Expelled for Righteousness

The news coming from Iraq and Syria is alarming. It stirs us to prayer and reflection, but also to action. We received a letter from a Christian Egyptian reader who went to Iraq to help suffering followers of Christ. Unexpectedly, they gave him something much greater than he could give them

How could anyone respond to a child who cries himself to sleep every night, frightened by haunting memories of being forced out of his home?  Adults could not bear the sound of cannons and explosives, while the hearts of the little ones became hardened with fear. What words can comfort a mother who in her haste to escape left her baby behind and could not return to get him?! Would she ever be able to forgive herself?  Who can bear the tears of men who lost everything and suddenly became unable to provide for their families?  Have you experienced the amazing feeling of taking your daughter in your arms and having her experience the warmth and comfort of your parental love?  Imagine what it would feel like if she were forcefully snatched out of your arms and sold into human trafficking for a bunch of dollars after being raped by 10 men! Can you imagine what it would feel like for your wife to be taken as spoils of war and given to terrorists for pleasure… and if you attempted to rescue her, you would be beheaded by human monsters that know nothing about mercy?

How horrific is hatred when paired with jihadist ideology!  How detestable is man when he surpasses devils in doing evil!  That is what ISIS gangs did to our brothers and sisters in Mosul and Qaraqosh—the land where their ancestors lived as Christians and Yazidis, the people of the valley of Ninevah since the beginning of time.  ISIS has shocked the world with barbaric actions that we never thought could still exist.  Standing before these acts that take us back to the darkest ages in human history, I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “When I despair,  I remember that all through his-tory the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall.”

I spent a few days among the displaced families in Irbil, Iraq, and refugees who made their way into Jordan, in an attempt to share their pain and explore ways of helping them through this crisis. I stood with my son and a childhood friend in a garage where displaced families live, sleeping on the floor. The place was named “The Graveyard of the Living”, due to its inhumane living conditions.  It was there that I could not resist the thought of what would have happened to us if the Lord had not miraculously intervened to spare us a similar fate… if ISIS-like terrorists had continued ruling us.  What we heard with our ears and saw with our eyes deeply affected our hearts and spirits.  No words can sufficiently express the depth of this experience! How trivial and petty are our problems in comparison… even if they seem impossible, with no apparent quick solution! And how awesome is God’s grace that faithfully kept us, while we are in no way better than the victims destroyed by ISIS!

From my conversations with our dear displaced brothers and sisters in Christ from different denominational backgrounds, I sensed their sincere love for their churches, despite their minimal Biblical know-ledge. Many of them may not be regular churchgoers, and most may not even be considered “believers” by the standards of strict church leaders.  They may be perceived as being less worthy and their different doctrine not good enough to be recognized as a church, but merely a clan. Yet those labeled as being far from the faith, held on to Christ in the face of beheading, death, and displacement.  How amazing is the faith that ensues from a real experience with God; faith that is not judged on human standards of assessing one’s Christianity based on doctrinal differences!  I was stunned by their simple faith, which many displaced individuals expressed as I heard them cry out to the Lord in anguished spirits.  They did not cry out for revenge, but rather that the Lord would forgive their neighbors who unexpectedly betrayed them and took over their houses and belongings in return for that betrayal!

Never before have I seen this type of faith that leads those victims, while still in the midst of tra-gedy, to pray that the Lord would open the eyes of their persecutors so that they would know the Truth and that the Truth would set them free.  They may not know the exact verse of Christ’s Beatitudes, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). How far is God’s grace from our understanding; We cannot understand his ways in bringing those who are far away into His Kingdom! This is the work of the Holy Spirit that I have witnessed in the testimony of many of the people I met. I thought I was going to encourage them, but stood stunned before the work of the Lord in their lives!  Only the Son of Man who experienced having nowhere to lay His head can help those who were expelled for the sake of righteousness in “The Graveyard of the Living” in Ankawa, Irbil.

The best way I can conclude my article to you this time is with the words of Pope John Paul II, for peace in the world:

“To you, Creator of nature and humanity, of truth and beauty, I pray: Hear my voice, for it is the voice of the victims of all wars and violence among individuals and nations. Hear my voice, for it is the voice of all children who suffer and who will suffer when people put their faith in weapons and war. Hear my voice when I beg you to instill into the hearts of all human beings the vision of peace, the strength of justice and the joy of fellowship. Hear my voice, for I speak for the multitudes in every country and in every period of history, who do not want war and are ready to walk the road of peace. Hear my voice and grant insight and strength so that we may always respond to hatred with love, to injustice with total dedication to justice, to need with the sharing of self, to war with peace. O God, hear my voice, and grant to the world your everlasting peace.”

Perhaps the essence of this prayer is worthy of daily repetition  in our homes and churches for the victims of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  And until next time, let us not lose sight of God’s words, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov 31: 8-9).

Let us not facilitate evil’s victory by remaining silent and not doing anything!