What does the black flag mean?

By October 15, 2014
(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Syria (MNN) — Seven days ago, Arab World Ministries (a ministry of  Pioneers) tweeted this ominous statement: “One of ours just wrote in to say the black flag is now flying above the town of Kobani (Syria).”

The situation is fluid. On October 14, the U.S.-led coalition  launched airstrikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the region. A Kurdish official says between fierce fighting and the air support, they managed to take down the black flag of jihad.

Yet, both sides are grappling for control of the northern Syrian town near the Turkish border. Because of that, the UN’s refugee agency estimates more than 170,000 people fled to Turkey or sought shelter in parts of Syria or in northern Iraq.

The extremist group has carved out a vast stretch of territory from northern Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad and imposed a harsh version of Islamic rule. ISIS also has multiple battlefronts throughout the land it controls, where fighting sets off fresh waves of displacement.

(Image courtesy Pioneers)

(Image courtesy Pioneers)

On top of fending off ISIS, the civil war continues within Syria’s tattered borders. All this means 10 to 12 million people are on the move. With winter’s approach, the UN has been sharing its alarm at not having enough resources to keep the refugees sheltered or fed.

But, God.

Denny Spitters, Vice President of Church Partnerships for Pioneers, says there’s another way to look at this story. “A lot of people, I think, would tend to think the worst is happening, and that there’s very little good that’s coming out of this. We’re seeing the exact opposite, for the most part.”

Pioneers workers overseas have been meeting physical needs through aid support, as well as the emotional needs, through counseling. Children’s outreach includes sports camp. While there are details on specific work teams, Spitters can’t get into them. “Their security is a big deal. They’re having to be careful about that and be very wise in how they’re working, how they’re interacting with the local populace.”

One thing they are saying is common is that the local populace is upset and disillusioned. “This huge outgrowth of refugees creates the opportunity for them to really look outward and say, ‘I have questions. I have things I want to know. I see what Islam is doing here. I don’t want this caliphate. Is there something else? What about Jesus?'”

(Photo courtesy Pioneers/Arab World Ministries)

(Photo courtesy Pioneers/Arab World Ministries)

This curiosity and openness is unprecedented. According to one of their newsletters, work teams started 27 Bible studies with Syrian Muslims. Twelve families have put their faith in Christ. And many have experienced healings and other miracles. Why? Spitters explains, “We have often heard things like, ‘You’re the only ones that have come to listen to me,  to hear my story, and have offered something.'”

This is what happens when you take the time to listen. A Pioneers team leader recounts this story:

We hosted a Bible study with a Syrian family recently. While some were interested, Moussa, the head of the household, was argumentative and critical the entire time. At the end of the study, we offered to pray for them.

Moussa took this opportunity to share that his father-in-law was detained in a Syrian prison over two and a half years ago, and no one had seen him since. He asked for God to release him from prison.

Soon after, I received an exciting phone call from Moussa: “He is out of prison and living with us now. God answered our prayers! When can you visit again?”

When we saw Moussa a few days later, he showed a definite change of heart. He asked if we could read another Bible story, and if we could continue to pray for him and his family.

What this means is that Christians are choosing to stay in the dangerous areas, risking their lives, to answer the questions that are being asked. “They’re remaining there as teachers, as physicians. They care, and they are really seeking to minister there through their efforts.” Plus, Arab World Media continues to broadcast into the region with the kind of content that offers a hope of peace. Spitters says, “The number of responses and inquiries that we have had over the Web through broadcasts of Arab World Media throughout the Middle East, from Syrian refugees especially, they’re up 30,000-40,000 that they’re trying to follow up on.”

Noting the slow response from the international community toward refugee funds, Spitters acknowledges that the situation is hard to wrap your brain around. “I think we’re overwhelmed. We hear so much every day that we feel ‘there’s nothing that I can really do about it.’ We feel guilty and don’t know where to go with it.”

For followers of Christ, it boils down to three things: pray, give, or go. First, “One of the greatest weapons in warfare that we have is prayer: to really lift up at this time and pray for the conflicts that are going on here, and pray for peace and pray that God will use the people that He has to reach out.”

Then, give: resources like, time, or funds.

And lastly, go. While it’s not the safest place to be right now, even talking about the stories of these survivors, educating yourself more about the situation, and checking out ministry Web sites is a direction more than doing nothing. What’s your next step?

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