A Woman's Perspective On The Times We Live In


January 4, 2016

Part 2 - Defying ISIS: Knowing The History of Our Faith in the Middle East

   There is a statement in Johnnie Moore's enlightening book, Defying ISIS: Preserving Christianity In  The Place of Its Birth and in Your Own Backyard, that struck me to my core.  He states, "It has always been a mystery to me why so many Christians in the West struggle to live for what so many Christians in persecuted countries are willing to die for."  Please don't skip over that statement... think about it deliberately.
Christian Children Murdered
for Refusing Islamic Conversion: 'We Love Jesus'
     Why do so many people who call themselves Christian in this country have such a difficult time living their lives for Christ; living in obedience to God's commands and willing to sacrifice everything (home, family, material wealth) for a relationship with His Son?  And how is it that Christians who most likely live without the comfort and ease that we have; who are struggling to survive in this world, have a much easier time dedicating their lives to Him and following Him, even unto death?  After all, we are not beaten, imprisoned, and murdered for our faith... yet.  And still, we cannot find it within ourselves to make Him first in our lives!
      As Moore writes, "Sacrifice and martyrdom are deeply rooted in Christian identity and Christian theology.  They have been in place since the first century, and they are every bit as relevant today as they were back then.  Remember, all but one of Jesus's disciples was martyred, and the story of the early church is as triumphant as it is blood-laden."  I'm afraid that we Christians in the West assume that this kind of sacrifice is all a part of Christian history and we will get to heaven after a comfortable or natural death; while our brothers and sisters dying in the Middle East today know that they are no different than those who, centuries ago, were willing to affirm their love for Jesus in the midst of a horrifying death.
     Christians are giving their lives, affirming their love for Jesus... TODAY!  Once again they are being forced to pay for their faith with their lives, and once again -- as in so many times in history -- they are willing to do what is required of them in order to demonstrate to the world that hate is no match for the love of Jesus.  If we were willing to throw off our discomfort about this fact, we would see that Middle Eastern Christians are showing us that the brutality of ISIS (and Satan, himself) is only measured against the defiance of the faithful; the defiance which is exhibited in the very love of Jesus, Himself.
     Remember, Zena, from my post on Saturday?  She was the bright, educated, chemical engineering student who was forced to flee Mosul, and who expressed the devastation of losing the security of her church and Christian community.  Johnnie Moore asked her a difficult question:  "How has that experience affected your faith in Jesus Christ"?  He was surprised at the response he received, and describes it like this:  "The depression and hurt that had monopolized our conversation to this point went away almost entirely... A tender defiance filled her voice as she revealed to me her unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ.  She didn't say that she doubted God, or wondered why God allowed her and her fellow Christians to suffer so much, so often.  Instead she said, "We thank Jesus one thousand times for life... Our Lord Jesus saved us from death; maybe this is the beginning of our story."
     Is that how you or I would answer that question, if we suddenly lost our homes and possessions and were forced to flee from the onslaught of evil?  If we witnessed death and barbarity all around us because we professed faith in Jesus?  These Christians are actually living out the description that the Apostle Paul gives us in Romans, Chapter 8 of the persecuted church in Rome:  For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.  No, in all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For [we] are convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
     Here we are 2,000 years later, and evil men are still beheading Christians, and the love of Christ continues to  prevail over their hatred.  These Christians have a very real and full understanding of the historic significance of the persecution they are enduring.  Moore says he heard numerous times, "Now, Jesus is requiring us to carry our own crosses."  They know that they are just the latest in a long line of Christians who are willing to show their defiance and commitment to Jesus.  Like Ignatius of Antioch (which is in Syria), they are willing to become martyrs in order to attain Jesus.  And like Tertullian, the Christian author who lived in North Africa in the third century, they believe that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," and that "the Christian, even when he is condemned, gives thanks."
     I know that all of this seems so foreign to our Christian experience in the West.  It is hard for us to understand that such bastions of the Christian faith exist in the heart of what we perceive as Muslim strongholds.  But we do not understand the history of our own faith; that our faith has deep roots in ancient Assyria, which was one of the Great Mesopotamian powers along with the Babylonians and the nearby Persians. The areas they occupied are roughly close to the borders of modern day Syria (Assyria), Iraq (Babylon) and Iran (Persia).   It was in this region that Adam and Eve were created.  It was from here that Abraham was sent, and it was here where prophets like Jonah and Nahum preached.  The northern kingdom of Israel was taken captive by the Assyrians (modern day Syria), and then 166 years later, the southern kingdom of Judah was marched into exile to Babylon (modern day Iraq).  
Monastery of Mar Mattai/Saint Matthew
on Mount Alfaf, northern Iraq
     As you can see God has always had a place for Iraq in His plan.  And tradition teaches that the Disciple, Thomas, was responsible for the church in Syria.  In fact, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, gives us some important information on the history of Christianity in this region and why the stories of our Christian brethren in the Middle East should affect us to our core:  "The Nineveh area (near modern-day Mosul, Iraq) is profoundly significant to Iraq's Christians.  From antiquity, it has been the homeland of the Assyrians, who accepted Christianity, according to tradition, from St. Thomas, the Apostle, himself.  It is studded with historic churches and monasteries, some dating from the 4th century (such as the monastery of Mar Mattai/Saint Matthew).  Christianity spread from this region by Syriac missionaries across Asia to Tibet, China, and Mongolia ... Western Christians owe an immense spiritual, theological, and cultural debt to this Church.  Iraq's Christians still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus."
     Moore's book also makes the following assertion, which I firmly believe, that one of the reasons we Western Christians fail to have the heart we should for our Eastern brethren is that we mistakenly think that Christianity was birthed in Jerusalem, grew westward to Greece, then Rome, and into the countries of Spain, France, England, and eventually, "the New World".  We have also been taught that by the Middle Ages, Christianity was mainly European, until it hopped the Atlantic and became American.  We have been taught that the heart of Christianity has always been westward.  What we fail to realize is that Christianity also moved east, as it moved west.
     If we were honest in our retelling of history, we would easily understand that Christianity originated in the Near East, and during the first few centuries, it had its greatest centers, monasteries, and churches in what was known as Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia.  In fact, Eastern Christians were at the heart of Christianity from the days of the apostles until at least the 1300s -- the first two-thirds of Christian history!  Furthermore, most of the modern Muslim world was once the Christian world, and so much of ancient history is built upon a Christian foundation.  And although Christianity has declined in prominence since the Arab conquests of the Middle East, in every one of these countries, until our modern era, there were Christian communities who could trace their lineage for a thousand years.
     And now ISIS is threatening to decimate every vestige of Christianity, and we in the West fail to both realize the threat, and to react to the historic significance.  Are we able to acknowledge that Christian genocide is a reality and that we are allowing the destruction of Christianity in the place of its birth?
     At the beginning of his book, Johnnie Moore makes the declarative statement, "The threat of ISIS is a threat to the livelihood of every sensible person on the planet, and in its crosshairs is the faith of the world's two billion Christians and nearly all of its Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists.  If they have their way, you won't live another day.  There's nothing in the world truer than that.  That's why you should read this book."  Note that it is not only Christians who will suffer genocide, but all those who oppose Satan's will in using ISIS for his purposes.
     At the end of the book, Moore quotes the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerhl, who spoke out on the issue of Christian genocide:  "Where are the voices?  Why a silence?  I think each one of us has at least the power to raise our voice.  In solidarity with these people distant from us, unknown to us ... atrocities happen because there are those who commit them, and those who simply remain silent."   Moore then concludes:  "As for me ... I am done being silent.  I will not have it on my conscience that I stood by while 2,000 years of Christianity was eliminated from the Middle East.  What about you?"
     But, perhaps it is more important for us to hear from representatives of the Church inside the Middle East; those who have first-hand knowledge of the persecution and oppression.  The Reverend Canon Andrew White is the Anglican Vicar of Baghdad, and he’s become famous for being one of the few sources of news about Christians from inside ISIS-influenced areas.  His stories are difficult to hear, but leave us with no doubt that we must stand with our fellow Christians, storm the throne room of God with our prayers -- and do it now! 
     Finally, I conclude with these thoughts ... Will we stand by and watch the march of Evil across the globe?  Not only should we be raising our voices in support of Christianity in the Middle East, but we should be lending our financial support to those organizations that can make a real difference in their lives.  I am sorry to say that I no longer put my trust in elected officials to do anything meaningful, or to follow through on empty promises.
     Johnnie Moore suggests supporting refugees from this genocidal crisis through an organization called World Help, by visiting www.worldhelp.net/Iraq.  He is also the founder of The Cradle Fund, which provides immediate humanitarian assistance, and is focused on developing a stable future for the entire region.  You can visit his website at www.cradlefund.org.
     It think it is important for us to see that, as Christians, it is our duty to show the love of Christ to not only those who share our faith in the Middle East, but to all peoples, of all faiths.  That is what Christ commissioned us to do.  It is the way the pagan world was transformed in antiquity, and it is the surest way to see dramatic change in the chaos we are witnessing today.  Those dying, this minute, for Jesus in the Middle East are leading the way ... love must be the answer to hate; and it is time we intercede on their behalf, take our stand, declare our commitment to our Lord, and prepare to bear our cross.  How will history tell our story?

 Ephesians 6:18     Pray at all times (on every occasion, in every season) in the Spirit, with all [manner of] prayer and entreaty. To that end keep alert and watch with strong purpose and perseverance, interceding in behalf of all the saints (God’s consecrated people).

2 comments:

  1. Eloquent post. Moore has appeared on Glenn Beck's show several times. Together they have collaboratively brought 150 Christians from certain death into a " new life " in one of the few nations that will accept them. I don't want to sound promotional by any stretch of the imagination .... but http://www.mercuryone.org " The Nazarene Fund " deserves a look. We have donated to them several times and feel SO MUCH MORE comfortable in that donation then giving to a local church that spends its time retelling the " Three Wise Men " story at Christmas time.

    God Bless
    RB

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    1. I agree! I would much rather give to organizations whose goal is to help Christians (since the rest of the world isn't) and who hope to help them start new productive lives, or if God willing, help them to return to their homes one day. And, yes, Glenn Beck has been at the forefront of helping these Middle Eastern Christians, along with Johnnie Moore and his organization. God bless them!

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