Coming Alongside the Church in Iraq Through Perilous Times
The usual morning routine is coupled with fearful expectation. Studying the movements on the street outside triggers thoughts that pending violence is inevitable. A trip to the local grocer for today’s bread and provisions heightens an acute awareness of a probable attack. Tuning in to every noise–praying that none would result in the hauntingly familiar explosion or gunfire.
Neighbors have been kidnapped or fled their homes in fear, leaving the country permanently. Family members have been severely injured. Friends, who once regularly attended church services, are no longer to be found. Either staying hidden or fleeing to safety seem better options than facing the daily uncertainty.
The church in Iraq has transitioned from tolerated to targeted, coming under constant attack the last several years. Threats are now normal for the beleaguered believers–our brothers and sisters. In cities like Baghdad (recently voted by 24/7 Wall Street.com as the “most dangerous city in the world”), Christians have been blatantly threatened to leave or face violent repercussions. These threats are not idle–being regularly being carried out by the radical elements and have caused a mass exodus. Recent reports raise the possibility that perhaps as few as 2,000 evangelical Christians remain in all of Iraq.
Call To Help
Several years ago while attending an Iraqi worship and prayer conference along the Iranian border, a well-known pastor from Baghdad gave us an incredible challenge. With almost no opportunities for further study of the Word in Iraq and very little access to sound teaching, his heart cried out:
“Dear brothers, we are so excited to share with you all what God is doing in our country of Iraq. Every time we meet together 10-15 new people are accepting Jesus as their Savior. We need your help to come and train these people to be followers of Jesus. Just like when the disciples needed others to help them pull their fishnets into the boat, we need your help. God is pouring out His Spirit in Iraq. Please come and join us!
In spite of the persecution in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul (ancient Nineveh), the Lord is moving in tremendous ways among His remnant–and The Joshua Fund (TJF) is helping to accomplish this biblical mandate of discipling the new believers and church leadership all across Iraq.
Time of Teaching
Pastors, church leaders and those hungering to go deeper into God’s Word are gathered together in a safe location, a place where they can escape the terror they often live under. The heart of these TJF leadership conferences is to create an environment that focuses on the Scriptures and what the Lord would have for each participant. In Matthew, Jesus told His followers to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to walk in what He commanded.
Forged amidst the intense persecution and oppression these wonderful brothers and sisters have suffered, there emerges a gratefulness of heart that easily, eagerly and humbly receives the deep teaching of the Word. Followers of Jesus, who experience the uncertainty of life itself, when brought into a setting designed for them to hear simply from God through His Word, end up dramatically transformed in their relationship with Him.
For some who have been given the chance to attend the TJF conferences it is the very first time they have ever actually studied the Bible, verse by verse for themselves. Shockingly, this includes many of the young pastors who are now leading churches, even though they themselves have only been Christians for a very short period of time. Absorbing each chapter as it is taught in a line by line, systematic study has changed the entire way they view and later teach the scriptures. One participant from our last leadership conference, who lives in one of the more dangerous areas in Iraq and comes from a Catholic background, said:
“You know we only have satellite television to watch for Bible teaching. I am not sure now if everything we see is good on what they are teaching. You are sharing and teaching right from the Bible such as I have never heard before–this week has been a dream, a slice of heaven for all of us–I wish it would not end.”
We have been so privileged to present our Iraqi brothers and sisters such opportunities to come together for these times of discipleship and worship. As they return to their homes they are better equipped to follow Christ and are emboldened with His Word to further share His love with the lost around them. During one of our recent times of teaching, perhaps the most respected pastor in all of Iraq shared his heart:
“I have just returned to my country after twenty years of being away. God has called me to return to my homeland just when many pastors and fellow-believers are leaving. I have been called to encourage the young Christians throughout the land to remain and stay strong in the Lord. This teaching that you have brought is so needed for the church in Iraq, we invite you to return and bring to us more of this solid instruction in God’s Word.”
Future in Iraq
With the complete recent military pullout of the American troops, our Iraqi Christian family faces perhaps their most challenging and darkest times. This war-torn land wallows in the hopelessness of tomorrow as factions and radicals fight for power. Some compare the spiritual vacuum created by years of conflict and the rigors of religious rule with the early church found in the book of Acts. Similarly, through dreams, visions and mighty miracles the Lord is making Himself known to the unreached people groups living in a land found mentioned repeatedly throughout the Bible.
The terrible violence faced daily by our Iraqi brothers and sisters is something we may never fully understand. However, in the midst of their epic struggle, the church in Iraq has implored us here at The Joshua Fund to continue to come and continue to bring them the deep solid teaching of God’s Word.
Please remain in prayer for them and us–as together we go and teach and make disciples among all of Israel’s neighbors!