Is this the end of Christianity in Iraq? 4 signs of hope
We have heard about the atrocities, the thousands of Christians displaced and the ancient churches being destroyed by Islamic State (IS). Is this a temporary battle that US firepower will help win or are we witnessing the end of Christianity in Iraq?
“The history of the Church in Iraq has been of persecution from the Persian empire to our Islamic history,” says Ara Badalian, pastor of Baghdad Baptist Church. “The presence of the Church has been very important, but we are afraid of the end of the Christian faith in Iraq.”
The fear and the negative headlines can suggest the end of the Church in Iraq is a fait accompli. But there are small signs that Christianity may have a future there after all.
1. Christians feel called to stay
There is no doubt that Iraqi Christians are scared. Three families from Pastor Ara’s church have already emigrated to Turkey, with others thinking of leaving.
“All the Christians fear the unstable situation in Iraq,” Pastor Ara says. “After 11 years they have lost their peace. They ask ‘what about the future, what about our children’s future?’”
But despite this there are Christians, like Ara, who feel a calling to stay and serve God in Iraq. “As a pastor I have a vision for my church to stay in Iraq,” he says. “We urge people to stay to do what is God’s will for them.”
2. Christians feel called to serve their community
Pastor Ara recently met refugees in Erbil who had escaped Mosul and surrounding villages following the advance of IS. A wealthy man that he met, who had fled his home hours before IS came into Mosul, lost everything bar his identity papers, passport and some money. Others Pastor Ara saw, did not even have that.
He met these refugees at Catholic and Evangelical churches who have opened their doors to help these desperate people. Pastor Ara’s church is planning their own humanitarian response. The congregation have contributed towards food aid which they plan to give to Christian and Yazidi refugees living close by in the coming weeks. “I think this is the time for our church to respond to the community around,” Pastor Ara says.
Churches in Iraq are not hiding away in fear. They continue to show compassion, welcome the stranger and help their neighbours in need.
3. Christians are building relationships with Muslims
Sunni extremists do not represent the majority of Islam. Christians and Muslims often work together in Iraq. Pastor Ara is involved in Christian-Islamic relations and dialogue in Baghdad and was involved with other religious leaders in the Iraq Culture Day initiative.
A brighter future in Iraq is not just the end of extremist groups but is all of Iraqi society working together, and there are signs of that happening.
4. Christian leaders are being trained and equipped
Thanks to a BMS grant, Pastor Ara studied at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) in Lebanon. He is one of many Middle Eastern pastors who are serving in difficult places across the region who have been encouraged in their ministry by ABTS. Ara has found his studies at the seminary useful in developing his church during this critical time. “The important thing is the missional perspective we studied at ABTS,” he says. “We started home groups here after I graduated in 2012. This has helped us bring the gospel to others.”
These signs may be small, there may be many troubles ahead for Iraqi Christians, but they are still playing their part in Iraqi society and their time there is not over yet. Ara says: “We are afraid, but we have hope.”
Pray for peace in Iraq and that one day it will be possible for refugees to return to their homes. Pray for Pastor Ara, his church and other churches as they respond to the needs of refugees. Pray that Christianity will remain and flourish in Iraq.
This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission