June 15, 2010
Out of sight…out of mind.
Is that what is going to happen to the already-marginalized, shrinking community of Christians in Iraq in the months ahead as U.S. troops continue to reduce their forces and the government of Iraq virtually ignores their plight?
And when North Korea and Iran are capturing the attention of the media around the world with their combative behavior? And the war in Afghanistan continues to escalate?
I pray that Christians in the West will not put on blinders to the on-going persecution of Christians in Iraq.
Several months ago I had the opportunity to talk to an Iraqi Christian family who was forced to flee to a neighboring country due to safety concerns. I talked to them as part of a pilot for a new Open Doors television documentary series called "Undercover with Persecuted Christians" which debuted this month on two Christian networks.
Their stories left me in tears. Stories of kidnappings, given 24-hour ultimatums to leave their homes, jobs and loved ones, fleeing to refugee camps with only the clothes on their back, and yes, even the murder of a young family member - simply because he was a Christian.
Their story needs to be told….as do the stories of millions of Christians who suffer for simply having faith in Jesus Christ.
Yet, I did not come back home from that life-changing, face-to-face meeting with those targeted believers with little hope for their future.
That's because our persecuted brothers and sisters are standing strong in their faith, despite all odds. They are committed to putting their trust in Christ, no matter what the cost. Plus the Word of God is still going out, especially in northern Iraq.
Pastor Zarav, a dedicated church leader in northern Iraq, is working tirelessly and courageously to proclaim the gospel. His church consists mostly of new converts. The church holds three main services each week, as well as two prayer meetings and a regular night of prayer Thursday night to Friday morning. That's almost 24-7 of worship and prayer.
The new believers are also bringing the Word, as well as practical necessities such as food and clothing to those needing a healing touch.
"We have teams distributing the Word of God," says Zarav. "Almost 400,000 Bibles and Christian booklets in different languages have been given out."
He states that his church members have visited 170 villages, preaching the gospel and delivering Bibles. In recent months the pastor reports the baptism of 232 new believers. Also, nine new churches have been planted.
"Zarav states: "We thank God and the Holy Spirit for the work being done here. Will you keep praying for our church?"
Leah, 11, who recently fled from Baghdad to northern Iraq with her family, is another example of how God is keeping His precious ones in the palm of His hand.
"Okay, Leah," her father Yusuf said, "You can pack this Bible, but pray while packing that God will protect your Bible and us, especially at the checkpoints. Now our traveling will be more and more a journey of faith, hope and trust."
God did protect this family on their escape from Baghdad to northern Iraq. Now Leah is building a new life with her father, mother and brother in a rural, agricultural area with another language and school. Leah and her family are struggling with many changes affecting their lives, but her Bible is still with her, and she is still reading it.
"I miss Baghdad and my friends there, although I do not know if they are still alive or not. Our lives have been torn apart and now we are here trying to build a new life. It is not easy. I am so glad that I could take my little Bible with me from Baghdad, for I am still reading it and I will do that for the rest of my life, also out of remembrance of my life in Baghdad. Please pray for my father, mother, brother and myself."
Even in some of the most violent cities like Baghdad, it seems the situation is improving, though very slowly, according to a Christian leader there. The leader says Christians are coming together again and having fellowship although with many security precautions put into place. "Christians are having the courage to come together again, to be taught, to buy books and so on," he reports. "We are so glad we can teach our people again. It is a privilege we are able to organize lectures and evening seminars. And we will do more and more in the near future."
Please join me in praying for Leah and her family and Pastor Zarav and his flock of believers along with the rest of the Christians in Iraq.
Carl Moeller, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Open Doors USA (www.OpenDoorsUSA.org), the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians around the world since 1955.