Iraq (MNN) — The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is still advancing.
Since their offensive attacks began four months ago, ISIS has given followers of Christianity who live in the towns they take a choice: convert to Islam, pay a tax to remain in these communities as Christians, leave, or ultimately die.
For the Muslim-Background Believers, regardless of their choice, militants have ruthlessly attacked or killed them anyway.
Hundreds of thousands of Christians fleeing before the ISIS onslaught are at risk of freezing or starving to death. They can’t go home. They can’t move anywhere else because of the presence of ISIS. It begs the question: Is there a future for Christians in Iraq?
Christian communities that survived for almost 2,000 years in the country are on the brink of extinction as they are forced to leave their homes. The fate of Christians in Syria mirrors what happened in Iraq in the last decade.
Many are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Depression is rampant in the refugee settlements. Erbil and Dohuk are filled with haunted faces. Government aid isn’t reaching many. Smaller Non-Government Organizations are trying to reach those who’ve fallen through the cracks, but it seems like there are more fissures than solid ground for these survivors.
Money to help isn’t pouring in…and cutbacks are starting to take effect. So who will speak for their desperate situation? How about the two faith groups most targeted by ISIS in the Middle East?
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says, “This is the first time that Jewish leaders, the leader of the World Jewish Congress, as well as evangelical Christian leaders, the president of Oral Roberts University, came together to speak about Christian persecution.” Prominent leaders of both groups representing global organizations signed a historic joint initiative this month calling on world leaders to take action against ISIS, and to do more to protect the vulnerable populace. “The two groups SHOULD be working together. They SHOULD be speaking out together because they both are at risk as radical Islam gains influence and gains power.”
The announcement came during the Feast of Tabernacles, which commemorates the 40-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Nettleton explains that the public announcement sends a message to the world: “Both of them say, ‘This is important. We all need to speak out about this, particularly the situation for Christian minorities in the Middle East, (and) the persecution that they’re facing under the threat of radical Islam in that part of the world.”
Noting that the press conference did not include speeches from foreign dignitaries or heads of state, aside from the president of Israel Reuven Rivlin, Nettleton says that’s exactly the point. “The hope is that this will draw even more attention to the issue. It will draw Christians and Jews to really work side-by-side, to really speak out on behalf of persecuted Christians, influence our governments, speak about Christian persecution, and stand up for religious freedom in that part of the world.”
An estimated 800,000 Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq have been affected by the advancement of ISIS, and many have been forced to flee their homes to avoid genocide. VOM is currently assisting thousands of Christians in Iraq by sending humanitarian items like clothing, water, and food supplies.
“We have a program called Action Packs–a humanitarian aid pack. It contains some clothing items and some other items,” explained Nettleton in an earlier interview with the Christian Post. He went on to say, “We do give Bibles to Iraqi Christians, so there is a spiritual dimension as well. The greatest need right now with all they’re going through is food, shelter, water–kind of the basics.”
Most importantly, when you pray, pray not only that the followers of Christ stay strong, but also that God would change the hearts of the terrorists.