Iraq (MNN) — Things are going from bad to worse in Iraq. The country’s Prime Minister is accusing Iraqi Kurds of helping Islamic State (IS) terrorists.
Steve Van Valkenburg of Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions, says that spells even more trouble for Christians.
“For a number of years now, Christians have gone to the Kurdish area, and they appreciate the freedoms they’ve had there. The Kurds have been welcoming to the Christians, for the most part,” he shares.
Iraqi Kurds have long wanted official independence, but outsider resistance is growing stronger. Right now they have a roughly-defined territorial region called “Kurdistan” that includes areas of four countries: Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria.
While the Iraqi portion of Kurdistan first became autonomous in 1970, President of the Iraqi Kurds, Massoud Barzani, is pressing for full independence.
Both Iraq and U.S. have expressed apprehension toward the Kurdish split in recent days. Midweek, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Barzani and emphasized the need to form a central government involving all groups: Sunnis, Shi’as, and Kurds.
“Iraqi leaders must rise above their differences and come together around a political plan for Iraq’s future,” said U.S. President Barack Obama during a June 19 press conference.
“National unity meetings have to go forward to build consensus across Iraq’s difference communities.”
However, U.S. leaders seem divided about how to handle the Iraqi crisis. On one hand, they promote unity. On the other, leaders like U.S. Vice President Joe Biden have been advocating a divided approach since 2006.
Using Bosnia as their example, Biden and New York Times writer Leslie Gelb formed a plan for splitting Iraq into three separate regions, each ruled by a different party. Baghdad, under the Biden/Gelb plan, was to be a federal city, “belonging to no one region.”
“The Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security,” the plan outlined. “The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs, and oil revenues.”
A seemingly-obvious question arises from this proposition: where would that leave Iraq’s Christians?
Sunni, Shia, Kurds…Christians?
Christians might not have their own region, but it might not be that bad.
“Off the top of my head, I would say that would be a good option for Christians,” says Van Valkenburg. “That is a good scenario for Christians because at least there’s one place in the country where they can go to.”
Christians would most likely flock to the Kurdish region, Van Valkenburg explains.
“The Kurds are Sunni Muslims, but at the same time, their Kurdish nationality…is more important to them then their religion,” he adds.
“[Iraqi Kurds are] banding together because of their desire for freedom for the Kurdish people, whereas the other two parts–the Sunni and Shia–would both band together for religious purposes.”
While they can, indigenous ministries are doing what they can to tell others about Jesus.
“They’re doing what God has called them to do,” says Van Valkenburg. “They don’t really have much in terms of food, or clothing, housing, things like that; still, they have the hope in Christ they can share.”
In fact, indigenous missionaries working in one part of the Kurdish region have planted three house churches. Two of the house churches present the Gospel in the Kurdish language, while the third preaches and teaches in Arabic. Earlier this week, the ministry leader told Van Valkenburg via e-mail that they have about 65 new believers between the three churches.
“They’re developing Christ’s Kingdom in that area by reaching out and reaching people with the Gospel,” Van Valkenburg notes. They’re not stopping, he adds, even though Iraq continues to fall apart around them.
“They’re going to be continuing to reach people with the Gospel. When the Muslims are in turmoil and they’re fleeing for their lives, there’s great openness there. So it’s a great opportunity for the Christians to reach out.”
Click here to support the efforts of indigenous missionaries and to see why Muslim-background believers in Iraq are in special need of prayer.
“The only thing that’s going to solve the problems [in Iraq] is when people hear the Gospel and begin believing in Christ, and have their lives totally transformed,” Van Valkenburg observes.