Pull up! Pull up!
This message, blaring from the aircraft’s warning system, was exactly the sort of sound one does not want to hear while their plane circles over Baghdad.
But the broad-shouldered men who piloted the airplane seemed unconcerned. For me, this was a day of high emotions—the day my door to the persecuted church opened. For them, it was Thursday.
One year earlier, I had discovered Randy Alcorn’s book, Safely Home, which delves into persecution in China. In it, the main character, Ben Fielding, visits an old school friend in China. His former classmate, Quan Li, had become a house church leader despite the risk of persecution. Everyday Quan Li woke up, the book explained, he would ask himself a haunting question: “Is this the day I die?”
Quan Li and the countless persecuted Christians this fictional character represents are not fatalistic, nor do they long for pain and suffering. Rather, these are the sort of questions they use to help shape their life paths.
One year after reading Safely Home, I responded to an advertisement and was hired to work as a communicator at the Open Doors branch in the Netherlands. My first assignment? To go to Iraq and report on the impact of our projects. Saddam Hussein had just been captured, but the violence and bombings were still ongoing so someone needed to cover the story.
I was a 24-year-old journalist who had just received an invitation to possibly the biggest adventure of his life.
Of course, I said yes.
I would go. Obviously.
It turned out the answer was not quite as obvious to everyone else. When I told my fiancé, we had a big fight. My parents were not particularly pleased either. “Why do you have to go?” They wanted to know, “Why can’t someone else do it?”
I admitted I had accepted this assignment quickly. But then again, how much is my faith worth if I’m not willing to risk anything?
This became one of the questions that shaped the path of my life.
Bagdad was beautiful. Beautiful and unsafe. I couldn’t stay out on the streets more than a few minutes. An Armenian Christian who had pale skin (like me) continually warned me, “I look like a Westerner too. They may kidnap us.”
(A few years later, this man was indeed kidnapped and ordered to kill another abducted person. He refused and was almost shot himself. The kidnappers murdered the other man in front of his eyes. He was released after family members paid a huge ransom, but will have to live with the emotional scars for the rest of his life.)
Mosul was the only city where I could move more or less freely. A very friendly Christian showed me around and let me meet an Orthodox Christian family.
At the time, in 2004, new churches were emerging almost everywhere in Iraq. The church was blossoming. Spring had finally arrived for the Christians.
Nobody knew what suffering was yet to come.
But one Kurdish Christian casually told me something that seemed relevant in the coming days—something I will never forget: “Christianity is war.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Following Christ is a fight.”
At the time he said this, I didn’t fully understand. I had so little experience with resistance against Christianity that I missed his point. But through my encounters with the persecuted church, I eventually discovered that following Christ means you declare war on the world. Not with weapons that kill, but with weapons that give life. As one Nigerian pastor said after dozens of people were massacred in his church: “We need to answer with the guns of love.”
It’s not easy for persecuted Christians to say such things. But people who ask the right questions often tap into heavenly wisdom like this. The Kurdish church leader who fights for faith, the Armenian Christian who was kidnapped and the forgiving pastor in Nigeria—they all have this in common.
They are asking the right questions.
What about you?