July 29, 2014

Defeat or Divine Plan?

By Brittany Tedesco

“How can a culture survive without salt?” our Middle East Director, Steve, rhetorically asked us during one of our weekly meetings. “Salt” referring to Christians. And “culture” referring to Mosul, Iraq, which has all but lost its Christian presence.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has essentially purged Mosul, once the ancient city of Nineveh, of all believers with its ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a fine (which is prohibitively high for these native believers), or be killed.

The Christian presence there wasn´t very large to begin with, but now a dark culture is about to get a lot darker. For the first time since the days of Jonah, “Nineveh” is void of those who worship the one, true God.

And it makes me sad. It feels like defeat. I wish the Christians could stay. I´m sure a tiny minority is trying to stay, but I don´t know how much longer they´ll be able to withstand. According to a ministry leader assisted by Christian Aid who´s been smuggling Christians out of Iraq, “they have been emotionally and physically abused for the past month...the beatings and killings were more than they could endure.”

This ministry leader isn´t only smuggling believers out of Iraq, he´s also smuggling them out of places like Saudi Arabia, which is listed 6th on Open Doors World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.

He told us the Saudi believers he helped to escape were beaten badly because of their faith in Christ. The men received 100 lashes each. The women received 55. Though their physical pain was such that they could barely walk, the leader knew their emotional trauma went deeper and would take longer to heal.

I wondered how someone could even survive 100 lashes, but according to Christoph Wilcke, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch, flogging is “almost always a component of any Saudi sentence, and some lashings can number in the thousands.”

Upon further research, I learned that a flogging sentence, administered with a bamboo whip, is typically broken up into weekly bouts—otherwise someone might not survive it.

I didn´t realize how common the practice is. . . I didn´t realize a lot of things that happen under Sharia law. And apparently neither does the rest of the world. The media has been ablaze about the case of Meriam Ibrahim, who was sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging in Sudan because of her marriage to a Christian man. But she´s not an isolated incident. She escaped. Others can´t, and some don´t even try.

And so I ask myself: as Christian, would I stay in a place like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, or Sudan to get beaten or possibly killed? Or would I try to escape. . . and feel defeated?

Is Mosul a defeat?

Or could it be part of God´s plan?

If we look back to the origin of the church—those Jews who repented and were saved at Pentecost—we see something similar to what´s happening today.

For a time they remained together in Jerusalem, fellowshipping and growing in their faith, but then “a great persecution” arose against the church (Acts 8:1).

What did they do? Did they grit their teeth and stay?

No. They left. And because they did, the gospel was advanced.

“Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

Interesting. What´s more, “the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord” (Acts 11:21).

God never meant for them to stay, and He used persecution to get them moving.

What will become of Mosul without a Christian presence? How can a culture survive without salt and light? I don´t know. Perhaps it´s not meant to.

What I do know is that God has a plan for these Christians fleeing Mosul, but they need our prayers and support. They need to know that, though they are persecuted, they are not forsaken, and though they are cast down, they are not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:9).