Iraqi Christians, ISIS, and the Apostle Paul

“…they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.” (Acts 7:58-8:4)

ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is a jihadist group. It claims religious authority over all Muslims across the world and aspires to bring much of the Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its direct political control, beginning with territory in the Levant region. The group has been officially designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council and the United States. ISIS is known for its harsh interpretation of the Islamic faith and sharia law and has a record of brutal violence, which is directed at Shia Muslims and Christians in particular. According to a study compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies, ISIS has plans to seize power and turn the country of Iraq into a fundamentalist Islamic State (IS), which is the name they are now being called.

The Scoop

  • About 100,000 Christians have abandoned their villages in the Nineveh plains after being attacked by ISIS
  • ISIS gave Christians in Mosul an ultimatum: convert to Islam, leave the area, or die. They are prohibited from taking anything but the clothes on their backs
  • Sadly, a few Christians were reported to have converted to Islam in order to save their families’ lives and their property
  • All churches and monasteries are under ISIS control. Crosses have been removed from them, some have been burned, destroyed, and looted, while many other are being used as ISIS centers
  • Most Christians in Mosul have fled to the East, to the city of Erbil, the capital and largest city of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Erbil’s governor, Nawzad Hadi, has pledged to protect fleeing Christians and other minority groups
  • Along with the widespread religious persecution, ISIS is also embarking on a campaign that violates the human rights of Muslim women in the area. The UN reports ISIS has ordered all girls and women between the ages of 11 and 46 in and around the city to undergo female genital mutilation

Our family members in Christ are suffering. I won’t post pictures or videos here out of courtesy but, if you must, here’s a google search. I hope this information is enough to show you how much they are suffering. Think about your loved ones. Picture their faces on these Iraqis. We can’t let their sacrifices go in vain. God will not allow it. As many of us know, from the beginning of the Christian movement, the church grew through persecution. The 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian wrote, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church“. In one way or another, the painful voices of these Iraqi Christians will be heard.

Do you think Christians should fight back? If so, why and how? Would our interventions by armed forces reveal or tarnish the message and character of Christ? Is this the kind of Christ we want to display?

Jesus and the early church were marked by suffering. Not because they were powerless but because they chose to relinquish any power they had. Us American Christians have much power…Too much power. And we are hungry for more. If an opposing force wants to invade, depress, steal, or kill, we would be so quick to fight and protect the things which gives us this power. If we are to be more like Christ to the world, we need to surrender our forces and refrain from backing the use of weapons.

It is only by the presence of God that the Iraqi Christians have found strength to persevere and not retaliate in un-Christ-like ways. We shouldn’t expect them to fight back. Through their endurance, the world will notice the humility and sacrifice of the Jesus people. By the spirit of God, they will testify to the world who Jesus is and who he is to them. They are holding strong because their belief is strong. They know that this world – this hell on earth they are experiencing – is only temporal. Freedom is coming soon!

From what I’ve observed from the Iraqi Christians is their determination to withstand persecution. I wonder how many of us American Christians will be able to stand as they do. Adversity reveals character. People like these who travel that road to Golgotha – the path Jesus walked towards death – is truly portraying a genuine example of Christ. I know many will hesitate to walk it, including myself. When I see my family in Christ endure suffering as these Iraqi Christians have, I see Jesus. Jesus is suffering in Iraq. And we’re watching him die through our digital screens in the comfort of our homes. The Iraqi Christians are pressing on because they see the light at the end of the dark tunnel. They know God is in control. They know God’s kingdom is waiting for their arrival. They know King Jesus will be proud of them.

Most of us are blind and deceived. Many of us turn our eyes from current events because we don’t want to be provoked. Ignorance is bliss. Life is better without the hearing of bad news. Living in America seems like living the abundant life – the kingdom of heaven on earth. But, it’s not. It’s an illusion. We think we know what Christian living is but we don’t. We don’t know what sacrificial living is. We don’t know what it means to suffer for the kingdom. And we don’t want to know. We have become so reliant on the power of America’s strength than the power of God. Oh how hard it is for American Christians to inherit the Kingdom of God! May we look at the Iraqi Christians with envy, and repent!

In Acts 9, Jesus confronted Saul saying that the persecution of the people of The Way – the Jesus Movement –  was actually the persecution of him. But Saul had believed he was doing the work of God. To him, the people of this Jesus movement were heretics. They had become apostates and they were to be rightfully punished in accordance to the law! However, God wanted to reveal to him who he was really fighting against. And God was going to transform this man’s identity and give him a new mission. So, a new name was given to him, Paul to replace Saul. And he would no longer terrorize people but now he’d proclaim a message of grace and reconciliation. God chose a terrorist to be his instrument, to proclaim Jesus to the world.

In our attempts to liberate people, may we do so in the most non-violent ways. What if we’re killing our future Pauls? The people of ISIS are like Saul. They believe they are doing the work of God. May Jesus confront them as he did Saul! Let’s refrain from supporting military force. If God wills it, then God wills it. But that should not be our aim. Our desire should be to support the citizens of the kingdom through aid and protection. Should a Paul come from ISIS, unlike those of the first Christian movement, let’s not be so quick to reject him and his testimony but quick to accept and forgive him. Let’s welcome, love, teach and train, and send him out to proclaim the redeeming news of God to the world.

As God’s justice comes and ISIS is demolished, the church buildings, the schools, the water supply and farm lands, and hospitals will need to be rebuilt, restored, and reconstructed. We live in a broken world, and we’re on mission to repair it. What can we do to help our suffering Christian brothers and sisters in these hostile foreign lands? What do you suggest?

Here are a few ways you can help support your family in Christ:

1) pray – Say something along these lines…

“God, protect your people who are being persecuted. Send them aid. Awaken the world to the crisis. Help them to stay strong during these difficult times. You are Just and Full of Mercy. Help us to be an extension of that character here on earth. We want to see your people be delivered, and we want to see the terrorists come to Jesus. We want to see Pauls emerge from ISIS. We believe there’s a grander purpose behind this, that you are in control, and that ultimately your name will be magnified. Come, King Jesus. Let your kingdom be made known. Amen.”

2) spread awareness –

  • Change your social media avatar to the Arabic letter “nun”. It’s the symbol for “Nazarene” or Christian used by IS
  • Sign a petition. Just type your name, email, and submit. And don’t forget to share

3) financially support –

  • Donate money to a humanitarian organization such as SamaritansPurse or World Vision
  • Donate by text. Text “imbrelief” to 80888 and $10 will be donated
  • If you know of any missionaries who are going there, or are there already, please financially support them as well



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