How do you see persecution? According to Open Doors, 1 in 8 Christians worldwide experience persecution for their faith. That’s 1 in 8 of us whose faith can come at great cost — in some cases, even at the cost of life itself. This month, in response to this painful statistic, we will be sharing stories in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who so often live out their faith in the shadows. We pray this would shine a light in the otherwise-darkened corners of our world and connect us all to these hidden members of the body of Christ.
Talib* grew up in Iraq, where his family taught him the Quran and he went to the mosque nearly every Friday since he was a little boy. But when Islamic State fighters, also known as ISIS, began to gain power, he was stunned. They lived their faith so differently from what he had learned.
The main religion in Iraq is Islam, now comprising around 98% of the population. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom states that before 2003, roughly 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. After the long period of terror under the control of the Islamic State militants, just 250,000 Christians are estimated to be left in the country.
Christians in Nineveh, a notorious city in the Bible and a province of modern-day Iraq, experienced more than terror. The actions of ISIS, as the militants are known, were condemned as genocide by the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. Christians and Muslims were slaughtered, and many who escaped Iraq don’t want to come back – the memories are simply too dire.
As Talib heard about all these things and witnessed the human destruction of Islamic State bombs, he came across TWR through a friend. The God represented in the programs was different from the one he had known before. The programs said this God came to earth to forgive – and even an extremist fighter could find grace through Jesus.
The comments of another listener who got in touch with TWR reflected experiences much like Talib’s: “After all that you have said and talked about, I cannot [help] but pray to this God that is different than the one I was taught about before! So pray for me that I would know your Lord and hope to be with him in heaven.”
Ministering to the Persecuted
What can an international media network like TWR do to help believers beleaguered by persecution – even imprisonment, exile or death? We can make as many people as possible aware of the plight of these courageous children of God, and in turn seek to let the persecuted ones know their brothers and sisters around the world have not forgotten them.
Our ministry teams can interact with them by phone calls, text messages and sometimes in person, praying with them, encouraging them and advising them. Our programming is the main point of contact, enabling them to receive — often listening in secret — sound biblical teaching, Scripture readings, uplifting worship and a sense of their kinship with millions of other believers in the global Church.
Here’s how TWR’s president, Lauren Libby, expressed it recently: “When it comes to people who are persecuted, we use radio to provide them comfort, encouragement and hope from the Word of God. We remind them that what matters most is God’s kingdom, and that is something far more important than people who crave power and influence. We help promote a kingdom with an everlasting value system – one that says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ and ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’”
Finally, we mobilize our staff and partners around the world, along with thousands of the ministry’s engaged supporters, to call on the power of prayer in behalf of these siblings in Christ who are suffering for their faith.
Turning Weakness to Strength
A few years ago, Jacky* heard our programs for the first time. Later she testified: “Thanks for presenting unconditional love, real concern and perpetual maturity. Thanks for the words you utter that heal the broken heart and uplift damaged spirit. Thanks for [the program] Healing Touches springing from deep experiences. Your encouraging spirit turns the weakness to strength that helps to step forward into new depths. … You are compassionate when life becomes tough.”
Today, even though the Islamic State forces have been severely reduced in power and the fighters driven out of their strongholds in Iraq, Christians still experience physical and mental abuse, harassment and discrimination. People who give up their traditional religion for faith in Christ often feel they must keep their faith secret. Churches have been destroyed.
The news about the harsh circumstances faced by Christians in Iraq is heartbreaking. For now, all we can say is that God has a purpose in allowing persecution to exist and that one day he will end it and true justice will reign. Until then, we all must be prepared to face these trials in a broken world and say with the apostle Paul,
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
* A pseudonym and stock image are used to protect the person’s privacy.