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The Middle East: An Enigma of Persecution and Hope for the Christian Church

19 Feb

Reading this weekend from an article in Fox News Online (February 11, 2014 – FoxNews.com) Christian persecution in the Middle East continues. As Fox reported…

“In a rare appearance on Capitol Hill by a Vatican representative, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt testified before a House subcommittee on the ‘flagrant and widespread persecution’ of Christians in the Middle East. ‘No Christian is exempt, whether or not he or she is Arab,’ Chullikatt said.
Chullikatt was among seven speakers discussing the escalation of threats to Christians. Specifically, testimony focused on underreported assaults, the plight of impacted Christian communities and the need to protect religious freedoms and civil rights.
‘Arab Christians, a small but significant community, find themselves the target of constant harassment for no reason other than their religious faith,’ Chullikatt said.”

Such persecution is not a surprise or unexpected. Considering that as Christian we are told to expect persecution, hearing about it in a country that tends to hate Christians brings no wonder that they are facing oppression, torture and even death every day for their testimony of Christ.
The Fox report goes on to say,

“In Syria alone, there have been reports of kidnappings, Christian communities intentionally displaced by militants, as well as shootings and beheadings of Christians who refused to convert to Islam, according to various news reports from the region.
One of the most graphic illustrations of ongoing brutality confronting Arab Christians is the practice of bombings of Christian houses, churches and other places of worship on Christmas Eve, Chullikatt said.”

In my blog from August 19, 2013, “Troubles in Egypt“, I related a story about the challenges the Christian church in Egypt was facing. While that under-reported persecution still goes on, the church is seeing some hope in their situation as the country is undergoing a change of leadership that I pray will be for the betterment of the church. Despite the horrific stories we do hear and read of the Middle East, my friends at SAT-7* shared dual stories of tragedy and hope in their newsletter of January, 2014. Their title line was, “Iraq is not lost. Miracles are happening.”
The first part of the story highlighted a story from Baghdad about Pastor Michael (name changed) who is a leading minister in one of hundreds of churches in Baghdad. On a Sunday morning Pastor Michael was driving the church bus through the streets of Baghdad to drop off the church members who needed transportation to and from services. He had just dropped the last of his passengers when a terrorist drove along the side of the bus and detonated a bomb that killed the terrorist, destroyed his car…and the bus.
But God clearly has other plans for Pastor Michael. When the smoke cleared, Pastor Michael sat in his bus seat surrounded by twisted metal, fire and a completely totaled bus…alive and only with a few minor cuts. Pastor Michael said, “I couldn’t believe it. The bus was in shambles, totally destroyed and burning. But I was okay. It was clearly a miracle. God must have something more for me to do.”
The second part of the SAT-7 newsletter relates the opposite of such terror with words of hope. They reported about one of their producers, Chris (not his real name), who was in Baghdad interviewing Christian pastors and believers. Pastor Michael was one of his interviews. Chris reported that all the pastors he spoke with were enthusiastic about SAT-7 and admitted that the channel was watched by many Christians as well as non-Christians in the region. Chris related that many of his interviewees were joyful and even willing to be identified as Christian on television in Iraq. The newsletter went on to relate one experience of Chris and his crew that was a tense moment on the streets of Baghdad.

“They were driving through a restricted area when they were stopped by the police. On learning they were a television crew, officers ordered them to halt their work. When the crew informed the police that they were representing churches and were with SAT-7, the officers’ attitudes changed. They brought over their commanding officer, who then spoke well of SAT-7, saying that the police greatly respected the channel and the Christians. Chris asked if they could pray for the officers. The police agreed. The crew laid hands on them and asked for God’s protection. They then gave the officers booklets about Christ and wished them well. It surely made a great impression.”

It appears that the police might have had a bit of distrust for reporters and news people but upon learning that this crew was part of SAT-7, the police not only became friendly but also opened up their hearts to receive prayer and hear about Christ. God is at work in the Middle East. Perhaps we won’t ever read about His work from the secular news, but the stories of Michael and Chris insures us that the truth is going out in Iraq. Despite the ever prevalent stories of political doom and gloom from the secular press, the church in the Middle East survives. The SAT-7 newsletter included a few more words of hope…

“Everywhere Chris went, nearly every person they spoke with knew about SAT-7, saying it was respected, that they watched to receive hope for tomorrow, that Christians were truly different. They saw a number of restaurants and shops where televisions were continually tuned to SAT-7!”

Although it is hard to get exact determination of the number of Christians in the Middle East, recent data suggests that the overall Christian population is in decline. The pastor of an Anglican church in Baghdad, Rev. Andrew White, stated that Iraq’s Christian population had shrunk from 1.5 million to just 200,000 within the last decade. He indicated this trend could be witnessed across the Middle East. That being said, eye-witness accounts know that there is resurgence in new Christian believers, although very much a slow process. Dr. David Baer, president of Overseas Council illustrated it as a faucet drip: “The flow of new converts has gone from none to an occasional drip..…drip…..drip; to a more frequent drip, drip, drip; to a slow but steady sliver of a stream.” I believe the church is not only surviving but is seeing a quiet and slow restoration. God is at work in the Middle East!
With the efforts of SAT-7 to broadcast the truth of the Gospel throughout the Middle East, a steady advance of the Christian church is seen. With the efforts of Overseas Council the need of Christian education and maturity of believers is being addressed. Together, SAT-7, Overseas Council and MEATE (Middle East Association for Theological Education) are having a tremendous bearing on the church throughout the Middle East with a partnership called TEACH. They use multimedia technology to create highly accessible Christian education that will encourage and equip Christians in the region, where access to solid theological resources in the local context is most times very limited and often inaccessible. The momentum is right and the time is right for this program to impact the lives of those new to the faith.
TEACH includes broadcast programs that can be viewed from the privacy of the individual’s home, in addition to courses available online in which believers can earn a certificate or degree. The online courses are monitored by mentors who administer tests and lead group discussions. The curriculum, written in Arabic by Arab scholars for an Arab audience, features 32 courses arranged in five categories: Christian Life, Leadership and Ministry Skills, Society, Bible and Church.
For more information and a video about TEACH click HERE. If you want to be a part of making a difference in the Middle East and be part of changing stories of tragedy to stories of hope, you can help support the Middle East Christian church by giving a gift to give the Christians there the knowledge they need to take the Middle East church into the next generation.

*A NOTE ABOUT SAT-7 (From their website): Since the first program aired in 1996, SAT-7 broadcasts have brought quality Christian television programming directly into millions of homes throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). SAT-7 airs 5 channels in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish languages to a known audience of over 15 million viewers! In a region characterized by high illiteracy rates, media censorship, and limited incomes, anyone with a satellite dish can turn on SAT-7 and hear the Word of God in his or her language.

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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Mission, World Christianity

 

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