October 27, 2015
God Wants His Glory Back in the Middle East, Part II
Post by Brittany Tedesco
The ruins of Babylon as seen from Saddam Hussein's Summer Palace.
A revival is taking place in the Middle East.
Last week, in Part I, I wrote about the history of the Middle East—how it wasn't always a Muslim area. I focused on the ancient Assyrians, and their extreme brutality—eerily similar to that of ISIS today.
God had pity on the Assyrians in the form of Jonah, whose preaching instigated their repentance. He spared the city of Nineveh for a time, but alas, they ended up returning to their cruel ways and Nineveh fell in 612 B.C., about 150 years after Jonah's visit.
Assyria dropped off the pages of history, replaced by the Babylonian empire, but not before being used of God to punish his people, the Israelites, for their idolatry and to ultimately restore them to Himself.
"ISIS is blessing." These words were spoken by two ministry leaders who recently visited Christian Aid Mission. One is from Jordan and one is from Iraq; both work among the refugees and both assert that they have never before seen a revival of this magnitude in the Middle East.
It seems that, just like God used the ancient Assyrians to bring His people to repentance, so He is using ISIS to do the same thing.
"Those who wouldn't walk to church, God brought on their knees," the Iraqi ministry leader said. "God wants His glory back in the Middle East."
Could it be that God is pulling back the veil of Islam that has covered the region and blinded so many? Before this dark religion dominated the region, people knew the Lord.
When the Assyrian empire fell, the Assyrians didn't just disappear—they were ruled by others: the Persians and Medes, Alexander the Great, and the Roman Empire (in 115 B.C.).
After the death and resurrection of Christ, Peter preached to them. The Assyrians were among the earliest converts to Christianity.
Hundreds of years later, in 637 A.D., armies of Arab nomads from the Arabian Peninsula conquered the area where the Assyrians lived. It was never the same after this.
Like we see today, when Muslims conquer a territory, they Islamicize it. They force people to convert to Islam, and do what they can to erase the history of the people they conquered.
Tamerlane's empire at the time of his death in 1405 A.D.
Under Muslim Arab rule, Assyrians—who were mainly Christians at the time—were considered dhimmis, or second-class citizens. They didn't have the same political rights as Muslims, their word wasn't equal to Muslims in legal and civil matters, they weren't allowed to spread their religion, and they were subject to paying a special tax (the jizya). Sound familiar?
Later, in the 14th century, the Muslim ruler, Tamerlane, conducted a religiously motivated massacre of Assyrian Christians.
Unfortunately, the Assyrian Christians would endure many more massacres throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and during World War I.
Why am focusing on the Assyrians? Because they were there before the Arabs moved into the region and brought Islam. The only people verified through genetic, historical, linguistic, and cultural research to be the descendants of the ancient Mesopotamians are the Assyrians of Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey.
Could it be that God truly does "want His glory [more specifically, His people] back in the Middle East"?
In 2014, ISIS attacked cities like Mosul and Kirkuk with large Assyrian populations. Thousands upon thousands have been pushed from their homes. . . and into the arms of Jesus Christ. They're finding Him away from home, in refugee camps visited by native Christians.
"People are sick of Islam," the Iraqi ministry leader told us.
This Iraqi ministry leader is a Chaldean who grew up in Baghdad speaking Aramaic (the spoken language of the Assyrian citizens under Persian, Greek, Roman, and Arab rule).
After getting saved in an adjacent country, he returned to share the gospel in Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein's regime, no Bibles were allowed in Iraq. No evangelical churches existed in the country, and the orthodox ones were required to submit their teachings for government approval.
But everything changed after the fall of the Hussein regime in 2003. Technically, restrictions on Bibles and proselytizing were still in place, but people were much more open to the gospel.
Since the ministry leader began his outreach there in 2007, he asserts, "not one person has rejected my message."
Today, 1.5 million refugees and displaced people are living in Iraq. He's started 10 "home churches" just among the refugees. The Jordanian ministry leader told us he started 18 "home churches" among refugees in the past four months.
Starting a church was easy for him—Muslims flocked to it with their children and neighbors. He can't keep Bibles in stock. When he opens a box of them in a Muslim village, people surround him to get a copy.
In fact, it's the Word of God that is drawing people to the Lord. According to this ministry leader, there is only one missionary per 2 million people in the Middle East. People are scarce, but the Bible is doing the job. He's distributed tens of thousands of copies.
He told us about a strange openness to the gospel around Christmastime in Iraq. According to him, many Muslims celebrate Christmas just like Americans, with a tree, presents, and festivities. Government officials take to television to wish Christians a "Merry Christmas," and TV specials about the life of Jesus are aired. Throughout the season, Bibles are readily accepted by many—and even read in some schools.
The ministry leader is hoping to distribute somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 New Testaments and children's Bibles during that season.
We're bombarded with bad reports about ISIS in the news, but we don't hear this stuff. Could it be that ISIS is the biggest blessing in disguise the world has ever known? Could it be the instrument God is using to call His people back to Him?
The Iraqi ministry leader started the first Christian radio broadcast in Iraq. If you were to tune in on the first moment of the first day that program aired, you would have heard the song "Amazing Grace." Can you hear it now, playing in your head? Can you imagine it playing in the homes of countless Iraqi people, living under the shadow of Islam?
What's happening today is nothing short of amazing grace, shown by a God who wants His people back.
"Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance" (Isaiah 19:25 NIV).