Will the church be destroyed by extremists?
‘Islamic extremism’ was the main source of persecution in 70% of the countries on the World Watch List 2016 (WWL). We take a closer look at these countries and how local Christians are responding.
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Islamic State & the Church.
The Islamic State now have control over an area almost eight times larger than Syria’s neighbour, Lebanon. In mid-2014, IS dominated the headlines with a virtually unopposed march into the Nineveh plain, displacing 100,000 Christians in a single month. 1,300 IS soldiers took the ancient city of Mosul, where 60,000 local troops and police fled.
What would you take with you if you only had two hours to leave your house?
Islamic State are medieval in their barbarism, and sophisticated in their ability to appeal to disaffected teenagers around the world. Christians are fleeing affected areas in their hundreds and thousands. The exodus of Christians from their ancient heartlands is accelerating. Iraq is at its highest ever point in the WWL at #2, and Syria is close behind at #5.
Islamic extremism in other areas?
Islamic extremists ruling territory with an intolerant fist is not new, and countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are also highly ranked, at #9 and #14 respectively. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam (Mecca), is high on the list, not because of the same violence we see in Iraq and Syria, but rather due to a heavily restrictive government. Persecution is not just violence, but also oppression.
Islamic extremism has another hub – Sub-Saharan Africa. The headlines always get monopolised by the Middle East, but for the last two years more Christians were killed for their faith in Northern Nigeria than in any other country. In the WWL 2016, the conservative figure of Christian deaths in Nigeria is 4,028, out of a worldwide total of 7,100.
This is partly due to an even more vicious Islamic extremist movement – Boko Haram. In fact the top six countries where most Christians were killed for their faith in the WWL 2016 reporting period were all sub-Saharan African countries: Nigeria, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Cameroon. Christians are seeing an increase in pressure, even in Christian majority states such as Kenya (#16). Extremism has a subtle form as well as a violent face.
Will the rise in extremists destroy the church? Has God abandoned these countries?
Stories from Christians in the Middle East…
A Christian brother from Northern Iraq who was a very wealthy businessman, owning three booming businesses, a large amount of property and on top of that, a nice government salary, lost all his property in three hours. What does he say? “ISIS is a lesson from God to us as church: not to put our fortune here on earth, but to put our fortune with God!”
A pastor from Baghdad voices this in another way, “The crisis around ISIS has taught us to discover our own identity as a church. It was a wake-up call. I hope that the influx of Muslims in Europe [and across the world] will wake up the people to also start searching again for their own identity.”
At a point where Christians face the biggest amount of persecution in the modern age, could God be doing something even bigger?
A displaced church leader in Iraq says, “The church will never disappear, though it looks like it. When Jesus died, everyone was thinking that it was over. But He rose from the dead and the church started to grow. The church in Iraq has been facing persecution for over 2000 years. It might look as if we will be gone, but we will rise from this crisis.”
In more and more places we discover that churches become true churches, places of hope and compassion. Priests share with us that they have learnt to become true priests again. Pastors have learnt to bring Bible teaching in a fresh way as they show true care for their sheep. Churches have been transformed because of the influx of believers with a Muslim background. Churches have been pushed out of their comfort zone. That brings horrible suffering, yes, but it also brings growth.
An Open Doors contact working in Syria shares, “We are one of the very few organisations still operating in Syria. That is not because of our impressive efforts, but only because, in a very special way, we were given access to an extensive network within the country long before the crisis manifested itself. We cannot walk away from the responsibility that we have received. Providing aid to displaced Christians in Syria can only take place through local churches; there are no other responsible methods. The church in Syria is willing to take on this task, and it is up to us to serve them.”
Extremism does not make the church disappear, it transforms the church.
The persecution we’re seeing in these places is actually driving believers to depend on Christ in a deeper way. Believers are uniting together and reaching out to their neighbours, many Muslims are coming to Christ. Pray that God would grow his church, that believers would have stronger faith, more confidence in His promises and that He would heal the heartache from their suffering.
No, the church will not be destroyed be extremists, because Jesus has overcome the world and stands victorious.
It’s our privilege to be able to help strengthen the persecuted church as they continue in the midst of fear and brokenness, by the strength of Jesus.
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