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December 26, 2017

Wilberforce A!ert: Baby Jesus, the Refugee

Five from our staff were in Erbil, Iraq just two weeks after we organized in January of 2014.  When we walked into the Ainkawa Mall where 450 displaced Iraqi families were sheltered, I had no idea how my life was about to change.  Since then, I have visited many shelters just like this one in Iraq, Lebanon and Nigeria.  Our team has listened to hundreds of stories of women, men and children who have fled their homes because of their religious preferences.

Every person we interviewed in Iraq told the same story.  A few months earlier, ISIS appeared at their homes and gave them three choices: convert to Islam, leave or be killed.  For generations, their homes were in the Nineveh Plains of Iraq, the cradle of Christianity.  Their life stories, heritage, faith and memories were centered in the place they fled.  They left houses, churches, schools, farms, shops, businesses, neighborhoods and even jobs, vocations and dreams for an uncertain future.  Now more than three years since their forced removal, most have yet to return.

As we listened to their stories, I wondered, “Why am I here and what can I do?”  Even though I was filled with genuine compassion, I couldn’t pretend to understand their situation.  I knew that I would soon return to my house, my family, my familiar surroundings and a nation that guaranteed religious freedom. 

The Ainkawa Mall all had become what the weary travelers hoped would be a temporary shelter.  Families lived in small containers lined up one after another in the dark halls.  People of all ages were clustered there.  It was noisy and crowded, a place void of human dignity and hope. 

At the entrance, we noticed a large nativity scene.  I realized the faith that had condemned them to be driven from their homes was still a vibrant part of their lives.  I have also begun to realize over these past few years that the One who does understand them was a refugee as well. 

The parents of baby Jesus fled to Egypt soon after he was born in a barn because his life was in danger.  Jesus grew up in poverty, living in an obscure Galilean village.  Even his own people that He came to rescue turned against him and tortured him to death. 

Christmas is different for me these days.  I am convinced that the Jesus whose birth we celebrate is present among the people all over the world who call him Lord.  I may never understand the situation of the displaced, but He does.  He is present with them in their sorrows.  We seek to be advocates for the suffering, no matter their faith.  And those who believe in the Savior of Christmas know it is Jesus who is at the right hand of the Father interceding for God’s children.

I pray that the peace of Christ will fill the lives of his church this Advent season, especially those who are His fellow refugees.

Action Items:

  1. Contact Vice President Mike Pence, thanking him for the Administration’s commitment to bring help to the Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities in the Middle East. Here are his social media links:
  1. Pray for the persecuted church every week in personal and church prayers as a New Year’s resolution.  Use our Fact Sheets from our website to find specific ways to pray:
  2. Give to support our work with the refugees and victims who are being persecuted for their faith.  We rely on the generosity of individuals like you.  Please join our Hope 1:8 campaign:
Region: Europe & The Americas
Keywords: Christmas,Iraq,21st Century Wilberforce Initiative,21 Century Wilberforce Initiatve,21 Wilberforce,21CWI

Randel Everett

Pastor Randel Everett is President and Founder of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. He spent four decades pastoring churches in Florida, Virginia, Arkansas, and Texas. He founded The John Leland Center for Theological Studies, led the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and currently serves in leadership for the Baptist World Alliance. Throughout his career, he has traveled to nearly 50 countries and seen persecution first-hand.

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