Iraq (MNN) — A December Facebook threat against English teachers working in Iraq is symptomatic of a larger problem for Christians.
For better or worse, Muslim nationalists link Christians with all things Western. It’s no secret that extremists in the region hope to lead Iraq and Syria down the path of fundamentalist Islam. Part of that means the eradication of non-Muslim minorities.
That’s been born out in a year of violence, which includes a Christmas Day church bombing in Iraq. According to the Associated Press, the total number of people killed this month in Iraq is 441, while the United Nations estimates more than 8,000 people have been killed since the first of the year.
Because so many have been Christians, Iraq moved up five spots to No. 4 on the 2013 Open Doors World Watch List, a ranking of countries that are the worst persecutors of Christians. An Open Doors field worker said in an earlier report: “We received documents and threats stating that the aim of Islamist insurgents is to make Iraq a ‘Muslim only’ country. They want Christians out.”
Dr. David Curry, president/CEO of Open Doors USA, says that’s what makes this time of year so dangerous for believers in Iraq. “This is a time where people know that they can attack believers at these holy sites or churches, these kinds of places where we’re going to gather to celebrate this season there in the Middle East.“
Believers are no longer attending church in large numbers. What’s more: despite promises of higher security, “The government isn’t actually protecting the Christians at these holy sites, so we are very concerned here for the next few weeks about believers who are going to church. We need believers to pray about this situation.”
Experts guess that 45,000 Christians (out of two million) have fled Syria, and the pace is increasing. The statistics from Iraq are even more shocking. It is estimated that here are only 330,000 Christians left in Iraq, as many have fled the country due to violence and persecution. In the early 1990s there were an estimated 1.2 million Christians.
Curry says what this boils down to is spiritual warfare. “We need to be praying for these believers. We need to be supporting them. I would be thrilled if Christians in the West knew what was happening and cared on a deep enough level to pray every day for believers throughout this season.”
For those who remain, the situation is particularly difficult, with high unemployment, discriminatory religious legislation, and concerns for their personal safety. A spokesman for Open Doors noted that by the year 2020, Iraq could find itself without any Christians. Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, more than 1,000 Christians have been killed and 61 churches destroyed. And yet: God. “People are sharing their faith. We are seeing people be open to the faith. That’s happening at the same time that there’s a mass exodus,” Curry shares.
The Open Doors ministry in Iraq includes trauma counseling, biblical training for church leaders and Muslim-Background Believers, distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, community development projects, and working with Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) in northern Iraq.