Iraq: Christians Increasingly Vulnerable as Violence On Rise
More than 8,000 civilians died in Iraq in 2013, the highest total in five years. With almost 1,000 deaths already in January, the year 2014 appears set to be even bloodier. With the rising violence concentrating in several cities, the few Christians left there are an increasingly vulnerable group. In the rural areas of Nineveh, the influx of Muslim refugees caused by the tensions in the cities threatens the identity of the Christian villages. Iraq is ranked No. 4 on the Open Doors 2014 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.
Mosul has been one of the centers of sectarian tensions for years. For the few Christians remaining in the city, life continues to be very difficult. They are often threatened and have to live with an increasing number of strict Muslim rules imposed on them.
Laith Dakama, a mechanic, was among those few Christians still living in Mosul. His fate illustrates the tense situation in the city. When one member of a local terror groups walked into his shop at the end of January to demand that he would manufacture silencers for their weapons, Laith refused to help them. It was a brave decision. Many people, both Christian and Muslim, choose to obey those who threaten them, or pay them money in order to stay safe.
The terrorists returned several times that week, all to no effect. Laith would not budge. On their last visit the men punished Laith’s disobedience. The guns he had refused to silence were used to end his life, leaving his 16 year-old-son without a father. Laith’s case doesn’t stand on its own; during 2013 many Christians have been threatened or killed in Iraq. Sometimes working for Christians can be enough to lose your life. At the end of 2013, three non-Christian bus drivers transporting Christian students to Mosul University were killed because of their involvement with Christians.
In the rural areas in the northern Nineveh plains, the conflict has left Christians with another problem. The influx of Shi’ite Muslim refugees, fleeing from the cities as a result of the violence, have left the historically Christian villages struggling to keep their Christian identity alive.
Believers from the Christian town of Bartella share: “After each explosion, Shi’ites and Shabaks are leaving their area to go to Christian villages.”
While Christians have been living peacefully side by side with some Muslim families in their communities for decades, the bigger influx has now led to increasing persecution of Christians. Churches have been defaced with Muslim slogans on their walls and Christian villages in the Nineveh plains are regularly visited and attacked by Muslim groups. Christians feel pressured and fear that a century-old heritage is threatened to be wiped out. A believer adds: “now there is only one Christian village in the area of Bartella; all the surrounding Christian villages have become Shi’ite or Shabak dominated.”
Myanmar: Christian Student Comes to Lord, Faces Opposition
Twenty-three year old Cho* was the only Christian in her household. She surrendered her life to Christ when Nu*, an attendee of Open Doors‘ Standing Strong Through the Storm training, shared the gospel with her family.
“When I was 12, teacher Nu, who came from the Chin state, went to our house and told my family who Jesus was and what He did. After that, I attended the Sunday school in her house church every week. Year after year, I grew to know Jesus more. Teacher Nu taught me about Jesus and the Bible.
“In my early Christian life, I was not accepted and was not treated as a daughter,” Cho recalled. Though Jesus was shared with her parents, they remained Buddhists. “I wasn‘t treated as a normal person, and I was disappointed.“
Aside from her hardships at home, Cho also faced persecution in school. “My classmates didn‘t accept me as a Christian at first. They didn‘t want to be friends with me. I used to run to Teacher Nu‘s home to ask her for prayers.“
Despite having somebody to run to, Cho‘s struggles still overwhelmed her. “During that time, I wanted more. I wanted help. My teacher would pray but she could do no more than that. What was I supposed to do? Should I continue following Jesus or should I stop? At times I thought God had forgotten me. Where is God? Sometimes I even asked God If He really knew me; if He really was concerned about me.“
Cho‘s faith was further tested when she failed the metrics exam, a requirement for pursuing higher education. “I was disappointed when I failed the metrics exam. My father‘s words kept running in my head. ‘If you work hard, you will pass; if you don‘t work hard, you will not pass. It is not necessary to pray or worship. Just work hard.‘ He said, ‘That is enough.‘”
“So I decided to work hard,” she continued. “After some time, I realized that I should try the metrics again because if I passed, my life and my future would be much better.“
“Teacher Nu always motivated me, saying ‘My daughter, do not worry and do not be disappointed. God is with you, God will give you wisdom so that you can pass the metrics.‘ But my father‘s words kept running in my head. I feared that I would fail again, but teacher Nu encouraged me to press on.“
On her second try, Cho passed the metrics. “But only because of prayer,” she said.
“God was with me. I worked hard, I tried to do my best, but if God wasn‘t there, I would have failed. Because of Him, I passed the exam and I was qualified for higher studies in college.“
Cho is now an Open Doors scholar, studying mechanical engineering in Western Yangon. She has also made friends with some of her classmates, mostly Buddhists. “When they began to know more about me, my attitude and behavior, they accepted me.“
*(Real names protected for security reasons)