You can’t hardly turn on the news or pick up a newspaper without hearing or seeing some new atrocity perpetrated by the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS), sometimes called the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL)1. Like most Americans (and probably most people in the West) I look with horror at the reports and pictures of the persecution and gruesome deaths of Christians living in Iraq. For many of us, though, it’s too easy to just put down the paper or turn off the T.V. and allow the plight of Iraqi Christians to flee from our mind. When I do permit myself to think about the Iraq situation, I usually respond as an American and as a Soldier who has served in Iraq, viewing the military threat from a strategic vantage point seeking tactical solutions to combat yet another wave of terrorism and Islamic extremism. I find myself distanced from the people of Iraq as I consider the political and military situation there. I haven’t really been thinking about the dreadful situation in Iraq as a Christian, but as a politician, a warrior or a distant observer.
All of that changed for me this morning, however. While I usually listen to a book on my 45-minute drive to work, I had finished one up yesterday and hadn’t yet checked-out another one so was listening to the radio. I happened upon the Focus on the Family radio program. Their topic this morning was “Praying for Our Christian Family in Iraq.”2 I stayed tuned in, thinking I’d get more information for my strategic and tactical arm-chair war-fighting as they spoke to guests on the phone from Iraq. One of these was Sister Diana Momeka, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, of Mosul, Iraq who is currently a refugee in Erbil, Iraq. One of her statements stood out to me. She pleaded, “There are people suffering, not only Christian and other minorities, they are under horrible conditions…So please, please, if you can help-through any way, please do, just let your passion move, please.”2
Another of the guests was Rev. Canon Andrew White, the chaplain of St. George’s Church in Baghdad, Iraq. St. George’s is the only Anglican Church in Iraq and has been damaged by five bombs in the past three years.3 Rev. White helped to make real the suffering of Iraqi Christians. He told of Christians who confessed to him, “We can’t continue like this, we wish we were dead. We can’t take anymore, we’ve taken more than we can take.”2 Only brief encouragement was gained form a young Christian girl in Iraq who said, “When you’ve lost everything, Jesus is all you have left.”2 Rev. White went on to affirm Romans 8:17b as a passage which gives them a degree of hope: “unless you share in the suffering of Christ, you cannot share in the glory of Christ. This present suffering is nothing compared to the glory that is to come.”2
What most impacted me…changed me… was what Rev. White said next: “We’re not far away, we’re your brothers and your sisters. It’s happening to us not them, us. We are suffering together. We need your prayer, we need your love and we need your support. Without your support we can’t feed our people, we can’t meet their needs.”2
It’s happening to us not them…
All this time I had been viewing the death and persecution of Christians in Iraq as something that was happening to them. I’ve been watching from afar, not really feeling their pain and suffering, but watching. I didn’t consider Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 12:26 as applying to me, “If one part [of the Body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it…” I don’t think that Paul was making a statement of fact because as the Christians in Iraq have been suffering, I have not been. I think Paul was giving us instruction, a command, that if there are Christians suffering, if another part of the Body of Christ -our Body- is suffering, we need to be suffering too. That means I can’t just set the paper down or turn off the T.V. anymore. The body is suffering and it hurts! As Rev. White entreated, “Will you continue to help us? Because we are yours and you are ours, and we need each other.”
But I don’t think just hurting is enough. My pain, insignificant as it is compared to that of those in Iraq, does nothing to alleviate the pain of those who are really suffering. So, what can we do?
First (and probably foremost), we need to pray. When Rev. White was asked how we in the United States can pray for them he replied:
What I say we need is prayer for three P’s. We need protection, that the Lord will supernaturally protect us from the enemy. That we will receive provision, so that we can provide for our people. And finally, that we may persevere.
Rev. White has given us three very specific ways we can pray for the Christian people of Iraq: for their protection, for provisions to care for those in need and that they will persevere in the face of danger and possible death. Those are the easy prayers but we must not forget, as hard as it may be to do, to pray for those involved in the killing and bloodshed. It was Jesus who said, “…love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, NIV). Remember, as ISIS is cursing, hating, using and persecuting the Christians of Iraq, as part of our Body, they are doing those things to us so we also must love them, bless them, do good to them and as it most applies here, pray for them.
Second, we can give. Praying for provision will help (I believe in the power of prayer!) but for many of us it is not enough. We can give. Focus on the Family offers one place to give where it can go directly into the area affected through Christians already at work there. Additionally, Rev. White is involved in a ministry of relief and reconciliation in Iraq which could use our financial gifts. Your denomination may also have compassionate ministries active in the area. Find a ministry that you trust and join me in giving to help provide for part of our Body that is in need.
Third, we can go. This may not be an option for everyone, but for some it is. People are needed to sort, pack, transport and distribute the provisions that our prayer and giving provides. People are needed to help those who, because of their persecution, can no longer help themselves. People are needed to take the life-changing good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who haven’t heard or have rejected God’s grace.
For some, going may mean military service. As much as we would all like to see this ended without any further violence, more likely than not it is going to take military intervention to protect the Iraqi people and push back those who are seeking to destroy peace. As an Army chaplain, I am willing and prepared to go in support of our military forces, should we be called upon to deploy to defend and protect the freedom and rights of the people of Iraq, including those Christians with whom we suffer.
Will you join me in suffering with our brothers and sisters in Iraq? Will you pray with me for their protection, provision and perseverance as well as for their enemies? Will you go if, when and where God leads you?
On the radio program this morning, Congressman Frank Wolf cautioned us with something Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”4
Don’t be silent! Pray. Give. Go.
1 For a good explanation of the name and its differences, read Iraq crisis: ISIS or ISIL – what’s in a transliterated name?
2 I highly recommend you listen to the Focus on the Family program, “Praying for Our Christian Family in Iraq” and take advantage of the helpful materials they offer on this topic.
Read more about Rev. Canon Andrew White on his information page.
Discover what Rev. White and others are doing through The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.
Sister Diana Momeka: http://danvillesanramon.com/news/photos/2009/march/5/1750_full.jpg
Rev. Canon Andrew White: http://frrme.org/what-we-do/canon-andrew-white/