The persecution of Christians doesn’t usually make much news in the secular press, but the plight of Iraqi Christians is an exception. Dr. Carl Moeller, of Open Doors USA, and Rabbi Yitchok Adlerstein, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, held a press conference yesterday to raise awareness and call for all faiths to unite and speak out against this “religicide”.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees calls it, “a slow and steady exodus”. Many other reports suggest it’s anything but slow – “some were able to take only a few belongings with them,” as reported by CNN.
Dictionary.com defines “exodus” as: 1/ a going out; a departure or emigration, usually of a large number of people … 2/ the Exodus, the departure of the Israelites from Egypt under Moses. We’re familiar with the biblical Exodus, where Moses led God’s people out of Egypt. Today’s Exodus has no Moses.
In one of many ironies of life, another of those things only God knows why, believers now feel forced to leave the land where the church is almost as old as Christianity itself. BBC News said, “Christians have inhabited what is modern day Iraq for about 2,000 years, tracing their ancestry to ancient Mesopotamia and surrounding lands”. Christian persecution has been on the rise since the United States entered Iraq in 2003 and reached a high point on October 31, when radical Islamists entered the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, held people hostage, and ultimately killed 58 of them, including two priests and a three-year old girl. Scores more were injured. And Al Qaeda issued its public statement that all Christians and all Christian organizations were now legitimate targets.
MSNBC carried this Associated Press story that said ” … the Christian community of Iraq, almost as old as the religion itself, is sensing a clear message: It is time to leave.” How do we know when it’s time to leave and when it’s time to stay? The Bible is full of scripture describing both. The apostle Paul traveled to areas when he knew he was likely to be capture, imprisoned, and where he was even stoned. He also fled areas when his life was in danger. How did he know when to go or stay? Only through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And the same is true today for the persecuted Christians; those whose life is in jeopardy as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul also told us that when “one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 COR 12:26 NIV). And John told us to “not merely say that we love each other, let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:18 NLT). My action today is:
1. To pray for the Iraqi Christians, that they remain strong in their faith, that they look to Jesus for comfort, and that they look for the Holy Spirit’s guidance on whether to go or to stay. That those who stay are blessed with increased safety and led to strengthen what remains of the church. That those who go find a place to rest along the way and find a new home to practice their faith.
2. To pray with the Iraqi Christians, as they pray for their persecutors to find Jesus, for their leadership to seek salvation through Jesus, and that the whole country will come to the Lord on its knees.
3. To ask for readers prayers as well and to spread the news. There are hundreds of press reports in today’s news; I pasted 10 of them below …
BBC: Christians feeling central Iraq
Bloomberg: Grim Xmas for Iraqi Christians as many flee north
CNN: U.N. cites ‘a slow but steady exodus’ of Iraqi Christians http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/12/17/iraq.un.christians/index.html
Guardian: Iraqi Christians flee Baghdad after cathedral massacre http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/17/iraq-christians-flee-baghdad-cathedral
LA Times: Iraq’s war on Christmas
UPI: Group calls for safety of Iraqi Christians
VOA: UN Agency Reports ‘Exodus’ of Iraqi Christians
Wash Post: Grim Xmas for Iraqi Christians as many flee north
Wash Post blog: Is Obama serious about human rights?