September 16, 2014
The Captain is the Last to Leave
By Steve Van Valkenburg
I received a report last week from a ministry leader assisted by Christian Aid Mission. He’d learned that one of his contacts inside Syria, a Christian man who chose to remain for the purpose of sharing Christ, was shot in the head. The man’s wife had disappeared, likely kidnapped.
That man could have left the country if he’d wanted to. Like other Syrian pastors and Christian workers, he had connections and could have found a safe way out.
Many have left, and for good reason. Some had no choice, they had to either flee or die. Some believed they’d have better ministry opportunities by leaving. I certainly don’t begrudge them, but oh how I respect those who have stayed behind, in Syria and Iraq.
They stay because they have an opportunity to share Christ like never before. For years they’ve prayed for a spiritual breakthrough and now they are seeing it. Their friends and neighbors have never been so open to the gospel.
They stay because they’re shepherding flocks, groups of believers meeting together secretly, and the captain is the last to leave a sinking ship.
I think of a pastor who knows that he and his family could be killed at any moment. He fears what will happen to his wife and three daughters if they are captured. But there are 100,000 internally displaced people living near him who need the gospel. His ministry is expanding. He is seeing fruit far greater than he could have ever imagined four years ago.
I think of Christian workers in Syria who are reaching thousands, even though they must travel through dangerous areas. They are sharing the gospel with Muslims in Islamic areas. An ISIS caliphate isn’t keeping the gospel out.
I know of gospel workers ministering to Syrian refugees who work 18 hours a day, seven days a week. They endure this, despite personal pressures, because they want to honor Christ and reap this great harvest. They’ve been praying for Muslims, and suddenly there are Muslims receptive to the gospel all around them.
I think of those who are living with little food or electricity. In Syria, food is scarce and expensive. People have been shot over a single piece of fruit. Public water seldom serves their area. If the erratic electricity doesn’t happen to be on when water is available, the pumps won’t work to fill their water tanks.
Why would anyone voluntarily stay in Syria under these conditions? When their close associates are losing their lives?
I think of workers who stayed behind in Mosul, Iraq, an area controlled by ISIS, because so many are hungry for Truth.
This work is not for the faint-hearted. Through suffering and perseverance, these Christians are maturing in faith, having to trust God far more than ever before. They were serving in Islamic areas before the Arab Spring, but never under this much pressure and in this much danger.
We do not know what the condition of the world will be a year from now, but we know that we have opportunities now to make a difference in the lives of these faithful workers in the Middle East, and in the lives of millions caught up in war.
Many thousands of Christians are without even the most basic of food and medicine. What if we were the malnourished ones and we knew there were believers on the other side of the world with the means to provide for us?
And what about the unbelievers? When Christian workers have funds for food, water, medicine, etc to give to them in Christ’s name, they show His love to them both physically and spiritually.
We can be the instruments God uses to provide New Testaments and audio Bibles to the thousands of Muslims who have a desire to know God’s Word.
So let’s give and let’s pray for our suffering brothers and sisters, for God to bring terrorists to Himself, for the eyes of millions to be opened to the Lord Jesus Christ…for receptive hearts. Only the message of the gospel can change hearts.
And let’s intercede for these courageous workers—the last ones to leave. Diplomacy has its place, but Christians serve the most important function in the Middle East because only our message can produce true peace.
Steve Van Valkenburg is the Middle East Director for Christian Aid Mission. He is in regular contact with native (local) ministries serving inside Syria, Iraq, and surrounding countries. You can join our effort to help them by praying, giving at www.christianaid.org/iraq, and using #HelpLocalIraq.