Iraq (CAM) — In Iraq’s northern areas, where Islamic State (ISIS) militants have extended their brutal campaign to establish a caliphate, coveted copies of the Bible are playing a key role in the lives of displaced people from a myriad of religious backgrounds.
Supply is limited (some Bibles are available locally while others need to be shipped in), but the demand appears to be endless, especially among refugees and internally displaced people.
“Every time we try to open a box or container to distribute Bibles, we get ‘attacked’ by people in their eagerness to get a copy,” the director of a locally-based ministry said. “We have never had a problem giving them away.”
Nominal members of historic churches are seeking the Bible, as are Yazidis and Sunni and Shia Muslims. Yazidis practice a blend of Christian, Islamic, and Zoroastrian rituals.
“The religious nature of the region makes faith matters of great interest and an important part of their lives, and the search for the truth has become one of the priorities of the Muslims,” he said, adding that ISIS militants’ religiously motivated murders of civilians have provided a golden opportunity to present the “loving and peaceful Christ.”
The native ministry, which Christian Aid Mission assists, provides Bibles along with material aid such as food and blankets. While meeting their immediate needs is crucial, the knowledge of God found in the Bible provides refugees a more enduring benefit, said Christian Aid Mission’s Middle East director.
“Muslims come with a worldview that is full of fear, and the message of a God who gives Himself for you and cares for you as a child of God is new to them,” he said. “It gives them great hope, and as people who have lost everything, this hope is a thousand times more meaningful to them.”
“The Bible is the preacher who can reach people, stay with them at home, and talk to them every day about Jesus, which is something we cannot always do due to lack of preachers,” he said. “We don’t have so many in the area, and the nature of the ministry among thousands makes the Bible the #1 tool for salvation of people.”
While acknowledging that ISIS atrocities, such as religiously motivated beheadings of non-Muslims, were committed in the early years of Islam, the Muslim refugees do not regard the militants as true Muslims.
“All the displaced Muslims say ISIS is a criminal gang and that they are not true Muslims,” he said. “Some feel ashamed of such actions, especially as it occurred at the dawn of Islam and its expansion, while others are trying by all means to deny it is part of the Islamic religion and dismiss it as part of a plot by Zionists against Arabs.”
Most Muslims who are committing their lives to Jesus Christ were already disillusioned with Islam, he said.
“For this reason hundreds find their way to Christ today, in secret or in public.”
Besides Muslims and people of minority religions such as Yazidis, displaced persons belonging to historical churches that discourage them from reading the Bible are also showing up to claim copies. The director said nominal members of the Syriac Orthodox, Catholic, and other churches have responded to the evangelical witness by putting their trust in Jesus Christ for eternal life.
“They are becoming born again, attending churches, being discipled, and trying to adjust to the new way of learning and reading the Bible,” said the director, adding that the ministry strives to work with historical churches by building ties of friendship.
The new Christians from varied backgrounds are mixing together as a new people in Christ, though living as displaced peoples means that some remain in isolated pockets.
“According to their geographical locations, many would prefer to come to the local churches and the house churches if they could. But because of the difficulty of travel and making a living and the challenges of life–which predominantly are like those of homelessness, some remain in their places until the brothers reach out to them,” he said.
Because of restrictions by countries in the Middle East to print and distribute Bibles, there is a continual need to purchase Bibles, he added. Whole Bibles in Arabic, Aramaic, and Kurdish languages are sought, as well as children’s versions of the same. Also needed are New Testaments in Kurdish, Sorani, and Bahdinani languages. The ministry also distributes Christian literature as well as illustrated Bible stories for all ages, designed for Muslims who know nothing about Jesus.
The books of illustrated Bible stories and the children’s Bible cost $5 each. A whole Bible costs $4, with hardcover copies going for $5 to $8. New Testaments printed locally cost $2.
“For the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the tents in the fields everywhere, in the mountains and the Kurdistan area, it’s the right time for us to give Bibles.” the Iraqi ministry director said.
“I strongly believe God’s hand is in this situation, and God brought all these people to us and wants us to act as fast as we can.”