Middle East: Finding Christ in Conflict
Terrified by the turmoil in Iraq, Muslims turn to Christ for His perfect peace
As one of his last acts before his defeat in 2003, Saddam Hussein released thousands of notorious criminals from prisons throughout Iraq. Entire communities continue to live in fear. Democracy is the goal, but anarchy is the current reality.
Kidnapping has reached epidemic proportions. Law officers in Baghdad are of little help to families attempting to negotiate with abductors. They estimate that the city experiences 15,000 kidnappings per year. Those are just the ones that are reported.
Iraqi insurgents, attempting to purge their soil of foreign occupation forces, are believed to be using the ransom money from kidnappings to fund their activities. The late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Iraqi terrorist organization made it their goal to kill all those involved in drafting Iraq’s new constitution.
Christians are especially targeted, as terrorists assume they support the U.S. military in Iraq. Numbers in church attendance throughout the country have dropped because of the fear of attacks and kidnappings.
"The situation in Iraq is so dangerous, for there are kidnappers, terrorists, criminals and roadside bombs everywhere," a native ministry leader reported. "People are so tired and scared." Three car bombs were detonated only feet from his church building, killing 40 people and injuring 35.
Many Iraqis, fearing for their lives, have fled the country. Large groups of Iraqi refugees are now living primarily in Iran, Jordan and Turkey. A substantial number of Christians are included in the emigration population.
Many Arab ministry leaders—discouraged, strapped for funds and often fearing for their lives—have immigrated to Western countries. A considerable number of underground Christians are losing their network of believers and the support that a ministry leader offers.
A hunger for the Truth
The Middle East is one of the least evangelized regions of the world. Native ministry leaders, who understand the delicate procedure of covert evangelism in Arab countries, are crucial to reaching these nations.
Arab ministry leaders are unable to hold large meetings, which would be reported by Muslim neighbors. Instead, they must secretly travel from house to house.
In 1999 a Christian Aid-supported ministry began by starting underground churches for Iraqi refugees in Jordan.
In 2001, the ministry began an outreach program for Muslim Iraqi refugees by offering free English classes. During the first year, 100 Muslim families dedicated their lives to Christ. From those 100 families, 13 men and women stepped forward to join the ministry. After three months of Bible training they began evangelizing Baghdad. Through door-to-door evangelism, the group distributed 120,000 Bibles in two years.
Bibles for Iraq
The Mission has greatly focused its Bible distribution efforts on the youth, as nearly half of Iraq’s population is under the age of 15. They began giving Bibles to children in schools. Presently, they are working to distribute gospel material to 900,000 young people in 1,500 schools throughout Iraq. These materials can be provided for only $1 per child.
In addition to distributing Bibles, the ministry has had great success in planting small house churches. Muslims, who hear the gospel for the first time, ask permission to bring their families, friends and neighbors to the churches. Staff members are working toward the goal of planting at least one house church in every major city of Iraq.
Kurdistan is an ethnographic region that lies within the borders of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Armenia. It is home to 40 million Kurds who congregated here after Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign against the Kurdish people of northern Iraq. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims.
Efforts to dominate the Kurdish people of northern Iraq lasted from 1963, when the Ba’ath party came to power, to 1989. In March 1988, under the dictates of Saddam Hussein, a chemical and assault weapon attack was launched on the Kurdish city of Halabja. Up to 5,000 Kurds were killed in one day.
Caught in the Halabja attack were thousands of women and children, including one 7-year-old boy. He was on his way to kindergarten when his bus was hit by a rocket. Everyone on board was killed instantly—except him.
Barely alive and having lost both legs, Haydar was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Iran, a country then fighting with the Kurds against Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War. He spent three months unconscious, finally awakening to learn that his entire immediate family had been killed by chemical weapons.
Haydar spent 10 years in Tehran, receiving treatment for his legs, stomach and disfigured face. Having been introduced to the idea of Christianity as a child, he found himself often pondering God.
When he became a teenager, the young man moved to Jordan as a refugee. There he met a fellow Kurd who introduced him to the gospel of Christ and the idea of a personal relationship with Him. In June 2001, he gave his life to the Lord.
His first prayer was that God would spare at least one member of his family for him to meet. Months later, his school headmaster pulled him aside to tell him that someone claiming to be his brother had called from Switzerland. It was verified through other relatives: Haydar had a living family member.
The reunion with his brother encouraged Haydar, who started a ministry among other Kurds. He first began by going door-to-door among Kurdish refugees in Jordan, developing relationships and talking about the Lord.
The young missionary, now 25 years old, has returned to Iraq to work among the Kurdish people.
Kurdish believers have requested 50,000 Bibles, and ministry workers are now praying for the means to purchase these.
Another Christian-Aid supported ministry among the Kurds began in 2001. Three groups of volunteers distribute the Word of God. The ministry currently oversees nine different house churches in Iraq, and seven in neighboring Iran. Their current project is to gather enough funds to print hymn books for their churches.
Next door: Christianity in Iran
More than 70 ethnic cities reside in Iran, infamous for its human rights abuses and economic deprivation. Christians face arbitrary arrests and discrimination in jobs, housing and education.
Iran has been accused of aiding terrorist groups and pursuing a uranium enrichment program for atomic weapons. According to former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, the number of young men joining terrorists groups has increased in the last five to six years.
Although Shi’a Islam is the official state religion, citizens of Iran—like those of Iraq—are extremely open to the gospel. Under Islamic law, proselytizing is forbidden. But many Iranians have approached Christians to request copies of the Bible—despite the fact that Islam teaches that the Bible is corrupt and unreliable.