December 19, 2017
Wilberforce A!ert: Iraq's Christians Pray for Deliverance this Christmas
Advent is a season of anticipation, when Christians look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus. Many churches around the world read the Old Testament’s prophesies and stories of a people waiting for deliverance. Today, Christians in Iraq are also waiting for deliverance.
Many Bible stories occurred in Iraq. Besides Israel, the Bible contains more references to the cities, regions, and nations of ancient Iraq than any other country. Abraham came from Ur in southern Iraq, which is the modern-day city of Nasiriyah. Isaac’s bride, Rebekah, came from northwest Iraq. Jacob spent 20 years there, and his sons who started the 12 tribes of Israel were born there. A remarkable spiritual revival in the book of Jonah occurred in Nineveh, present day Mosul. The list goes on.
Today, Abraham would have a difficult time surviving in Iraq and Jonah would be hard-pressed to make it to Nineveh. A phrase often heard in the Middle East is, “First the Saturday people (Jews), then the Sunday people (Christians).” Jews have all but been eradicated from Iraq; Some estimate Christianity will disappear from Iraq in five years unless there is help from the international community. Yezidis, another ancient faith community, have suffered unimaginable crimes that place them on the edge of extinction in Iraq. Yezidi men were killed and women and children bought, sold, raped, and tortured. Three thousand Yezidi women and girls are still being held by ISIS.
The U.S. is doing something. I am encouraged by the leadership of the President and Vice President, who are beginning the process that will help Christians, Yezidis, and other religious minorities return to their villages. However, with notable exceptions, the church in the U.S. has not been seized by the crisis facing Christians and others who suffer across the Middle East.
During two recent trips to Iraq, every Christian I met expressed a pervasive sense of abandonment. These courageous men and women of faith can’t understand why burning churches, forced conversions, and death have not galvanized believers in the West.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas in the U.S., remember that Christmas will not be celebrated in many of the ancient churches across Iraq. As you hear about Jesus’ nativity, consider the story of King Herod, who committed a genocide against young boys when Jesus was born. If you think, “This is terrible, how could something so awful happen?”, remember, there is a genocide going on today. Are you doing anything now? Are we, the church in the West, going to stand against this evil?
Just like the ancient people in the Old Testament, Iraqi Christians await deliverance. My prayer during Advent is that our hands and voices would not remain still and silent. We can commit to knowing the testimonies of persecuted people, to weep for their wounds, and to intercede on their behalf through prayer and advocacy. In this way, the suffering church will no longer suffer alone.