A Syrian refugee holds a baby in a refug…A Syrian refugee hold

FRM Newsletter

November 2014: Update on ISIS

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Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies. (Hebrews 13:3b)

As we hear more reports about the evil that is sweeping through Iraq and Syria, it is easy to go about our daily lives without much more than a passing thought to the persecution of our brothers and sisters. But to truly be moved to anguish, we must identify with their persecution as if we ourselves are there. The facts in the story you are about to read are based on actual events and represent the story of thousands of people.

Imagine that you and your family live in a small town in Northern Iraq. You have two small children ages 8 and 5 and make your living as a teacher. Every day you are filled with worry and fear as you hear the horrific brutality of ISIS and their rapid expansion. You would leave if you could, but you don’t know where to go. You have a small amount of money saved, but it is not enough to get you and your family safely out of the country. So you stay, hoping that the Iraqi Army will fight and praying that help will come from the outside world.

Then one day, fear ripples through the community. ISIS fighters are on the outskirts of town. The Iraqi Army has fled their positions as ISIS has taken control. All of the stories you have heard of their brutality do not match the evil that shatters your once quiet community. ISIS fighters go door to door. People, neighbors you have lived with, are dragged into the street and shot or beheaded after a quick public declaration of Sharia Law. You and your family are huddled in the back of your small home when the door flies open and ISIS militants storm into your house. They beat you and your wife, and drag your family out into the dusty streets. Somehow, they know that you are Christians and as your family huddles in the dirt, they use your family to make a public decree to the entire town: “We offer you three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of Jizya[1]; if you refuse this you will have nothing but the sword[2].” You know that you cannot deny Jesus, so you are forced to accept the payment. What happens next, however, makes paying this tax impossible.  The ISIS militants mark your door with a spray-painted ن (the Arabic letter for “N”), meaning all Christian property is to be seized effective immediately. “N”, or ن​, is the first letter of the Arabic word for Christian, “Nasrani” or Jesus of Nazarene.  With your property and life savings stripped from you, your family becomes homeless and unable to buy food. As bad as this is, the nightmare for you and your family is just beginning.

Without a home and the ability to buy food, you and your family do your best to find places to rest in safety away from the militants. One afternoon, a group of militants run into your family and begin to openly mock you. The leader of the militant group decides that your wife is no longer your property and that he will take her in “marriage”. You try to fight, but are quickly subdued, left bloody and unconscious in the streets. The militants take your wife and repeatedly violate her. When the commander is finished with her, he gives her in “marriage” to another militant. This brutality continues for days until the militants are done with her and she is publicly beheaded in the streets as an infidel. This story is not unique to your family, heads of beheaded “infidels” including children, are placed on poles along streets, and Christians are crucified in the public square. Knowing that your children will face certain death, you now know that there is no other option for you and your two small children, except to flee. Death in the desert is better than this. You and a few other neighbors flee late in the night with nothing more than what you can carry on your back. You have a little food and some water for the one day journey to the next town, but it is hardly enough for you and your starving children. It has only been a week, and you are emotionally and physically exhausted. You wonder why you even continue on, but your children and your faith give you strength to press on. Although many die (especially children and elderly) of dehydration while fleeing in the desert, you and your children make it to the Kurdish border. You are admitted into a refugee camp and given some food and water. You have nothing. Your future, especially the future of your children, seems hopeless. All you have is your faith in Jesus and a prayer that your brothers and sisters in Christ will take notice of your plight and have the courage to act.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who took a stand against Nazi aggression and was eventually martyred for his faith, wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Despite ongoing air strikes designed to weaken ISIS, this force of evil continues to conquer territory at an alarming rate. In Syria alone, ISIS has taken over 60 villages. More than 200,000 people have fled the onslaught with nothing more than what they could carry on their backs. Although some have made it to refugee camps in Syria, over 400,000 men, women and children are now surrounded in the Syrian City of Kobani. A massacre of these men, women and children is sure to happen if nothing is done[3].

As Christians, we cannot stand by while our brothers and sisters in Christ are being persecuted without doing everything in our power to help. We must obey the call to literally feel their pain in our own bodies. In his sermon, “A Call to Anguish” David Wilkerson reminds us that there is a difference between concern and anguish.  “Anguish means extreme pain and distress. The emotions so stirred that it becomes painful. Acute deeply felt inner pain because of conditions about you, in you, or around you. Deep pain. Deep sorrow. The agony of God’s Heart. There is going to be no renewal, no revival, no awakening, until we are willing to let Him once again break us. Folks, it’s getting late, and it’s getting serious. Please don’t tell me you’re concerned when you’re spending hours in front of internet or television. Come on. There are some that need to confess, “God, I don’t have Your heart nor Your burden. I wanted it easy. I just wanted to be happy. But Lord, true joy comes out of anguish.”

Until we, as believers, allow ourselves to enter a place of anguish, we will continue to live as lukewarm believers and entangled in the things of this world. Jesus offers us something better: the opportunity to make our lives count for something more valuable than life itself. We invite you to stand with us, as we take the light into the darkest, hardest places in the world.

Until the oppressed are free,

Wes Bentley

[1] While many say that ISIS is not Islam, this decree is found in the Qur’an Surat At-Tawbah at 9:29: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the Jizyah willingly while they are humbled.”

[2] Actual ISIS Twitter Account Announcement

[3] http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/09/24/kurds-issue-desperate-plea-from-syrian-border-town-as-isis-closes-in/