Petitions, the United Nations and a God Who Sees
[Guest post from Open Doors UK CEO Lisa Pierce]
Last week during Hope for the Middle East (#Hope4ME), Open Doors representatives presented a petition full of 808, 127 names of people from 143 countries advocating for thousands of Christians in Iraq and Syria who are coming back to destroyed homes and communities left in the wake of the ISIS war. Throughout the week, Open Doors met with key leaders at the United Nations, asking them to use their influence to help establish a future for the church in the Middle East. In this guest post, Open Doors UK CEO Lisa Pierce shares why advocacy is such an important part of the work Open Doors’ does–and how God uses our collective voices to care for His suffering people.
You don’t need to be a current affairs expert to know the enormity of the challenge or the complexity of the situation in the Middle East. And you probably don’t need to be a Christian to recognize that for the future to be significantly different for believers and other religious minorities in the Middle East, we need a miracle.
So the questions surface… Why not focus purely on the wonderful work of encouraging prayer and providing food, shelter, Bibles, trauma care? Helping people just get through today with food to eat and some kind of shelter is challenge enough. Isn’t advocacy all a bit tenuous? And how do you know if it’s really working anyway?
Fair and important questions.
I guess it depends on what we’re setting out to do–and whether we’re choosing between advocating for the church or providing other kinds of help. Or whether we’re advocating and providing other kinds of aid? It’s worth noting that the Bible doesn’t see these things in competition with each other: the justice, mercy and love of God’s character are held together, not polarized. Consider Isaiah 58:6-7: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice… to set the oppressed free… to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…”
Painting a True Picture
The reality is that it’s sometimes easy to underestimate the benefit that politicians and key influencers receive from this grassroots connection Open Doors has with the local church in hostile countries. Even the politicians who live in these countries, sheltered in their gated communities, have far less access to information about the real situation than we do. These leaders are often extremely grateful for the detailed picture we can paint to show them what’s happening in and through the church.
At a political level, decisions are frequently made that either have a negative impact on the church, or miss an opportunity to have a positive impact on the church simply because these leaders who make decisions about aid, trade, military action, etc., don’t understand the religious landscape–or don’t even realize the country has a a Christian presence.
To be heard by these political leaders and effectively speak up for the church, we must take advocacy seriously. That’s where mobilizing the collective prayers and voices of concerned Christians comes into play. When we sought out meetings with elected officials, we were clear that we were representing the voices of a staggering 808,127 people from 143 countries, including over 200,000 from the Middle East itself.
Each of these voices represented more than 800,000 people, desperately asking national leaders to listen to what’s happening to the church in the Middle East. To understand. To consider seriously the specific recommendations for how a group can best focus its efforts to support beleaguered, courageous Christian communities in Syria and Iraq.
Those collective voices add enormous gravity, credibility and weight. In a sense, every person who signed the Hope for the Middle East petition was there in the room with us. And critically, so were those we were speaking up for. Twelve-year-old Noeh Binoo and his father, Haltam, who told their story in these meetings with such courage and dignity, are representative of millions of other believers like them.
When we meet with leaders, they are listening.
No ‘Jericho Walls’ Moments
Of course, influencing international leaders to ensure that Christian leaders are part of the reconciliation programs that are now beginning in Iraq and Syria; to ensure that Christian communities are sought out so they receive a fair portion of international aid; and to instate active monitoring of violence against Christians on the Nineveh Plain–none of these are “Jericho walls” moments. There are no easy fixes. But step by step, these initiatives can begin to reverse the squeeze of persecution that has been so effective in sucking life from the church in the birthplace of Christianity.
As the collective prayers and voices of the global church are mobilized on behalf of our family in the Middle East, there’s something even more beautiful happening too. This worldwide unity is undoing the lie the enemy wants our family in Syria and Iraq to believe: that God has forgotten them, that they are invisible. To forget Matthew 10:30, and the fact that God knows the number of “the very hairs” on their heads. Our Middle East team has done a brilliant job of keeping church leaders in Syria and Iraq informed about our advocacy efforts, as well as the number of people praying for them and speaking up for them through the petition.
I love the different Hebrew names for God. Since becoming involved with Open Doors, the name that has become most poignant for me is El Roi (The God who sees). Our God sees His children suffering and calls on the Body of Christ to respond. As we bring our loaves and fishes, aware of all we cannot do but with absolute faith in a faithful God–who who takes the little we can offer and multiplies it through prayer, provision and petition–we become part of His bigger story. To show love. To restore hope.
What a privilege!
Pictured above: Twelve-year-old Noeh presents the Hope 4 the Middle East petition to Kyoko Shiotani (Chief, Office of the Under-Secretary-General at United Nations Department of Political Affairs).