From The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter, Iraq and Syria Special Field Report, September 2015, pages 6-7. VOM website: www.persecution.com
As Christmastime returned to Iraq in 2014, Pastor Joseph found himself caught up in the usual busyness, along with the increased time spent serving persecuted Christians following the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS).
In the midst of the chaos, a man visiting his office in Baghdad urgently asked if he could share eight words with the pastor.
Pastor Joseph, 38, paused to hear the story, one he had heard many other times yet still delighted in– another Muslim coming to Christ because of ISIS.
“I was blind, but I am seeing now,” the visitor shared.
“How?” Joseph asked.
“I was a Muslim and now I am seeing,” the man continued. “From the date ISIS came to Mosul, I started reading the Quran. I wanted to tell people, ‘This is not true Islam.’ I read the Quran daily for four, five hours. I wanted to defend my religion. But I discovered that this is the true Islam.”
Stories like this come frequently as Joseph faithfully serves in Iraq despite the growing threat of ISIS. The pastor knows the chaos caused by the extremist group is creating rare opportunities for the church in Iraq. For example, he has seen large numbers of Muslim youth leave Islam after learning how the Quran inspired ISIS and its slaughter of Christians. Many of these youth eventually realize they still need God in their lives.
“They start seeking,” Joseph said. “When they have a Bible, they start reading about the real God and how God is love. He doesn’t hate Christians. He doesn’t hate the Yazidis. He doesn’t like to kill anyone. Many people come now to Christianity because they are seeking God.”
The man who visited Joseph’s office in December had a similar experience. Shocked by how specifically the Quran inspired ISIS, he became an atheist. Days later, he walked by a group of men sitting at a table outside a library. Bibles and Christian literature sat on the table.
“Do you have a Bible?” he asked them. “Can I have one?”
After receiving a New Testament, he returned home and began reading. The story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 captured his attention, particularly the part in which the crowd asks Jesus, “What should we do with this lady?”
“Would I stone her?’ the man asked himself.
He then read Jesus’ response: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone.”
“This is God!” the man shouted in his home. “This is the real God we should worship!”
His search for a church led him to Pastor Joseph. His story is not unique. “ISIS is helping us let people know the truth,” Joseph told a Voice of the Martyrs worker. “I have many stories about these people coming to faith at this time.”
For each story of a Muslim coming to Christ, Joseph has several more about Muslims, particularly ISIS, persecuting Christians. Stories of beheadings and crucifixions have been covered by international news organizations. Christians are told to leave Iraq, convert to Isalm, pay a heavy tax, or be killed.
Joseph’s stories are more personal. He regularly hears about church members fleeing ISIS only to encounter the terror group at checkpoints surrounding the territory. The fighters confiscate passports, ID cards, and all valuables. Joseph once heard about a checkpoint guard who asked a pregnant woman for her wedding ring. Because her fingers were swollen from her pregnancy, she was unable to remove it. The guard cut off her finger, took the ring, and sent her on her way.
Such interactions with ISIS are taking their toll on the Iraqi Christians. “They are afraid,” Joseph said. “Most of them don’t want to stay in Iraq anymore. Many Christian families immigrate to Jordan, Lebanon, or Turkey. They just want to leave.”
Despite these challenges, the numerous stories of Muslims leaving Islam for Christ give Joseph hope in his country’s future. “I think spiritually, it will be better,” he said. “All of us are praying that God will take our country to a better place than before.”
We prayed for revival for years, but revival didn’t come how we imagined it. Revival came through the war.
–Brother John, a Christian in Syria
Refugees leaving Syria
Hebrews 13:14 — Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
I Chronicles 29:15 — We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.
Hebrews 11:13-14 — All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.
Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted. Strengthen, comfort, and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment, and even death for being followers of Jesus. We pray also for those who persecute your people. May their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute. Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted, and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support them. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.