It was a cold winter night in 2007 when I laid my head on the pillow. My home was warm, my bed comfortable. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with a profound sorrow.
Christians fleeing persecution in Baghdad had no choice but to sleep in cemeteries, making gravestones their pillows.
Earlier that day I had been making phone calls to different churches, asking to speak to pastors about the plight of Christians of Iraq. The Church in America would certainly stand in unity with their brethren in the East, I had thought to myself.
During my conversations with those I called, I heard such sentiments as, “We will pray for your people,” and “I will have someone call you back,” and “Oh yes, I heard something like that was happening there. I did not even know there were any Christians in Iraq. We will get back to you.” As I laid in bed, I thought to myself, why am I so privileged to have this soft pillow while my people are laying on gravel in graveyards? Am I better than they are? I felt my tears warm my cheeks, and that is how I fell asleep.
My Assyrian/Syriac/Chaldean community was exposed to devastating conditions starting in 2003 when the radical Islamists under the banner of Al-Qaeda and then later under their new name, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started to systematically cleanse the country of its Christian citizens. For four years our ancient churches were bombed, our men executed, our women and children kidnapped and our clergy mutilated. On June 3rd of 2007, Father Ghanni, a Chaldean Catholic Priest and three of his sub-deacons were savagely murdered in the Holy Spirit Church in Mosul, ancient Nineveh. The persecution continued.
With the focus on the wider war in Iraq, and then the outbreak of civil war in Syria in 2011, it was only in June of 2014 that the world fully realized that there was a real genocide underway in Iraq against Christians who are ethnically Assyrians (also referred to as Syriac and Chaldean). When the Islamic State showcased its brutality on the Internet, it shed light on what the Christian community had been going through not only since 2003 in Iraq, but since its conversion to Christianity in ancient Mesopotamia in the first century A.D.
I have discussed this issue at length with many Christian leaders around the world. I have spoken to politicians, pleading for a swift and yet comprehensive solution for victims. I have heard many interviews, and read countless of articles in which Christians decry the situation, saying, “Christians are leaving the Middle East, let us do something about it.” Year after year, I have attended several conferences where I see such genuine passion for the persecuted. And yet, we the Middle Eastern Christians still wait for real intervention by our Western brothers and sisters.
Jewish leaders, knowing how important solidarity with genocide victims is, have repeatedly asked me the following: “Where are your Christian brethren?” They are just as confused as I am.
All Christians, regardless of denomination, race, language, or nation, are members of the Body of Christ. When one member is hurting, we are all hurting. When one member is persecuted, we are all persecuted. When one member is martyred, we are all diminished. (1 Corinthians 12:25-26) We are called to support one another, aid one another, and bear one another burdens, and thus fulfill the Great Commandment, that we love one another. (John 13:35; 2 Corinthians 8:8; Galatians 6:2)
This open letter is not an attack but a heartfelt plea to you the pastor, the missions director, the business leader. I ask you, why this apathy? Are you unsure as to what to do? Then reach out to us. Do you have questions? Then ask. Do you have ideas? We are here to support you.
In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus made clear that when we feed, clothe, and visit our hungry, naked, sick, or imprisoned brethren, we have ministered to him. (Matthew 25:31-46) Have you ever considered that perhaps it is our Lord Jesus himself who is knocking on your door and seeking your help in the person of an Iraqi Christian? What will you do? Will you turn him away?
As the great Jewish leader, Hillel famously said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
The martyrdom, my friends, goes on as we speak. If we are not for our brethren, then who will be?
Founder and President
Iraqi Christian Relief Council