Image: REUTERS/Adel al-Khadher

By Gigi Kotze

In August, according to the United Nations (UN), a “floating time bomb” oil tanker left adrift in the Red Sea was successfully drained of its cargo. After civil war broke out in 2014, the vessel was abandoned off the coast of Yemen with more than one million barrels of oil on board. In 2020, leaks in the engine room threatening to sink the ship sparked fears that the deteriorating FSO Safer could explode or break apart, causing a major spill. The ship could have released four times more oil than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez off Alaska in 1989. Modelling showed that the oil from the ship would have saturated the coastlines of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and North Africa, smothered mangroves and coral reefs, decimated a fishery on which 1.7 million people depend, and poisoned desalination plants that provide fresh water to 10 million more. The UN became desperate to prevent an environmental catastrophe that would have been known as “the worst spill of our era”.

In 2021, David Gressly, the UN’s resident and humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, began to meet with Yemen’s Houthi rebels and the coalition-backed government separately to discuss how to save the ship. In September 2022, both parties agreed to a plan to remove the oil, the key demand being that someone would have to buy a new vessel to hold the transferred oil, however, who would take ownership of it was contested. A new ship would cost more than $50 million – an amount usually covered by the shipowners and their insurers. However, it fell to the UN to raise $144 million to cover the total costs, including the new ship and hire of a salvage company to transfer the oil. In May 2022, the UN launched a fundraising drive from member states. The next month, Mr Gressly launched a crowdfunding drive appealing to the public. By September 2022, the campaign had gathered $75 million of the required $144 million from about 17 different countries, as well as a Yemeni multinational firm, and a group of US schoolchildren. When the campaign reached $121 million in July this year, the UN’s emergency humanitarian fund provided a loan that closed the remaining $20 million gap. Once the task of removing the oil began, it took 18 days to complete the transfer in a stretch of water where naval mines were known to be located.

In the past, INcontext has covered the importance of looking after the environment, and how we are called as believers to take care of the earth that God has entrusted to us. While environmental stewardship is important to God, we have an even bigger responsibility as the body of Christ to be cheerful and generous in our contributions to humanitarian aid (helping people who are made in the image of God – Matthew 25:31-46) and our giving towards missions (the advancement of the Kingdom of God and the saving of souls). In June this year, the UN reported that it  was forced to cut food, cash payments, and assistance to millions of people in many countries across the world because of “a crippling funding crisis” that has seen its donations plummet by about half, as acute hunger hits record levels. According to the Joshua Project, 42.4% of the global population is ‘unreached’ with the Gospel of Christ – reaching the ‘unreached’ was the task given to the Church before Jesus ascended into heaven. One of the greatest struggles that any missionary or missions organisation faces is the lack of finances or funding for the work of God that they faithfully do. As we have seen with the Yemeni tanker, if people are united in heart for a cause, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished and there is no limit to the resources that can be raised. As the bride of Christ, upon His return, may we be found bearing His heart and being about His business – assisting those in dire need and advancing His Kingdom here on earth, “turning the world upside down” as the early disciples did (Acts 17:6).

Please pray with us for the following:

  • For the body of Christ to be good stewards of everything God has entrusted to them
  • For believers across the world to join in heart and cause for the needy and the lost
  • For the bride of Christ to turn the world upside down with their love for people and generous hearts