Tales from Indigenous Ministries working in Iraq
October 11, 2012
Living in the West, it can be difficult to understand the special challenges that native missionaries face daily in closed and developing countries; particularly in the Middle East and other Muslim lands. Christian Aid is in constant communication with native missionaries spread throughout the developing world. The following are clips from stories told to us from native missionaries in the Middle East. We hope that by reading them you will gain a better understanding of mission work in these lands.
Less than two-third’s of Iraqi women are able to read and write, which sharply curtails their chances to advance. Indigenous missions groups can help change that statistic
"We visited illiterate parents with two kids", says one misisonary from Iraq. "They live a difficult poor life with no peace or joy; they keep worrying about financial problems and a sick father. As for their spiritual and biblical information, they know nothing. We shared the gospel with them and they received Jesus in their hearts; we sensed the joy that shone on their faces. The mother shared her wish to learn to read and write, so we have started teaching her twice a week in the church's cafeteria before the prayer service, so she can attend the service and practice reading from the projector. She has been coming to the services for a while now, and has joined us every Friday to help us minister in her neighborhood."
Persecution of Christians in Iraq remains rampant. Native missionaries are always wary, but God finds ways for like minded believers to connect:
"In one of the visits a woman informed us that there was a young man asking about us who wanted us to visit him. At the beginning we hesitated to go, but God encouraged me from Joshua 1:9 to visit him, so we went. Once he saw the team, he ran towards us and hugged and kissed us like he knew us for a long time. He introduced himself to me; his name is Qasem and he is 18 years old. Upon introducing himself, he added, "I believe in Jesus Christ. I was raised in a monastery." This was his way of telling us that he was not a Muslim. We provided him with a Bible and tracts. He was filled of joy. After a while we visited him again and gave him a gospel tract. We prayed with him, and he accepted Jesus as Savior and master of his life."
Over one third of Iraqis still live in semi-nomadic rural settlements organized by tribes, one native missionary reports:
"God's blessings have overwhelmed us through the warm welcome we have received from the families and tribes. One of the tribes honored us by slaughtering a sheep. We took the opportunity to share the gospel and explain from Isaiah 53 how Jesus made the sacrifice for us:
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth."
At the beginning, the tribal elder refused the message based on the Muslim teachings he had received. We continued the discussion, providing the prophetic verses about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Afterwards we gave him a Bible, and he assured us that he will start reading it to understand the message of God."
Often divorced women can become ostracized and forced to live off of charity:
"A divorced lady with a 15-year-old daughter lives in a poor neighborhood, off of the donations she receives from neighbors. When she heard about us coming to visit the area, she ran towards us and begged for Jesus to have mercy on her and her daughter. We gave her a package of food and gifts, prayed for her, and provided a Bible for her and a children's Bible for her daughter. Before we left, she informed us that we loved her more than her Muslim relatives did."
Tales about Iraqi refugees in Jordan
Many Iraqis fled to Jordan because of the instability in Iraq following Saddam Hussien’s fall. For years, Jordan put no restrictions on immigration from Iraq, so Iraqis felt welcome. Many Iraqi refugees, however, cannot find employment and only 14% of Iraqi women find work. This is the story of an Iraqi refugee family being helped by native missionaries:
"Wafa is a single mother raising four daughters: Nesren, Mariam, Amal, and Neven, ages 7 to 14 years. Her husband left the family a few years ago. Nesren heard threats at her school in Iraq about her religious beliefs, and Wafa's neighbor received two letters threatening kidnapping and killing because they were Christians. Concerned for the safety of her four daughters, Wafa decided to flee to Jordan.
"Their only income in Jordan is $150 per month from Wafa's job, working as a kindergarten aid. The girls attend school and church regularly, because education and faith are their hope for a better future. The five work together to keep a clean home and their spirits high, but are in need of prayers and help to pay for rent, utilities, and food. 'My savings are finished,' said Wafa. 'My kids won’t be in school this next year.'"
Tragically, violence against Christians is an ongoing problem in Iraq as shown in the next story related by a native missionary.
"A couple months ago, three neighbors left Iraq and moved to Jordan, hoping to be granted refugee status by the UN. Their goal is to relocate to another country where they can live normal, safe lives, and earn their own living."
"Yusra holds a B.A. degree in Banking and Commercial Sciences. With advanced English skills and work experience, she became an expert in the fields of computers and the internet. After her father’s death in 2000, Yusra became solely responsible in providing for her mother and brother. Her brother suffers from a kidney disease that makes it difficult for him to find work. On July 21, 2011, Yusra returned home to find her family’s house turned upside down, everything of value stolen, and her mother lying dead on the bathroom floor. Yusra realized that the safest option to ensure survival would be to leave the country with her brother, her sister Ghada, her sister’s family, and a neighbor, Shoosen."
"Ghada left Iraq with her sister, Yusra, who is married with four children. While she and her husband, who is a chef, look for work in Jordan, Ghada’s other priority is to make sure that her children receive a quality education and continue to follow Christ. She registered her children at a school, but the books are too expensive and they cannot attend."
"Shooshen, age 40, was working with the Red Cross in Iraq. She lives with her father, who cannot work, her brother Fawzi and his wife, and their two children. Fawzi made a living buying and selling spare car parts. He also worked as an electrician at a church, where his wife was a Sunday school teacher. After his family received a death threat, it became clear the family needed to leave immediately."
"In Iraq, Yusra, Ghada, and Shooshen lived in the same neighborhood. Knowing each other’s situations, they decided to use all of the money they had to move to Jordan together. Yusra, her brother, and Ghada’s family live together on the fourth floor of an old building in Marka/Amman. Shooshen and her brother’s family moved to another apartment that is full of mold. These families have a monthly need for help with rent, medical needs, food, school expenses, and heat and utilities."
"Every refugee has a different story. Each has needs. Each has many fears. While some NGOs are providing assistance to refugees in Jordan, it is primarily being directed to help Muslims."
The Threat of Persecution
One danger facing Christian communities in Muslim lands is the constant threat that false believers will betray them to hostile authorities. Here is an example of this type of persecution relayed to Christian Aid by a missionary in the field:
"One minister was forced to confront a young man from a Muslim background named Abdullah, who claimed he came to faith in Jesus Christ. He was going around to the believers asking for financial help. At the same time, he was speaking negatively about Christians in the community. When the minister found out, he confronted Abdullah who became angry and started speaking badly about Jesus Christ and Christians. Then, Abdullah threatened to inform fanatic Muslim groups about the ministry and information he has about the new believers who have yet to publicly confess their faith in Christ. This is serious because believers who come from a Muslim background are often severely persecuted if it becomes known to the Muslim community."