A Pastor in Baghdad
We met seven years ago in Baghdad. I was there researching a book on the post-Saddam Iraqi Church. Actually, it wasn’t all that “post,” since he had crawled out of his “rat hole” only a few weeks earlier.
After introductions were made, I sat down in front of his desk and, as I took out my digital recorder, he said, “Before we begin, I would like to read something to you.” He opened a black-covered Bible and read from Isaiah 19, which my NIV calls a prophecy about Egypt:
“In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria [modern-day Iraq]. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assryia my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.’ “
You don’t have to be a theologian to know that “that day” has not come yet.
“This is our vision,” he said, “the vision of the Church in Iraq.” And he went on to tell me his story and the account of his people between the Gulf Wars.
This morning, I received a telephone call from a friend in Amman, Jordan.
“Guess who is with me,” he said, uncharacteristically playful.
It was my friend from Baghdad. We spent a few minutes catching up, and then I asked him two hard questions.
I knew that more than a million Christians had already fled Iraq, along with millions of other refugees, the Christians heading north to Irbil, Dahuk or Sulaymaniyah, where they are protected by the Kurds, or to the godawful refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. I wasn’t surprised that they left. I was amazed that more than a million others have stayed.
He explained that he had lost half of his congregation since November 1, when al-Qaeda-connected gunmen took 120 hostages at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad and slaughtered 41 Christians, including two priests, as well as 12 police officers and 5 bystanders and wounded 78 others. The media called it the “deadliest attack ever recorded against Iraq’s Christians.” In 2006 and 2007, my friend’s church had a thousand members. Half left between then and last November. Half again since the attack. It turned out that the terrorists had targeted my friend’s church, but the killers went to the wrong address, one street away. The police broke up his service that Sunday morning, informed my friend about the “mistake,” and told him to shut down and send everybody home, which he did. But the doors were open again two weeks later.
“How do you teach your congregation that God provides for them when they have no food, that he protects them when they are being raped and tortured and murdered, that he loves them when he sends no one to their rescue?” I asked my friend.
“When the terrorists came and killed many Christians,” he said, “that week, I received many calls from my congregation asking me many why’s. Why did Jesus let them kill Christians? Why didn’t Jesus stop them? Why did God let the terrorists enter the church? Why? Why? Why?
“I cried out to God. I said, ‘My Lord, give me the answers.’
“After that, in my reading that day in the Book of Acts 4:29, I saw that when the disciples were threatened, they prayed, I thought maybe for protection. I was shocked that they prayed for boldness.
“The next week, I went before the church.
“ ‘You ask me why, why why. You should go to God and ask him why he left his Son torn on the cross. Why Peter died on a cross upside down. After that, ask me why. It’s in the plan. Because you are a Christian, it costs blood. And maybe it will cost our blood. God didn’t promise us that we would live in a comfortable life. Why are we surprised? This is our life. This is what is promised for us. Open the Book of Acts and see how the Christians suffered.’
“They were very encouraged and were clapping and they prayed and cried and said, ‘Oh, we are sorry, our Lord.’ “
Then I asked my friend: “It’s one thing for men to accept that suffering and death is the normal Christian life and nothing exceptional. But as husbands and fathers, how do you keep your families in a place where you cannot protect them from starving, rape, torture and death?”
“One day,” he explained, ”a woman came to me with her husband, and she told me, ‘You are a father? You have children?’
“‘You are a father of your church also.”
“I need your help.”
“I thought she might ask for blankets or food.”
“ ‘I have three children, but the terrorists came in my home, and they killed all of them. What is this Allah?’
“She said ‘Allah,’ because she is not Christian.
“ ‘I will believe, or I will not believe that there is a God when I leave your office. And you can help me. You have children. You can feel my feelings, what it would be like if you lose your children.’
“I really prayed inside. ‘My Lord, what should I tell her?’ And immediately, God gave me an idea.
“ ‘Okay, you don’t believe in Allah, that he is not a true god and if he is, how can they come and kill in the name of Allah? You lost your children, but you did not make this choice. I will introduce you to someone who lost his son willingly.”
“ ‘What! Why he lost his Son willingly?’
“I started to tell her the story of God, the Father, and Jesus, his Son. She started to cry.
“ ‘You know what?’ she said finally, ‘you cannot understand me. Just God can understand my feelings because he lost his Son.’ And she became a Christian in my office.
That’s all. That’s what I wanted to share with you.
Please pray for your brothers and sisters who remain in Iraq and the Palestinian territories and Turkey and every other place on earth where they choose to stay for the sake of the people who arrest and beat and rape and torture and imprison and kill them. That’s all they ever ask of us. To pray for them. And as we can, to send some food, clothing, medicine and blankets through the people who risk their lives to help them.
I can personally recommend, as I have before, Manara Ministries in Amman, Jordan. They work directly with Iraqi refugees—Christian, Muslim Arab, whatever—in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. You can donate online via Hope Builders International at http://www.hope-builders.org/home.
|The writer of the recent bestseller, “Son of Hamas” (Tyndale House, 2010) Ron Brackin has traveled extensively in the Middle East as an investigative journalist. He was in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Gaza, and Jerusalem during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, on assignment in Baghdad and Mosul after the fall of Iraq and more recently with the rebels and refugees of Southern Sudan and Darfur. Ron is the author of several other nonfiction books, including “Sweet Persecution” (Bethany House, 1999), “Between 2 Fires” (Banner Communcations, 2002) and “Iraq, My Handiwork” (Manara Ministries, 2003). He is available for ghostwriting and other freelance writing projects. Visit his website at www.ronbrackin.com.|