Iraq (MNN) — Iraq's prime minister pledged Saturday to protect and support the Christian minority that has been fleeing the chaos and sectarian violence in the country.
Open Door USA's Jerry Dykstra says, "This is a long overdue sign that they want to stop the outflow of Iraqi Christians. We'll just have to see if this vow to protect and support the Christian minority will be followed through, and we pray that it will be."
Although it is difficult to state how many Iraqi Christians are in the country, the number in 2003, prior to the fall of Sadam Hussein, was around 550,000. The dreadful situation lately has caused many Iraqi people, both Muslim and Christian, to leave the country. Church leaders in Iraq conservatively estimate that almost 75,000 Christians live outside Iraq in places like Syria or Jordan or in the West and that another 75,000 have fled to northern Iraq. That means only 400,000 Christians remain in mainland Iraq.
Dykstra is hoping this pledge will help stem the tide of Christians leaving Iraq. He says it's important for them to remain. "Christians need to have a voice not only in the emerging government, but for ministry to go on, we need the Christians to stay there."
Most of the Iraqi population, Christians as well as Muslims, live under constant pressure due to insecurity. Even though the situation for Christians differs from region to region, they generally are under greater pressure than the Muslim population because they face more discrimination.
Some say that in the past few years, almost 500 Iraqi Christians–including pastors and priests–have been murdered because of their faith. Even more Christians have been killed in attacks, in fighting or kidnappings for money.
Iraqi Christians and Muslims are on the move, fleeing from the turmoil in their country.
Some Iraqi people flee to northern Iraq. These are called Internally Displaced People (IDP). Others attempt to find refuge in Syria, Jordan or the West.
Christian IDPs and refugees need relief supplies, structural help, and spiritual counseling. Open Doors is supporting them with the basics: food, housing, heating, clothes and medical care. In Syria and Jordan, Open Doors is helping with similar relief for the neediest families among the refugees.
Open Doors has had opportunities to import and distribute large quantities of literature from 2003 to the present. Dykstra says, "There's a great demand for Bibles, leadership materials, devotionals, especially youth books and children's materials. It's very dangerous work, and our co-workers there face many dangers. But that has never stopped Open Doors."
A pastor in Iraq says the church is growing, and Dykstra reads from his letter: "Many in our church now are new believers, and in the past four months we have baptized six people." He also mentions a terrorist who came into his office and asked, "How can I get peace?"
So, the ministry is moving forward, but prayer and financial support are needed to help support the distribution, training, counseling and other outreach work.