May 10, 2016
Tell Your Brothers and Sisters That We Are Living in Hell
Post by Brittany Tedesco
"She was like a small voice in a forest. No one was there. No one was listening."
The father of 26-year-old American, Kayla Mueller, who was abducted by ISIS in February 2015, spoke these words on April 30 at the International Congress on Religious Freedom in New York.
While leaving a Doctors Without Borders facility in Aleppo, Syria in August 2013, Kayla was captured by ISIS members and given to their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who abused and raped her. She was later killed in an airstrike.
When news of her death surfaced, I remember wondering why Kayla was in Syria. What would make her travel to that hellish, war-torn place in 2013, during the height of ISIS' rise to power?
According to her father, Kayla had an "unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind." She ministered to people at the county jail...at an orphanage in India. Before traveling to Syria, she helped Syrian refugees in Turkey.
During a visit to the states in May 2013, Kayla talked with her father's Kiwanis group, pleading with them to do something. She couldn't understand why no one was taking action. The Syrian women had asked her, "Where is America?"
Sister María de Guadalupe, an Argentinian nun who was working as a missionary in the Middle East, was also present at the event in New York.
In 2011, just months before the conflict exploded, she moved to Syria, one of the most peaceful countries in the Middle East at the time. The crime rate was low, people were prosperous, and the diverse ethnic and religious groups lived in harmony with one another.
Then the war broke out. Terrorists seized Syria's largest city, Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Beautiful buildings and neighborhoods have since been blown up and turned to rubble. Its citizens suffer from lack of food and clean water. Their fuel has long since been depleted. "These people that lived so well in Aleppo had to go out in the streets to find branches so they can cook," María said.
Since the conflict began, electricity is only available one or two hours per day. Running water is scarce—available for about two hours every 10 to 15 days, according to María.
"The city became war every single day, and we have been living like that for five years. Now we are used to living with war and we go out in the streets in the midst of bombings and shootings," she said.
Snipers sit atop many of the buildings, and María told us how she and her friends have to cross the street in groups, so if one of them is hit by a bullet, the others can help.
According to this year's annual report produced by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, "there are at least 228 armed opposition groups" in Syria. Innocent civilians have been constant casualties of the fighting, but Christians are actually targeted by many of these groups.
Fr. Rodrigo Miranda, who was present at the New York event with Sister María, told us that several people from his parish were murdered by Islamic terrorists at a youth event. He told of a 74-year-old priest who was killed while feeding the poor.
Sister María showed us a photo of a Christian woman who'd been tied to a pole on a street corner so passersby would beat her because she refused to convert to Islam.
"We are living martyrs," she said.
Kayla Mueller was one of the martyrs. Though her captors pulled out all of her fingernails and subjected her to beatings and rape, she never recanted her faith in our Lord.
In a letter, which one of her fellow captives smuggled out to her parents, she'd written, "I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator because literally there was no one else. I have been shown darkness, light, and have learned that even in prison, one can be free."
Fr. Douglas Al-Bazi told of how he was kidnapped by ISIS and held for nine days. During the first four days of his captivity, he was denied water. Then things got worse. ISIS members used a hammer to break his nose and teeth, and smash a disk in his back. They destroyed his car—twice. He was also shot with an assault rifle.
"Tell your brothers and sisters that we are living in hell," he said.
In March, after three years of talking and deliberating, the U.S. finally made an official declaration of genocide in response to the extermination of minorities in the Middle East. Unfortunately, not much action has followed. Rebeccah Heinrichs of the Hudson Institute writes that the government made the declaration, "more out of political pressure and does not intend to change its strategy or tactics to better eradicate ISIS and protect Christians or other peaceful, minority communities."
"The greatest powers in the world are not doing anything to stop this," María said. "As Christians and citizens, you have to do something."
As the suffering in the Middle East painfully drags on, it can be tempting to turn away. No one wants to dwell on such hardship and misery. But God forbid that you and I, as Christians, would turn away.
Fr. Rodrigo explained that we are called to more than just a "vague feeling of compassion" for suffering people, we're called to a "commitment to the good of all."
So, what can we do?
First, we can fervently pray for the wellbeing of Christians and the salvation of Muslims in the Middle East.
Secondly, we can give of our resources to alleviate suffering—Christian Aid Mission helps 16 indigenous ministries throughout the Middle East that are sharing practical aid and the hope of the gospel with refugees and displaced people (www.defeatdarkness.org).
Thirdly, we can commit to never compromise the truth. "We whitewash what is happening," said Rodrigo. "We need to get the truth out in a way that the common man can understand."
To Kayla: We are here. We are listening.