Christianity is an almost 2000 year old faith, and for most of those 2000 years there have been Christians in Iraq. In the 1990’s they numbered over 2 million. By last year this number had shrunk to around two hundred thousand (200,000), i.e. a reduction of 90% in twenty years.
The minister of St George’s, the only Anglican church in Iraq, Canon Andrew White, warned recently that the end for Christians in the country appears to be “very near”. This situation has been brought about as a result of persecution of Christians by a range of militant Islamist groups including Al Qaeda, and more recently the extreme militant group of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).
The city of Mosul is in the province of Ninevah, the ruins of the old capital city to which God sent Jonah lie nearby, and has been the home of Christians for 2000 years but ISIS recently issued a stark ultimatum to them leave or convert to Islam”. One of the Christian residents who didn’t obey the ultimatum is Yacub (Jacob) because he felt he was too old to leave at 70. However when the ISIS militants arrived at his house while they spared the old man they threw him out. Yacub is an example of tens of thousands of Christians who have been forced to flee in terror, being evicted from their homes and being robbed of their money and possessions. Reports in the last few days indicate that there are now no Christians left in Mosul, the first time in 2000 years.
The Christians in Iraq are faced with a stark choice, “reject Jesus and your Christian faith and retain your homes and possessions in safety, or remain faithful to Jesus and lose all earthly possessions, live in terror and even face death” (Canon White estimates hundreds daily are being killed). The fact is though that the vast majority remain faithful to Christ and as a consequence pay an enormous price.
In the context of this we might ask how strong is our faith? We who live in absolute freedom and extreme comfort! How would we stand up to such persecution? It is an interesting question in Australia where the greatest threat to the continuation of the church is not persecution such as Yacub faces but the extreme luke-warmness and overwhelming apathy of many church members, a luke-warmness of Laodicean proportions that Jesus condemned in Revelation 3:14-22.
The strength of faith of Christians around the world who stand strong in Christ under extreme persecution should be both a great inspiration to, and an indictment of, us; and make us re-examine the strength, even the reality, of our commitment to Christ. One way of testing this would be to ask whether we allow even small things to get in the way of glorifying Jesus e.g. not turning up to church because its windy or wet; or to small group because we’re tired or it’s winter etc. We can also ask ourselves whether we are really using our freedom for Jesus or ourselves?
When we are tempted to fail the commitment test it’s time to think of people like Yacub and the Christians of Iraq, be rebuked by their faithfulness to Jesus in extreme persecution and to redouble our commitment by amending our lives, and increasing our endeavours for the One who gave all for us.
And yes let us pray for God to protect, help and encourage Yacub and the Christians of Iraq.