When we gather in our homes to worship, we also gather with millions of witnesses both now and from the beginning of time
Isolation in the midst of a pandemic does not mean we are alone. Instead, we have a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), both here on earth, and those who have gone before us. When we gather in our homes to remember and celebrate Easter, we join our hearts with millions of witnesses.
That truth has sustained the church in the Middle East through persecution and trials and continues to sustain them today. Our family in Iraq tells us that during the years of ISIS occupation, they felt the prayers of the body of Christ worldwide. When our team visited Qaraqosh two years ago, we met Noor, a then-29-year-old architect, wife and mother. Noor shared that she and all Iraqi believers had felt the prayers of Christians around the globe.
“On behalf of me and every single Christian in Iraq, we are thankful for every Christian in the world, for thinking about us, for your prayers.”
Similarly, we are not the first Christians to live and worship in a time of fear. Our sisters and brothers who are persecuted testify to this, as does the long witness of Christians in ages past! We are not alone; we have each other through prayer, and the Holy Spirit to give us courage.
God meets us where we are physically, emotionally and spiritually
Wherever you are today, not only physically but also personally, God will meet you—even in the uncertain times or bleakest of moments. His Word promises that though we will have trouble in this world, we can take heart because He has “overcome the world.” We are never outside His caring hand. He has promised to be with us.
Shlama*, director of Open Doors’ partner organization in Iraq, says that even when ISIS occupied the Nineveh Plain and so many questioned the future existence of the church in the Middle East, she did not doubt that God was with the church, meeting them where they were.
“Being a Christian doesn’t mean an easy life,” she says. “Jesus doesn’t promise us an easy life. He promised to be with us. That is what the church believes.”
Anis, a believer from Iraq who returned to his home two years ago, reminds us that Christ’s resurrection brings us the unconditional promise of His presence and restoration.
“Easter is a message to humanity—a message of new life,” he said. “After torture, after hardships, after tough conditions, there will be life again. This is the main thing that we can expect from Easter.
“Our Lord has risen. This gives all of us great hope, and we try to be just like Him, living a new life with Jesus Christ.”
Nothing can separate us
In Romans 8, Paul writes:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
You could add “pandemics” to the list of trials Paul calls out. Persecuted believers in Iraq have a front-row seat to this reality.
These Christ followers who faced Islamic State’s “convert, pay tax or die” ultimatum and scattered into refugee camps know that while we may be separated physically, nothing can separate us from each other and the love of our Savior.
Recently, Father Daniel from Iraq shared a short video of encouragement: “The apostle Paul teaches us that whatever the exterior situation is, no matter how painful or tiring the situation is, we have to trust that the Lord is near us and will never forsake us.”