Trying to Find the Peace of Christmas in Iraq
SANTA ANA, Calif. (Dec. 20, 2010) – “Christmas is coming, but peace does not exist in Iraq. Pray for us that we can have a peaceful Christmas. God is so good, and I love Him so much. Please pray for me…”
Open Doors received that request in a letter from Martha, an Iraqi mother who has suffered through the recent carnage and attacks on Christians in Baghdad. That included the murder of almost 58 and wounding of 75, mostly Christians, at Our Lady of Salvation Church on Oct. 31. Three priests were killed in the attack.
A total of at least 70 to 80 Christians have been killed by Muslim extremists in Iraq over the last several weeks. Most of the murders have occurred in Baghdad and in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. In the latest violence, armed militants kidnapped a young female student on Dec. 15 and a gunman killed an elderly Christian couple in their home in Baghdad on Dec. 5. Earlier four Christians were gunned down in Mosul, including a 6-year-old girl. Last week Pope Benedict XVI said Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, especially believers in the Middle East.
Open Doors received the following report from a Christian in northern Iraq:
“The exodus of Iraqi Christians is continuing and 507 families have landed in Kurdistan, where security conditions are relatively stable. Many more families have fled abroad, mainly to Syria, Jordan and Turkey. Baghdad is the last remaining city with a sizeable Christian community, but thousands are said to have fled due to the latest upsurge in anti-Christian violence.”
He concluded: “Mosul, the other city with a large Christian minority, is so violent that one of the city’s archbishops declared that the city had become too dangerous for Christians to stay. Mosul was the city of churches, but many of them have been abandoned and some turned into police stations or inhabited by squatters.”
Since 1991 the number of Christians living in Iraq has been reduced from an estimated 850,000 to an estimated 345,000 due to being forced to leave their homes – due to persecution and the overall violent, hopeless situation – for other countries or other parts of Iraq.
The Islamic State of Iraq, an Islamist terrorist group which includes al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Church and at least one other assault.
Dr. Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA, labels the attacks against the believers in Iraq as “religion-cide.” He states: “Right now Christians in Baghdad and Mosul are gripped by terrorism. They are fleeing in droves. Their families are threatened. Even young children are being killed. Extremists want to eliminate Christians from Iraq.
“There likely will not be peace in Iraq this Christmas. The only answer is the Prince of Peace. Please join me in prayer for our beleaguered brothers and sisters in Christ in Iraq this Christmas season.”
Moeller and Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told a press conference in Los Angeles today that the U.S. Congress and the European Union need to call hearings early next year to address the issue of lack of freedom of religion for all imperiled faith groups in Iraq.
Open Doors is one of the few organizations offering trauma counseling to suffering Iraqi believers. Open Doors reports that Christians are trying to cope with chronic depression, anxiety disorders and panic attacks from the recent increase in violence. The organization is offering both individual and group therapy.
Open Doors, which conducted a writing and prayer campaign for Iraq, delivered approximately 1750 prayer and encouragement notes in a 250-page book which was sent to Baghdad. An Open Doors representative presented the book to a Christian leader in Baghdad last week. The representative said: “The believer was very impressed and touched. He saw it as an answer to their prayers and a confirmation that they are not forgotten.”
The Open Doors representative added that worship is continuing in some churches, despite the violence and threats.
Martha holds out hope, even after seeing her friends and family being killed and fleeing: “I am reading the Bible in a different way than I ever read it before. Now I can understand Paul when he said ‘I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.’ (Acts 20:23-24) Now I can feel what Paul said and what was in his heart and in his emotions.”