied minors from Central America crossed into the United States, causing a humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ukraine
Russian soldiers seized control of Crimea, Ukraine. As part of ongoing violence there, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by forces linked to Russia. All 298 persons on board were killed.

Iraq
Tens of thousands of Yezidis and Christians fled Iraq this year from advancing Islamic State forces, which brutalized and killed Yezidis and Christians in their path.

— by Mindy Belz

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