Open Season on Christians2
It looked like open season for Christians in the Middle East this past weekend. According to International Christian Concern (ICI):
at least 81 Christians have been killed in a suicide bombing of a historical church in Peshawar, the capital city of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. This bombing is the deadliest single attack on Christians in Pakistan’s history and has sparked protests across the nation.
Less than 24 hours before this Islamic militants from Somolia murdered at least 68 workers and shoppers at a mall in Kenya, allegedly shouting for Muslims to get out of the way so they could especially kill Christians.
In Egypt, over 30 churches were attacked, many of them burned to the ground. In the midst of this intense persecution, church leaders and Christians are responding with a message of love and forgiveness. In Iraq and the West Bank, after several church bombings, Christians in large numbers were forced out of their ancient communities.
Then there is Syria. According to Matthew Fisher:
The carnage had a special resonance in this predominately Christian town in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley where Syrian Christians have taken refuge after being attacked by extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda such as Jabhat al-Nusra.
“If we stay in Syria, they will kill us. It is that simple,” explained 36-year-old Rami Sammaan, after celebrating mass with his wife, Sally, and her mother, father and sister in the packed pews of St. Elias Maronite Church.
Sammaan crossed into Lebanon with his extended family last Christmas after his church in the war-ravaged Syrian city of Homs was destroyed. He went back to Syria briefly last month to pray during the annual saint’s day of his old church, reaching his hometown by a circuitous route well to the north of the border crossing near where he and his family now live.
Sammaan’s father-in-law, Mousa Fahmi Issa, fled from the town of Hasaka, near Syria’s border with Turkey. Christians had been kidnapped there and held for ransom and crosses and other Christian symbols had been routinely destroyed, he said.
“If someone comes to your house and says he will kill you, do you dance with him or do you flee? Issa said. “I feared my 12- year-old daughter Shames would be raped. All Syrian Christians are afraid. But some Christians cannot leave. They do not even have enough money for a bus ticket.”
This is heavy news. This stuff weighs on us. How in the world do we respond? With tears in our eyes and an an ache in our heart, we pray. We pray like lives depend on it. Paul wrote this to the Corinthians believers, "you and your prayers are part of the rescue operation--I don't want you in the dark about that either. I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God's deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part." (2 Corinthians 1:11, The Message)
Did you catch that? Prayer plays a crucial role in the world. Your prayers play a crucial part in God's rescue plan for the Middle East.
As a church let's cry out to God on behalf of the Middle East this week. A good place to start is Pakistan. Kelly Hovey offers the following suggestions for how we can thoughtfully pray for this nation:
- The injured. Pray for strength of body and soul, availability of medical help (not nearly as easy to access there as it is here), and that the Father of Mercy would be their comfort in the midst of real pain.
- The families of the dead. For the "God of healing counsel" to be an abiding presence in this incredibly dark time, for forgiveness to come in its time and bitterness not to be given a place to take roots, for the real needs that will arise by these losses to be met.
- The surviving church members of All Saints Church. God knows the depth of grace needed for each of the people; let us pray that they will be given courage even as they have been named targets of the group responsible for the bombing.
- The community in Peshawar. That as they see the way God meets needs, and the way God is present even in terrible suffering, that they would also see Jesus the Messiah in the people around them, in dreams and visions, and learn to trust him with their own lives.
- The people responsible for the attacks. That God would convince them of the depth of darkness they are living in, that they would be freed from the chains of death and sin, and that the light of Jesus would somehow be made known to them.
- For our government. One of the motivating factors for the bombing was the drone strikes that continue to also kill and create carnage in the villages of Pakistan. Let us pray that mercy and wisdom would take root in our government.
Does that seem like a lot? It kind of is, but it's 6 main items, one for each day of this week. So my challenge to you this week is to print this list, and each day focus your prayers on one of those sections (or something else you feel led to pray for) and through prayer take part in the suffering of our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world even as we pray for one another in the same metropolitan.