Silencing Ancient Echoes

Not surprisingly, the oldest Christian communities in the world are found in the Middle East. From Iraq through Egypt, there are Christians, many of whose ancestors were converted by the Apostles themselves. Some of them still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Yet, if trends continue, many of these communities will become distant memories within our lifetimes. The community in most danger is the one in Iraq. A recent New York Times article described the newest dangers faced by Iraq’s already-shrinking Christian population. A 1987 Iraqi census put the number of Christians at 1.4 million. Today, the number is estimated at between 600 and 800 thousand. As the Times puts it, during Saddam’s reign, Iraq’s Christians “for the most part coexisted peacefully with Muslims.” They formed a disproportionate part of Iraq’s business and intellectual elite. The Christian exodus from Iraq began during the sanctions imposed after the first Gulf War, but the events of the past few years have turned that stream into a torrent. That’s because, as Lawrence Kaplan of the New Republic put it, “Sunni, Shia, and Kurd[s] may agree on little else, but all have made sport of brutalizing their Christian neighbors.” Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, “Christians have been subjected to a steady stream of church bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and threatening letters slipped under their doors.” In the Shiite city of Basra, “Christian women . . . often wear Muslim head scarves [in order] to avoid harassment from religious zealots trying to impose a strict Islamic dress code.” While the furor over Pope Benedict’s recent comments about Islam have died down elsewhere, in Iraq they still are cited as a pretext for yet more violence against Christians. As a result, those Christians who can get out are leaving as fast as they can pack. As one Christian told the Times, “we cannot practice our rituals and we cannot bring food home to our families . . . that’s why I want to leave the country.” None of this, I suppose, should come as a surprise. Shortly after the fall of Baghdad, Nina Shea of Freedom House called for the creation of “safe havens” for Iraq’s Christians. Without them, Shea warned, there would be no future for Iraq’s indigenous Christian population. Sadly, events are proving her prophetic. This upcoming Sunday is the “International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.” Its goals are to “increase awareness of the persecuted Church worldwide” and “promote ongoing and appropriate action on behalf of the persecuted Church.” I can tell you about the plight of Iraqi Christians and others who suffer because for their faith. And we can and must pray for them. But there’s something else we need to do, and that’s to take “appropriate action” on their behalf. That’s why I want you to visit the links below to learn more about the plight of persecuted Christians and, more importantly, what you can do to help them. Standing by while the voices that most directly link us to our Lord are silenced is not an option.  
For Further Reading and Information
Today’s BreakPoint offer: This Persecution Map illustrates key areas where persecution of believers occurs, and this four-page list of Critical Prayer Requests for Strategic Nations is great for families and churches to focus their prayer for the persecuted. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.) Learn more about the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, November 12, 2006. Michael Luo, “Iraq’s Christians Flee as Extremist Threat Worsens,” New York Times, 17 October 2006. (Archived article; costs $4.95 to retrieve.) Ben Witherington, “Omar’s Story—The Tale of a Shiite Christian,” Ben Witherington’s blog, 9 May 2006. Ben Witherington, “Christians Flee from Iraq to Moslem Countries,” Ben Witherington’s blog, 17 October 2006. Doug Bandow, “Christians in the Crossfire,” American Conservative, 23 October 2006. Lawrence F. Kaplan, “Crossing Over: The Plight of Iraqi Christians,” New Republic, 23 March 2006. (Available to subscribers only.) BreakPoint Commentary No. 041028, “‘Canaries in the Middle Eastern Coalmine’: Saving Iraq’s Christians.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 060817, “The Dangers of Being Christian: Religious Freedom in the Islamic World.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 060815, “One-Way Sympathy: Christians in the Muslim World.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 050819, “Shafting Nineveh: The Fate of Iraqi Christians.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 060919, “Proving His Point: The Pope’s Speech.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 051110, “Our Particular Concern: Praying for the Persecuted Church.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 061016, “Save Us from the Time of Trial: Religious Persecution.” Kristin Wright, “Standing with the Persecuted Church,” BreakPoint Online, 6 November 2003. Kristin Wright, “Beleaguered Remnant: Assyrian Christians in Iraq,” BreakPoint WorldView, May 2005.


Chuck Colson



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