We were in the Kurdish Autonomous Region (KAR) of Northern Iraq to assess what God is doing among the local people and the refugees flooding in from Syria, and other regions devastated by ISIS. The meeting room held about a dozen Christian leaders, who were working in various cities. It was the first time that all of them were able to meet together. These brothers are ministering in cities that are under the threat of ISIS and the threat of persecution from those who oppose Christianity. Most of them are new Christians themselves.
The older gentleman who made the above statement went on to explain three things God is using:
1: Education – More Muslims are able to read today than ever before. This allows them to read the Koran for themselves, rather than simply relying on what the Imams are teaching. When people are able to read, they are able to think more for themselves and find the truth.
2: Internet – Since more people are able to read, they are able to find things that are written online. As a result, more Muslims are not only hearing the truth about Islam, but encountering the Gospel on their phones and computers. (Arab World Media, an online ministry of Pioneers, is proclaiming the Gospel in Arabic.)
3: Muslim Extremism – ISIS is only the most recent iteration of terrorist groups that claim that they are the true Muslims. The atrocities being committed by groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS are causing Muslims to question their faith. First, they believe that the Extremists must be wrong in their understanding of Islam. But as they dig deeper, by reading the Koran itself, they are realizing that the Extremists’ brand of Islam is true Islam.
The leaders around that table all voiced their strong belief that God has brought about an unprecedented opportunity for the Church to reap a harvest among the Kurds.
This conviction was shared by a long-time pastor of a Kurdish church, whom we met the next day. He drew us a map of where some of the ethnic or religious groupings of Kurds were living before the crisis, and where God has moved them to, and told us:
The Kakais (a minority group – the men of this group have a distinct moustache) were moved from their territory to a different location due to the ISIS insurgency. The Yazidis, yet another minority group, were also moved. The Kurdish Catholics living in Baghdad were told by the ruling Islamic party to move out of their home with only what they could carry. They trekked north to the KAR on foot. As they resettled in different places, their only help came from evangelical Christians. Many people from these minority groups have recognized their need for Jesus as they were taken away from the comforts of their home to a place where they needed someone to save them. So, the Kakais and Yazidis are meeting Jesus for the first time, and the Catholics are saying that they are re-encountering Jesus in a new way.
I asked the Kurdish evangelical Christian leaders, “Would you leave if you had the opportunity?”
Their answers were varied, but had the same conclusion. “I did leave, but I came back.” “How can I leave these people behind?” “My in-laws are trying to take my wife away from me because they are angry that she has left Islam. They want to marry her off to a Muslim man to wipe away their shame.” “My children are no longer able to attend the local schools, because they are children of a Christian. I have ruined their future.” “But if we leave, who will show these people the love of Christ?”
The three of us, visiting from North America, were humbled by the love and dedication of these men of God.
“What would you like to tell the Christians in North America?” I asked them.
“Thank them for helping us with relief supplies. We don’t have much, but we are sharing what we can with those who have less than we do. We are grateful that people like you are coming to help us. Please keep sending help. Tell them to come also. We need the entire church of Jesus Christ to stand together. As the Bible says, if one part of the body is hurting, all of the body is hurting. We are hurting. Help us!”
On the plane ride back from the KAR, my mind wandered to what Job said at the end of his trials. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…” (Job 42:5, NIV). Minority groups in Northern Iraq are going through an extraordinary time of suffering. However, the Lord is opening their eyes to see who He really is. They are in need of the Body of Christ to stand with them. How is the love of Christ compelling you to move?
Please pray for these refugees and for those who are risking their lives to serve them. May Christ’s love move us all to action! Perhaps God is moving you to give financially. Maybe He is nudging you to take a step of faith to go and join God in what He is doing across the ocean.